State Library Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 77 Autumn 2006


Kate Riley
Elves and Fairies:
A Case Study in Australian Art Publishing

Elves & Fairies of Ida Rentoul Outhwaite. 1st edition, Lothian, 1916, p. 27. *RAREJLTF A821.2 OU8E Rare Books Collection.

In 1916 the Lothian Book Publishing Company issued two folio volumes featuring large colour plates of the work of two very different Australian artists: The Art of Frederick McCubbin, and Elves and Fairies, showcasing the work of Ida Rentoul Outhwaite.1 The release of the two books constituted a watershed in Australian publishing history.2 Never before had an Australian house attempted to produce such large and expensive illustrated Editions De Luxe, as Lothian preferred to call them. Perusing extant copies today corroborates the testimony of sales figures and praise from consumers and publishing professionals alike at the time of publication: Thomas Lothian's Melbourne firm was indeed equal to the task and had created handsome editions of remarkable quality.
The publication of Elves and Fairies is the subject of this study. (The story of McCubbin's book has been chronicled elsewhere.3) Its principal object is to offer a narrative account of the process by which the book came into print, which has not been attempted in any detail. In matters of business, for example, it provides a picture of the legal, practical and commercial undertakings involved in the Lothian firm's publication process, from the drawing up of contracts and the commissioning of printing blocks to the promotion of the forthcoming book. Given the constraints of the exercise, simply relating a version of events will form most of its extent. But some analysis of the information may yield insights into the nature of authorship, the book, the company and other related issues in the case of Elves and Fairies. Readers may at least identify in it starting-points for future research.
A recent search of literature has disclosed only scant work on Ida's life and her book. The advent of Elves and Fairies received some attention in Marcie Muir and Robert Holden's 1985 account of her life and art, The Fairy World of Ida Rentoul Outhwaite.4 Primary source material is also scarce. In particular, Ida left no personal papers or diaries. Against this background, the findings for this paper were drawn primarily from the Lothian Papers housed in the La Trobe Manuscripts Collection at the State Library of Victoria. It would be difficult to overestimate the relevance and utility of these Company documents, amassed during the working lifetime of Thomas C. Lothian, as primary source for information on the publication of Ida's book.5 Fortunately, the Lothian Papers contain a considerable range of materials pertaining to the production of Elves and Fairies, including correspondence, contracts, manuscripts, invoices, subscription lists and blurbs.
Ida Rentoul was born in June 1888, the second surviving daughter of the Reverend Professor John Laurence Rentoul, Presbyterian minister and influential professor of theology at Ormond College, the University of Melbourne, and his wife Annie Isobel Rattray. Her parents occupied a respectable position in Melbourne society and encouraged in their children erudition, liberal-mindedness and artistic romanticism.6 Indeed, Ida was named for the heroine of Tennyson's 1847 poem The Princess, of which the education of women is a key concern.7 At the age of fifteen, Ida, together with her elder sister Annie, published a fairy story in The New Idea magazine, beginning a juvenile career of regular publication in periodicals.8 Annie wrote stories and Ida provided the idiosyncratic fairy illustrations that she had begun to draw as a child, which proved to be the basis of her adult artistic career. The Victorian taste for fantasy, it seems, helped to create a lingering vogue for the fairy world, in children's literature at least. Ida's fairy world was special and successful because her sprites and brownies cavorted in distinctly Australian bushland settings, accompanied by possums and koalas. Before her marriage at the age of twenty-one, Ida had produced greetings-card series, designed costumes and story books to accompany theatre and pantomime productions, participated in the first Australian Women's Exhibition in 1907, and published various Australian songbooks and children's storybooks in association with her sister and other authors.9
In December 1909 Ida married Arthur Grenbry Outhwaite, thirteen years her senior and manager (from 1915 managing director) of The Perpetual Executors and Trustees Association of Australia. His forthright personality and power in professional and social spheres were clearly influential in Ida's life and he unquestionably dominated the production of Elves and Fairies. Her artistic output decreased somewhat in the years following their marriage owing to a mixture of social engagements and maternal responsibilities – three of her four children were born before Elves and Fairies went to press – although she managed to spend a considerable amount of time in her studio at their South Yarra home perfecting her watercolour technique.10
