I have an illustration that I slid off of an eBay auction about a billion years ago, when you could still do that. I loved it so much, I tried to make jewelry, print it, do various and sundry things, but as it goes, dpi is notoriously low on eBay and most of the world of eBay, because it doesn’t take much to render a picture pretty nice looking on your screen. A few other images were purloined that long ago day, but none of them did I remember to jot down title, author, illustrator, or publisher. I only remember I couldn’t afford the book with the super fairy tale picture, and that was that. Since then I’ve been sporadically perusing bookfinder, google, eBay, etsy, trying to locate the original source of the picture. The only clue I had were the artist’s initials and last name. F. S. Cooke. Not an individual I’d heard of, but then I have found through the years that there are far more golden age illustrators than just a few well publicized ones like Arthur Rackham, Edmund Dulac, the Robinson brothers, Jessie Wilcox Smith etc. Children’s book illustrators in the teens, twenties and thirties seem to be numerous–from pictures for school book primers, to endless renditions of Mother Goose, to magazine covers. A magazine cover of an odd thing called Etude, confirmed that a F. S. Cooke did exist, and had created an ingenious piece of artwork for a magazine devoted to high falutin’ music. A little row of houses in the shape of musical instruments in candy colors certainly catches the eye, and his Deco sensibility is exactly what I love. I realized then that I had a couple Etude magazines with front covers with his artwork. Inside the magazine there is nothing–well, nothing that I care about, I suppose music lovers would disagree, ha. So what else did this man, I assumed it was a man because it usually is, what else did he do?
I was mondo excited when I came across a Cooke who illustrated a Hawthorne title, and assuming it was my guy, I jumped to the website boasting the ownership of said illustrations. Turns out there was a woman Cooke, e and all, and Edna was the fine artist who was responsible this time. That was OK, because now I had another unknown to me artist under my belt, and I have since collected a couple of her works.
My greatest problem was the lack of info about Mr. Cooke, well, actually, there is no info whatsoever. Two magazine covers pop up, and, well, that’s about it. He doesn’t rate for wikipedia, or any of those art auction houses that taunt you with pictures too small for detail to show, yet you know the pictures must be fine, otherwise why would they be auctioned off? I had the general time frame he was active, I felt, the 20s and early 30s were the only times his work appeared on Etude. I’ve not come across any other periodical that had his signature so far, although it’s completely possible there are things out there. It feels as though this artist appeared for a few years, got a few paying jobs, then either changed professions, retired, or was unemployed and became a bum. Months pass until I bothered with search engines again, and like anything you do over and over, you become better and better so my googling skills have picked up enough that I finally had a brainstorm–on bookfinder, besides entering his name as author, which he wasn’t, type it into keywords! Bam! And three Etude magazines appeared. Different approach, same result.
Today I was ticked off enough at myself for not figuring out how to locate something as simple as an illustrated kids book, that I googled again, this time with purpose. Nada. I considered contacting the most respected children’s book dealers I know, but then thought better of it. What if they have a copy of the very book I crave, and it’s 900 bucks? I’d cry rivers in between my keys and short the board out. Instead, I concentrated my teeny brain cells on what those other illustrations were from, and a little seed of memory started to sprout–I remember seeing illustrations for The Little Lame Prince, and Gulliver’s Travels, and they seemed to me in my mind’s eye to been similar in style to my holy grail picture. Bookfinder yielded nothing when those titles where entered without his name in the keywords, and it took far too long for me to get the combination right so that after scrolling through a few hundred copies of Gulliver’s one, just one, had an illustrator listed as F.Cooke. 1930 seemed right–but, did I really think this whimsical fairy like picture came from that ponderous volume? No. But now that I had a lead, I googled once again, this time adding Gulliver’s and what came up was a 1930 copyright page that sited F. S. Cooke for Gulliver’s and another book-Cuckoo Clock. I found Cuckoo Clock was written by Mrs. Moleswarth, yes, she used that odd name, and she was all over the place. Apparently she had been quite popular in her day, and there were various editions of her work floating around, including a 1930 edition illustrated by my Cooke. I recognized her name, I have an illustrated volume of hers, pictured by Mr. Cooke’s female doppelganger, Edna. Searching images of Cuckoo Clock covers got me nowhere, back in bookfinder after scrolling along I located one, one copy with Mr. Cooke as illustrator dated 1930. I was about to e-mail the seller to ask specifically about the illustration, when I noticed on another window eBay had come up in the search for Cuckoos so clicking on that brought me into the site, with ended auctions. But it gave me the idea to type in Cuckoo and see what might be. Again the scrolling–I stopped mid-finger when I saw a picture of a green board, just as described in bookfinder. Clicking on the page, before I even read the fine print–I saw a second photo, and it was the book opened to the frontispiece, and my longed for illustration attached to a spine at last!
Initially, I e-mailed asking if all the plates were intact, I find after many disappointments this is essential info, but after realizing they had a photo of the list of illustrations right there on the auction page, I pressed Buy It Now and did a little “I found that damn book” dance.
There is the possibility that the rest of the illustrations won’t measure up, and since they had posted two others and they were, just OK, I may be slightly disappointed. But after such a lengthy time, tedious search, just having that illustration up close and personal will be perfect. Unless of course, the thing is completely out of register. Then I’ll throw it up against the wall and start all over again.