The Ship That Sailed To Mars

When my best friend’s mother passed away, Bob wanted to give me a thousand dollars from her estate to do with as I pleased. I was gobsmacked. I loved his mother, of course, and was saddened by her passing. She had been ill for years with dementia, and Bob had been there for her throughout, and sometimes I was beside him. So I suppose he wanted to do something nice for me, in her memory. Bob and I have known each other since the Lorry Bookshop days of yore, when we both worked for the unusual owners of a general independent bookstore located across from City Hall, NYC. I was reluctant to receive that large a sum of money for simply being a friend, but when Bob insists on something, it’s best to go with the flow. So upon receipt of the cash, I pondered what to do with it. I knew it would be very easy to fritter it away on nothings, or use for the ever present rent and bills, but I didn’t want his mother’s legacy to be lost in pedestrian transactions. I had started collecting some nice first edition children’s illustrated books with whatever spare bucks available, and dreamed of owning something exotic and rare–a Kay Nielsen, for example–but any book of his was too far out of even the one thousand dollar range. So too my other favorites; Arthur Rackham, Edmund Dulac, W. Heath Robinson. All golden age illustrators, and all highly collectible and therefore expensive. I had several Ok editions from my favorite illustrator, Anne Anderson, and decided to forgo her this time.

Years ago, when I first encountered illustrations from the turn of the century era of children’s books, it was via Green Tiger Press postcards and notecards. I found an ad in a New Yorker magazine for their products and sent away for a catalog. What occurred after was a crazed person picking and choosing over and over again which cards to order within my pathetic budget of a just graduated theatre major who worked at a disco bar as a cocktail waitress in the middle of Pennsylvania trying to earn enough money to move to the big shiny theatrical apple. In other words, I spent hours perusing and choosing, to only change my mind and choose again until I finalized my picks. Then I waited. When the package arrived from California to the tiniest apartment in existence, I was as elated as on Christmas day, or if I’d just won a coveted acting role–the latter was rarer. I devoured the pictures, sometimes hung them up, mostly kept them in a special box to gaze at whenever needed. I still have most of those cards today.

A couple cards I chose featured work by a little known artist named William Timlin. He did one and only one book for children, and that’s all I knew about him. But I was intrigued enough to notice a certain similarity in style to Rackham, a much more prolific and known artist, and I wondered if Timlin was inspired by Rackham, or blatantly copied him. Since all I’d seen of his work was two postcards, and a single unrelated illustration notecard from the UK, I’d no real idea if his style was copying Rackham or not.

By the time of Bob’s generosity I had learned more about Timlin from current high end children’s book dealers catalogs, and major book shows in the city. The Ship That Sailed to Mars was a masterpiece, considered so by many experts and coveted by collectors. Only 2,000 copies of the book were printed. 48 pages of illustrations beside 48 leaves of calligraphic text. A mixture of fantasy, science fiction, and fairy tale, the story involves a man who builds a flying ship and takes it on an adventure to Mars. A truly special and scarce book, I felt this was the perfect piece to spend the money on–every time I’d open the book I’d remember Bob’s mother with fondness.

A copy was available from Aleph-Bet Books, a fantastic source for first rate vintage illustrated children’s books. I’d bought some pieces from them before and have several in my collection from their hands. The price back in the mid 90s when purchased was $1100.00 (without original dust wrapper.) And I literally didn’t have the other 100! The wonderful owners of Aleph-Bet Books allowed me to pay off the last 100 and take the book home before the debt was paid! Which it was. Browsing through was euphoric. Each illustration seemed more mystical, magical than the last, and since every page had a picture next to it, there were no gaps in the visual delights. I admit, many titles I purchase are for art only, the text is of little interest to me, unless of course Alice in Wonderland et at. However, the story intrigued me, I did want to read it, but the delicate nature of the book made me timid, and I’ve not spent time to read each page, all these years. His style although a bit reminiscent of Rackham, definitely has its own peculiar stamp, and the Martians are particularly fanciful and different. Some of the ideas and pictures are wildly imaginative, unlike any thing I’d seen before.

Recently, due to the age of instant info, I was able to learn more about Timlin–he was born in 1892 England and after showing artistic promise was awarded a scholarship to an art school. His parents moved to South Africa and he along with them. He became an architect designing several buildings within the country, illustrated for magazines and travel books. He appears to have been a real Rennaisance man, along with exhibiting fantasy watercolors, and oils, he wrote stories and composed music. He worked on The Ship That Sailed To Mars for two years, in the beginning as a gift for his son. He sent the finished product to George Harrap publishers who printed it without typesetting and it was released in 1923. He must have been incredibly busy with these other projects because although he had meant to write and illustrate a book he already titled–The Building of a Fairy City, only a few illustrations were created, and he died in 1943 without completing the book.

I’ve since seen other illustrations and artworks of his for sale in catalogs and on the net, all are fabulous. Checking out the price of a copy today, on bookfinder it seemed to range from approx. 2,500 to 3,800, depending on condition. And if the book has its original dust jacket–much higher. 4,500 to 6,000. I suppose this might mean my book has increased in value, at least in monetary terms. On purely personal worth, it’s priceless to me.

Footnote: I’ve included many of the illustrations my husband photographed from the book–no way would we try to scan this treasure. But! I just tonight found a website with every single illustration, AND the text! In a way, it bums me out a bit, it was neat having a rarely glimpsed book. However, I also found that it was reprinted in 1993, and the cost for the reprint can be over 100 bucks!

And, to make my prize even less rare, at least in visual form, it’s been reprinted again! It will be released in Sept this year from Calla Editions. I probably will purchase one just to be able to handle the book without holding my breath.

Here’s a link to the online Ship That Sailed to Mars–

To check out the independent vintage children’s book seller Aleph-Bet Books, here’s their link:

2 thoughts on “The Ship That Sailed To Mars”

  1. Wonderful!! Not Mrs. Bob’s dying, but how you spent the money Bob gave you in her memory. The Timlin illustrations are fab-u-lous; thanks for the link to the book. I enjoyed the mental picture of you selecting Green Tiger Press cards, I’ve been in that position also- agonizing over purchase choices while constrained by a slim wallet – and it somehow, I think, makes the final purchase more beloved.
    Just one question: why would you not scan the book? Would it harm the binding?

  2. Oh yes it would indeedy, Nancy. It may not, but even in my husband’s expert hands, he does scanning as part of his job, he damaged an 400 buck book–I think I’ll write about that too! Thanks again, for stopping by and taking the time to read my stuff, it is always appreciated, and for extra measure, enjoyable!!

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