It is quite plausible that Thomas Lothian would have been familiar with Ida and her popular fairy pictures before he approached her with the idea of publishing a volume to showcase her colour works. Something of a celebrity in Melbourne, she had also been a customer of the Lothian Company before negotiations were entered into concerning her book. Amongst the Papers is a covering letter for the delivery to her of McCrae's Fleet and Convoy, dated 8 June 1915.11 Aside from this, Lothian was an active member of the Melbourne Presbyterian community in which Ida's family was so prominent. She was likely an attractive prospect, yet Elves and Fairies was a very costly book and it is difficult to gauge Lothian's relative degrees of enthusiasm and concern related to the project.
What is very clear from the Papers is that A.G. Outhwaite was the driving force behind Elves and Fairies. He had great ambitions for his wife and an interest in her profitability and fame. He controlled all of Ida's business affairs, including all dealings with the Lothian Company. There is not a single letter written by Ida amongst the hundreds in the collection, though there are passing references to consultation with her, generally on matters of style. Outhwaite took it upon himself to work for the success of the book and spent a great deal of time canvassing for subscribers. It was in his interest to do so; the contract reveals that he subsidised the production costs – an estimated £1000 – by an initial investment of £400, to be reimbursed as the edition paid for itself. The manner of his deep involvement caused more than a few difficulties in the relationship with Lothian.
Outhwaite outlined how the agreement to create Elves and Fairies came about in a letter to the Victorian Governor, Sir Arthur Stanley, requesting vice-regal patronage of the book.12 Apparently the Outhwaites had been saving Ida's illustrations for three years and when the First World War broke out were planning a trip to England with the intention of publishing them there. Thomas Lothian saw some of the pictures exhibited at the Melbourne Artists' Day and proposed a publication, assuring the Outhwaites that he could match the quality of English production.13 Outhwaite was not shy of pointing out that the expense of publishing in Australia would be much greater than publishing abroad.
On 16 December 1915 Thomas Lothian sent to Outhwaite the first proposal of the form of and conditions for Ida's book. It was disputed and amended in an exchange of letters and finally settled as a contract on 21 December. Outhwaite worked on conditions ever more
advantageous to himself, consistently refusing to sign and return Lothian's forms. He covered the missives he received from the publisher with pencilled changes.
The example of the contracted terms is interesting and relevant to the subsequent negotiations and process of production. The specifications for Elves and Fairies as determined on 21 December are outlined as follows (‘we’ stands for the Lothian Company and ‘you’ for Outhwaite):
The book will be for sale in Australasia, England and America.
Two volumes will be produced: an Edition De Luxe at £2/2/- and a popular edition at 5/-.
Another 5/- volume will be arranged later on, using pictures in the De Luxe edition not included in the first 5/- volume.
Accounts will be calculated quarterly, for the first year only, for sales in the second previous quarter.
The De Luxe edition will contain, say, fifteen colour and thirty black-and-white full-page illustrations. It will be around 100 pages in length. The full-page illustrations will measure 10″ by 8″.
The size of the popular edition will be decided later, but will be made as large as is reasonably possible to create the highest possible value.
We hold the printing and publishing rights of both volumes, and will receive all illustrations necessary for reproduction free and return them in perfect condition. Damaged pictures will be valued at six guineas each.
You will obtain permissions from papers and publishers for pictures already published.
You will provide a £400 subsidy for the production of the books, half of which is due on signing of the contract and the remainder on 1 February 1916.
The De Luxe edition will be limited to 1000 copies, to be sold to subscribers before publication at £2/2/-and after publication to be sold for £3/3/-.
The popular edition will be sold at 5/-, with a royalty of ten per cent (6d) paid on all copies sold.
One third of your subsidy will be returned when 500 De Luxe copies are sold and delivered, a further third at 700 and the balance when £1000 face value of the edition is sold.
An additional royalty of £100 on the De Luxe edition will be added to the final reimbursement.
In addition to any royalty, a twenty five per cent selling commission will go to you and your wife for honoured purchases you have initiated.
The popular edition will contain seven full-colour illustrations and fifteen in black-and-white, though numbers may be increased.
All popular copies sold to American or English publishers will earn you a ten per cent royalty on net receipts paid. These will have to be sold at a much cheaper rate to overseas publishers than to Australian booksellers.
You will be free to arrange overseas distribution if not satisfied with our efforts to do six months after publication.
You can publish the book in any part of the world after two months' notice if we cease to publish it or push its sale in any country.
You will protect us from unfair competition in the world where we are pushing our version of the book.

Elves & Fairies of Ida Rentoul Outhwaite. 1st edition, Lothian, 1916, p. 41. *RAREJLTF A821.2 OU8E Rare Books Collection.

You cannot issue a competing volume of a different work through an English house for two years, and not then at a price lower than 5/-.
If you want them for overseas publishing, the moulds, stereos and colour blocks can be taken over by you at two-thirds of the net cost less any amount not refunded on your subsidy.
Any part of the De Luxe volume not published by us in a cheap edition within two years will remain in your copyright.
If we are not using any materials then you are free to do so, so long as you do not create unfair competition where we are pressing our books for sale or have large stocks of it.
You can have the copyright of anything we are not making the best use of, as that is useless to both of us, so long as you do us no damage.
No stipulation is included in this agreement for us publishing further volumes for you.
Royalty Schedule
In addition to the final refund, there will also be a half-yearly royalty of 7/- on all copies sold direct at £2/2/- and 10/6 on all sold direct at £3/3/-. On copies sold to trade, there will be a royalty of 5/- and 7/6 respectively. When a discount greater than twenty per cent is granted to trade or selling agents, the royalty will be proportionately less.14
Outhwaite made sure that he would be remunerated satisfactorily and would receive a commission for the subscription selling he intended to do. He took special care to secure his rights to publish similar material overseas with the firm of his choice, and to preclude future obligation to the Lothian Company. He had the royalty schedule appended to the contract and made sure that the following cordial clauses that concluded Lothian's original proposal, which are a useful indicator to the modern reader of the nature of the undertaking, were excised.
Both volumes will be universally appreciated and recognisable as volumes of the highest possible production quality.
Publication will serve to spread the art and fame of ‘Ida Rentoul’ and we promise to do our utmost to get the fullest service from these volumes.
We understand that publication can establish the reputation of an artist and thus help to achieve their recognition worldwide.
When the De Luxe edition is ready the pictures it contains will be safe from destruction by fire and other disasters.
We are delighted at being allowed to handle the volume owing to our high appreciation of your wife's work. It is unrivalled, magnificent, etcetera.
We suggest an exhibition of pictures in Melbourne and later in Sydney shortly before the De Luxe edition is published. Then, by advertisements, specimen plates and sample volumes, all interested parties will be able to see the nature of the book. A list of subscribers could be hung in the room.
We believe at least 500 De Luxe copies will sell before publication, ensuring you an immediate refund of a third of your investment.
Work on the book will start immediately, as making colour blocks is a long, arduous and careful matter. We will endeavour to have the book issued by September next year (1916) and it will take us all our time to do it.
Beginning straight away we can ensure that supplies of high-grade paper will arrive in time and save on the thirty three per cent price rise which the paper dealers will put in place after 1 January 1916.
Understand that we are determined to publish a volume of the highest possible quality and that the actual monetary profit that we may make out of it is quite a secondary consideration.
If you are agreeable, this can be the basis of our agreement and will come into operation if you sign the enclosed copy.15
So stood the plans for Elves and Fairies. Though the popular editions did eventually come into print, attention here will focus on the first, and landmark, De Luxe edition. A fundamental feature not mentioned in the agreement is that the book was a collaborative effort between Ida and her sister Annie Rentoul, revisiting the successful illustrator-author partnership of earlier publications. Annie contributed a story and a collection of verses to the book, many of which were written to match specific pictures. The Lothian Papers contain her neatly-handwritten copy and text proofs.16
The contract did serve as a working principle, though its clauses were variously questioned or forgotten or stretched over the years. It is not possible to tell whether the haggling involved in determining it indicated to Lothian the sort of character he would be
dealing with in Outhwaite. Certainly the Company graciously ceded ground to Outhwaite in early negotiations, but his forcefulness did not soon abate. On the very day that the agreement was fixed he began his subscription campaign, composing the aforementioned letter to Governor Stanley, who he hoped would be one of the first three subscribers, alongside Governor-General Sir Ronald Ferguson and Chief Justice Sir John Madden. His letters assured the dignitaries that ‘as a publication it is certain to surpass anything ever done in Australia before, and we hope it will rival anything ever done in the Old World.’17
Outhwaite's letter to the New South Wales Governor, Sir Gerald Strickland, included his dream list for the first ten subscribers: the Governor-General, the State Governors and the Lieutenant Governor of Victoria, as well as Sir John Forrest and Sir Elliot Lewis.18 In an unprecedented coup for subscription to a book in Australia, he successfully obtained the sponsorship of all these men by the end of January 1916.19 He claimed no interest in profit, only a desire to make his wife's work known throughout Australia, and stated the intention of later bringing out ever-cheaper editions until it would be available to ‘the poorest children to all of whom young and old the book will be dedicated.’20 He consistently promoted the patriotic nature of the publication. By all appearances, the sense of the consequence of the undertaking as an exercise in Australian publishing sat at the forefront of the minds of those involved, and it was also an effective marketing tool.
The draft for the prospectus of the book reveals the marketing strategy employed by Outhwaite and Lothian, as well as some aspects of its appearance.21 First, they played upon Ida's familiarity to habitués of Melbourne society, before detailing the book's luxurious features. It was to be a grand imperial quarto, with high quality white antique wove paper, the large and clear-faced type having been chosen to ‘make the printed effect harmonise with the pictures’. The illustrations were to be of such quality and size to be suitable for framing, and surely the book would show that Ida ranked amongst the great children's illustrators like Greenaway, Rackham and Dulac. The expense was beyond that of any production yet mounted in Australia, but any profits that accrued during wartime would be donated to one of the Red Cross funds. Prominent and respectable subscribers were listed: clerics, headmasters of private schools, the governors, academics and military officials.
The list of subscribers appears over and over again in the Papers in variously updated forms. It was clearly most significant. Outhwaite began with his impressive collection of sponsors, and by 16 March 1916 over 360 orders had been placed, according to Lothian a record sale of this kind for Australia.22 Subscribers included Alfred Deakin, Professor Baldwin Spencer, Dame Nellie Melba and Frederick McCubbin. A special order form was used, based on the template for the McCubbin orders, which Ida decorated with a border of fairy figures.23 The honour, or social cachet, of having one's name printed in the list at the back of the volume is reflected in several letters of complaint regarding names included, omitted or misspelt.24
Work on the volume progressed swiftly. By 21 January 1916 Lothian was able to send
Outhwaite the first two colour plates of Ida's illustrations fresh from the engravers. Both men were satisfied with the ‘excellent reproduction’ and the ‘very high quality work’ achieved by Messrs Osboldstone and Company, and felt assured that the book would indeed be a shining example of Australian craftsmanship.25 On 27 January Lothian wrote to Outhwaite requesting six or seven black-and-white illustrations for the master engraver to have his assistants work on while he did the colour plates. The letter also requested a deposit of his subsidy, outlined the proposed matter and format of the prospectus, and reported that order forms were ready to be sent out and agents and travelling salesmen had begun to promote the book.26
A letter of 15 March indicates that Lothian was pressing the ‘two very fine art books’, Elves and Fairies and The Art of Frederick McCubbin, together upon his English agent Hatherley Clarke.27 He hoped 100 copies of Ida's book would be placed for sale on the English market, and that neither volume should be offered to English publishers for less than thirty-two shillings and sixpence. He sent dummies in April and expressed a preference that Clarke should try the more renowned houses such as Heinemann, again suggesting they should try to sell 100 copies.28 War made it very difficult to sell such expensive books into England. Clarke warned of the particular trouble he was having with these volumes in May, and by October 1916 reported that The Art of Frederick McCubbin had been turned down by Constable, Dent, Headley Brothers, Heinemann and Hodder and Stoughton, and that Elves and Fairies had fared no better.29
Considerable effort went into selling the book in Australia, too. Outhwaite's activities and contacts were important in the success of the book but not always entirely reliable. A lawyer friend in Sydney communicated an offer of assistance from Arthur Allen, a partner in his firm who was also a director of Angus and Robertson.30 Outhwaite visited Sydney in April, taking a dummy of Elves and Fairies and selling copies of a prospectus to book retailers.31 A block of ‘Autumn Fairies’ was made available for retailers to print their own circulars. As the project met with little initial success in Sydney – talks with Angus and Robertson came to nothing – Lothian set James Tyrrell the task of canvassing there. Tyrrell was an excellent bookseller and former Angus and Robertson employee whose reputation, so the correspondence suggests, was slightly tarnished.32 He managed a little better.33 Outhwaite insisted on employing his friend, a Miss I. Fenner, as sales representative, but her unsatisfactory methods aggravated Lothian at a point of great strain in relations between the two men.34 It emerged that she had not done any direct canvassing and had simply worked by correspondence. Lothian therefore refused to support her proposed expedition to Sydney in September. She might have been useful in Melbourne but the issue of whether she was free to make further arrangements with Lothian or whether she was tied to Outhwaite needed to be resolved.35
Production progressed smoothly and sales in Melbourne were healthy. By 22 June the final text proofs were ready for checking before being sent to press.36 Most of the art was

Elves & Fairies of Ida Rentoul Outhwaite. 1st edition, Lothian, 1916, facing p. 47. *RAREJLTF A821.2 OU8E Rare Books Collection.

finished too. Outhwaite reported that Ida was holding back two watercolours in case she completed something better, though she could certainly supply them to meet her 1 July deadline as promised.37 He suggested plans for an exhibition of illustrations around publication time – the letters show they were working for a September or October release – hopefully to be opened by the Governor-General at the Centreway art room on Collins Street.38 On 27 June Lothian reported 525 sales, requested the return of the proofs Outhwaite held and sent him a cheque for £382/14/2 for royalties and the first refund of one third of the subsidy.39
Against this background of successful industry Outhwaite's scrawled item of correspondence (most of the letters are typed) of the same date seems quite out of the blue.
I think you will agree that I have worked hard for the book and that without me it could never in these times have been the phenomenal success it promises to be. The list of subscribers in itself is unique. But for me you would have got an order of 25 from Mullens Robertsons Presales. Now as salesman traveller manager editor financier or whatever I am I want a reward not from any one in particular and not monetary. I want a hundred copies of the book if not free then for the cost of the paper and ink. All my life I want to have a copy at hand to give to a poor friend or relative. I think you recognize my rights and I have asked for nothing until you were out of the woods. The book will make your name as the Art Publisher of Australia. I have no doubt a thousand will be sold. Let me know will you what is the best you can do. I want my name in the list.40
Lothian's response was extremely polite: ‘It would indeed be most ungracious of us if we did not recognise frankly and fully all the splendid work you have done in connection with Elves and Fairies. Certainly without this help the book would never have been made possible.’41 His answer to Outhwaite's request for cheap copies reveals how much the book cost to produce. He pointed out that the amounts settled and incurred on the book had already exceeded £1000 and that each copy cost not less than a pound to produce. He offered Outhwaite a hundred at one pound each. Continuing on with practical matters, he mentioned that newspaper advertisements were about to be placed and that circulars were to be sent to the whole of the Melbourne telephone book, as well as two lists of ‘book buyers and picture lovers’ he had obtained.42
Outhwaite made a curt response to Lothian's letter of 27 June reporting progress and monies. ‘I fail to see how I can very well supply the Red Cross with a cheque at the opening ceremony [the exhibition must have been planned] if that is how the account stands.’43 Later that day he sent a second letter, this one positively rude, having received Lothian's offer of books at one pound each.44 He asserted his disappointment and his entitlement to books at cost price: ‘I have had a good deal of experience of printing, and I know that to print 1100 instead of 1000 copies of the book could not possibly cost anything like £100.’ He demanded books at exactly the cost the firm would pay for 1100 instead of 1000 and threatened to compare Lothian's expenses with costs allegedly negotiated with ‘Hinnemans’ (sic) in London. He closed the matter thus:
If you cannot do better than your letter on re-consideration, please let me know, and I will stop my efforts on behalf of this book, and start out on another one with another publisher, even though I have to wait two years before publication. I do not want payment for what I have done, but I do not want ingratitude either.
The next day he reported having delivered the last two watercolours to Messrs Osboldstone and Company, the engravers, his ‘wife thus completing her part of the Contract before July 1st.’45
Lothian's brief note of 3 July betrayed lapsing patience with Outhwaite. He asked whether he expected to buy copies at 7/- or 8/-.46 Outhwaite delivered another odious response but the following day said civilly that he would have time to read proofs as he was going on a train journey, and would the Lothian Company please return some original pictures as Mullen's bookshop was asking for some to create a window display.47 Lothian replied, glad of Mullen's' interest, offering Outhwaite pictures and a set of proofs.48 He reported that the spine design was ready and Outhwaite's draft of the exhibition invitation was fine and should bring plenty of visitors. He noted Outhwaite's suggestion of the pictures ‘War’ and ‘Butterfly Fairies’ and said these would be used to make another circular. He made a retort, too, which also reveals the real cost of the book.
We were very sorry indeed to note the tone that you adopted in your letter of June 29th. We gave you the benefit of the 100 copies being taken from out of our first supply of 1500 (not a thousand as you said). This offer is now cancelled, and we have asked the printers to give us a quotation for an extra 100 copies in addition to our 1500, and this will be sent to you as soon as received.
It is impossible to know very much about printing and to think that the finished book of Elves and Fairies could possibly cost us 9/- or 10/-. The book printers told us yesterday that they would want 16/6 per copy for the printing and the binding alone.
Outhwaite's reply was weak and unreasonable.49
I was very sorry to have to write in that tone, but do not propose to write any more, as my Wife does not want to bother further about the matter. I can therefore stand out of the list of subscribers. I merely wished in my first letter to give you an opportunity of showing some generous appreciation of my efforts to make the book a success for the publishers as well as for my Wife and Sister-in-law.
He claimed not to have authorised the pictures for the circular – ‘I merely suggested them, and would not think of making any arrangement to circularize them without consulting my Wife’ – and asked that its production be delayed in any case until late August. Finally, he asked if a cheque for £400 was available as about £1000 of face value must now have been sold.
Outhwaite returned to business in his next letter, reporting the final submission of poems and vignettes.50 Soon afterwards he and Ida were presented with a full set of prints to examine and decide on titles and mounts.51 By 7 August a preface was delivered, written by Archibald Strong, a prominent Melbourne University academic who had charged no fee and was thus given a complimentary copy. H.H. Champion, bookseller and socialist, had been invited to write the preface but had been rejected for asking the fee of £5/5/-.52
The ‘misunderstanding’ was apparently settled following a lunch meeting. Outhwaite claimed he was upset at never knowing that the print run had been increased from 1000 to 1500, and indeed this is the first mention of the change in the documents.53 They agreed that Outhwaite could purchase 100 copies at one pound each, and he would also provide a cheque (to be reimbursed) for £100 to be handed to the Governor-General for the Red Cross at the exhibition launch.54 The very same day, however, he raised the issue of the payment due to Annie Rentoul for her contribution to the book (it will be remembered that she was never mentioned in the contract). As she had been paid about £25 for her part in the songbooks, Outhwaite wrote: ‘I suppose £50 which I arranged with her for you would be a fair thing, seeing there is just about five times the work in this book.’ He asked for this £50 plus a further £50 advance of profits owing to him.55 Lothian baulked at the request for money and deftly dismissed the issue with a brief paragraph mid-letter: ‘We notice in your letter that you make some reference to a payment to Miss Rentoul, but of course this has nothing to do with us.’56
Outhwaite insisted Lothian had gone back on their agreement to pay Annie before quickly allowing the matter to be dropped.57 He then outlined an unintelligibly complicated scheme to help the Lothian Company repay him for his efforts, despite prior insistence that he would receive nothing. Lothian was probably quite honest in replying that he did not understand.58
Plans for the exhibition on 14 September 1916 were settled, but the trouble
continued. On the day of the opening Outhwaite lodged a claim for £6/6/- for the picture ‘Foam Fairies’. The picture was listed in the exhibition catalogue but had been mislaid, he alleged, by Messrs Osboldstone and Company, the engravers.59 Meanwhile, the early response to Elves and Fairies was excellent. Outhwaite wrote to Lothian that everyone he met with was delighted about the book, and that the exhibition was working as a fantastic advertisement, nearly 1000 people coming to view the pictures between 14 and 18 September.60 Lothian aimed for publication on 1 October and guaranteed the delivery of all orders within the first fortnight of that month.61 Outhwaite was once more unreasonable in asking that a further donation of £25 be sent to the Holy Trinity branch of Red Cross as a boon to his sister who was treasurer of that branch.62 Lothian refused on grounds of having no profits until three months after publication.63
Following hard on the Red Cross matter was a dispute over the Lothian Company's purchase of an illustration and its publication rights for use in their catalogue.64 Messrs Osboldstone and Company proved their innocence in the ‘Foam Fairies’ issue, but not without availing Outhwaite an opportunity to be riled at their own expression of offence at being called disorganised.65 Mr Osboldstone commented: ‘It is quite possible that they have mislaid the picture as we have had similar incidents where they have discovered their mistake.’66 Lothian suffered Outhwaite through the extended process of paying royalties and reimbursements and attempting to place the book in England and North America, and was bitten once more when Outhwaite wanted to purchase the blocks to publish in England a few years later. This time the trouble began with a letter in October 1919 giving two months' notice in writing of Outhwaite's intention to publish in Europe and, perhaps, America. ‘This notice is of course given in the most friendly spirit, and if you could dispense with the notice so much the better, as I am leaving for England in December and may possibly wish to make some preliminary arrangements.’67
To detail the fraught relationship of Lothian and Outhwaite much further would be tedious. Lothian eventually bought the Outhwaite and Rentoul rights to all the Elves and Fairies material for £150 cash and a £25 credit account at the Lothian Company.68 The transfer of copyright was the only document in all their dealings that Lothian insisted on having Ida sign.69
Elves and Fairies was released in October 1916 and met with universal acclaim from subscribers. The generic covering letter attached to copies on Lothian's kookaburra letterhead invoked national pride:70
As an Australian production, we think you will be very proud of this fine book for it reflects great credit upon Australian workmanship. It marks, together with the companion volume, The Art of Frederick McCubbin, a decided step in the advance of Australian Art and Letters, an advance which will give a thrill of pleasure to all patriotic Australians.
Many acknowledgements of the book are complimentary, but the most notable is that sent by Arthur Wadsworth, Librarian of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Library, who had received the compulsory copyright volume to place in the national collection.

Elves & Fairies of Ida Rentoul Outhwaite. 1st edition, Lothian, 1916, facing p. 75. *RAREJLTF A821.2 OU8E Rare Books Collection.

I take the opportunity of saying that I am proud my native country can produce such a splendid work. The illustrations, full of delicate and graceful fancy, in my opinion deserve the high praise of excelling anything the artist has done before, while the complete sympathy between the two to whom we owe the book makes me wonder whether the verses were written for the pictures, or the pictures drawn for the verses.
I have sometimes noticed with regret Australian authors taking their work to London for publication. You have proved, not for the first time in this book, how unnecessary that is.71
The official response, then, confirmed the importance of Elves and Fairies to Australian publishing and culture.
The majority of sales came from Melbourne but the book made its way throughout the country and beyond, from interested bookseller-stationers like J.H. Thompson in Brisbane to the Queen.72 Outhwaite made a gift of the volume to Her Majesty in mid December 1916, which she was reportedly pleased to accept and interested to possess, and she was glad to know that proceeds would aid the Australian Red Cross.73 By February 1917 Outhwaite had decided to travel to Sydney to sell remaining copies at a reduced price.74 Lothian urged him to trade with Angus and Robertson and Anthony Hordern, and an exhibition was mounted in Sydney in association with Hordern's in April.75 The exhibition was a great success but associated sales failed to meet with their best hopes. British reviews, though favourable, tended to focus on the physical structure of the book rather than its content, and sales prospects there remained frustrated.76 Positive negotiations with Macmillan for sales in Britain and India fell through.77 Lothian's efforts to find a North American market were frustrated due to the book's price, but still Outhwaite insisted on sending a few copies to New York with his well-connected oil magnate friend Mr A.K. Oak-Rhind.78 Lothian forwarded to Outhwaite praise from his American colleagues that shows genuine acknowledgement of the calibre of the publication, such as Houghton Mifflin manager C.S. Olcott's congratulations on ‘the unusual beauty of the book, both in its typography and its illustrations.’79
In July 1917 Lothian proposed further work for Ida. The job of illustrating a book called The Camp was turned down owing to the prospect of slim remuneration and the need for too many animal pictures, which Ida did not feel confident to execute.80 Lothian suggested discussing a book of drawings and poems ready for Christmas, and by doing so found out that Outhwaite was negotiating a volume similar to Elves and Fairies with another firm who could manage the expense of production.81 Whether or not this was true – no contract had been entered into – Ida would not have time for such a book if she were preparing illustrations for a larger edition, though she might consider lighter work.
As it turned out, Lothian did not use Ida's material again until the popular 5/- edition of Elves and Fairies was prepared. Outhwaite acknowledged receipt of a ‘very attractive’ dummy on 17 Feb 1919.82 In a very friendly letter to Thomas Lothian late in 1918 Annie Rentoul had encouraged the appearance of a cheap edition in the interests of the children who would then have access to it.83 Lothian's draft blurb stated that it would be ‘before

A photograph believed to be of Ida Rentoul Outhwaite and her children. Rentoul Family Papers. PA 02/97, La Trobe Australian Manuscripts Collection.

anything else a kiddies' book’ that would see them ‘imbibing that love of the beautiful which is so essential to character-building.’84
By 19 December 1918 Outhwaite offered to pay one pound each for the sixty-six remaining copies of the De Luxe edition.85 Elves and Fairies was more or less a closed concern, though Ida's illustrations continued to appear in books and advertisements (the curious use of fairies to promote petroleum products must have come about through one of Outhwaite's deals86) for some years before changing fashion rendered fairies quite passé.
The story of Elves and Fairies reflects the essential fact that its nationally-significant production was above all a business matter, tendentiously executed by Lothian and Outhwaite. The Lothian Company's endeavour was a success that proved the capacity and quality of Australian publishing in an industry and a culture where Britain was dominant and its prowess accepted, though the financial returns were less than had been desired. The women who created Elves and Fairies are almost absent from the story of its publication. Ida and Annie Rentoul were generally excluded from business negotiations and so from control of production, rights and royalties. The publication and distribution of what was really a children's book relied on the fiscal and cultural interest of adults of elevated social status. It was a covetable decorative item then, and a copy well preserved from the ravages of little fingers might today fetch around $5000.
The ongoing investigation of our publishing heritage is an important aspect of Australian cultural history. Further historical engagement with the questions that the Elves and Fairies case raises – not least the issue of gender and authorship – should produce
insights as to the broader significance of preserving and making public the work of Australian artists in book form, and the forces informing publishing, reading and purchasing activities in early twentieth-century Australia.
[The research and writing of this paper was completed in 2003 under the tutelage of John Arnold, then of the School of Political and Social Inquiry at Monash University, now at the National Centre for Australian Studies at Monash. I should like to thank John for directing me to the Lothian archive and for his subsequent support for the project.]


Hereafter ‘Ida’, to avoid confusion between her maiden (Ida Rentoul) and wedded (Ida Rentoul Outhwaite) names and for ease of distinction from her husband Arthur Grenbry Outhwaite, hereafter ‘Outhwaite’.


In the middle of that fabled period of cultural drought and artistic exile following the ‘premature flowering’ of the 1890s, 1916 witnessed not only the production of Lothian's monumental works but also the establishment in New South Wales of Sydney Ure Smith's art periodical, Art in Australia. See Geoffrey Serle, The Creative Spirit in Australia: A Cultural History, new illustrated edition. Richmond, Vic., William Heinemann Australia, 1987, pp.88–9.


McCubbin's book was reissued in facsimile with commentary and essays in 1986. J.S. MacDonald et al., The Art of Frederick McCubbin, Brisbane, Boolarong Publications, 1986.


Marcie Muir and Robert Holden, The Fairy World of Ida Rentoul Outhwaite, Seaforth, NSW, Craftsman House, 1985, pp.47–50.


Lothian Papers, Lothian Publishing Company Pty Ltd, La Trobe Manuscript Collection, State Library of Victoria, MS 6026. For further insights on Thomas Lothian and the Lothian Company, see Stuart Sayers, The Company of Books: a short history of the Lothian Book Companies, 1888–1988, Melbourne, Lothian, 1988.


Muir and Holden, The Fairy World, p.14.


For a discussion of another local iteration of Princess Ida, the Princess Ida Club formed by female students of the University of Melbourne in 1888, see Helen Hickey, ‘Medievalism and Sorority: The Princess Ida Club’, antiTHESIS forum, Volume Three: Once and Future Medievalism, 2005


Muir and Holden, The Fairy World, p.22.


Ibid, pp.25–43 passim.


Ibid, p.44.


Lothian Papers, Box 25, Folder 2, 8 June 1915, Lothian to Ida Rentoul Outhwaite.


Lothian Papers, Box 25, Folder 2, 21 December 1915, Outhwaite to Sir Arthur Stanley.


It is difficult to identify this Artists' Day. Ida was involved in various group exhibitions and from 1916 had solo shows, yet none of the exhibitions listed in Muir and Holden (The Fairy World, Appendix 1: Chronology of Exhibitions, pp. 159–60) seems of probable date. It was most likely sometime in the earlier part of 1915.


Lothian Papers, Box 25, Folder 2, 21 December 1915, Lothian to Outhwaite.


Lothian Papers, Box 25, Folder 2, 16 December 1915, Lothian to Outhwaite.


Lothian Papers, Box 8, Folder 9, A: manuscript verse by Annie Rentoul, B: proofs of verse by Annie Rentoul (both mistakenly labelled ‘by Ida Rentoul’).


Lothian Papers, Box 25, Folder 2, 21 December 1915, Outhwaite to Sir Arthur Stanley.


Lothian Papers, Box 25, Folder 2, 7 January 1916, Outhwaite to Sir Gerald Strickland.


Lothian Papers, Box 25, Folder 2, 28 January 1916, Lothian to Outhwaite.


Lothian Papers, Box 25, Folder 2, 7 January 1916, Outhwaite to Sir Gerald Strickland.


Lothian Papers, Box 25, Folder 2, 16 February 1916.


Lothian Papers, Box 5, Folder 1, B, 16 March 1916, Lothian to Outhwaite.


Lothian Papers, Box 25, Folder 2, 17 December 1915, Lothian to Outhwaite.


Lothian Papers, Box 6, Folder 1, A, Lothian to Mrs A. Newbigin (where the name did not appear as the subscription arrived after the list closed – Mrs Newbigin subscribed through Miss Fenner).


Lothian Papers, Box 25, Folder 2, 21 January 1916, Lothian to Outhwaite.


Lothian Papers, Box 25, Folder 2, 27 January 1916, Lothian to Outhwaite.


Lothian Papers, Box 7, Folder 3, 15 March 1916, Lothian to Hatherley Clarke.


Lothian Papers, Box 7, Folder 3, 4 April 1916, Lothian to Hatherley Clarke.


Lothian Papers, Box 7, Folder 3, 19 May 1916 and 26 October 1916, Hatherley Clarke to Lothian.


Lothian Papers, Box 5, Folder 1, A, 6 April 1916, Arthur Hemsley to Outhwaite.


Lothian Papers, Box 5, Folder 1, A, 20 April 1916, Lothian to Outhwaite.


Lothian Papers, Box 5, Folder 1, A, 28 April 1916 and 14 June 1916, Lothian to Outhwaite.


Lothian Papers, Box 5, Folder 1, A, 14 June 1916, Lothian to Outhwaite.


Lothian Papers, Box 5, Folder 2, A, 22 August 1916, Lothian to Outhwaite.


Miss Fenner did make some sales – an undated list of her subscribers exists, Lothian Papers, Box 5, Folder 2, B.


Lothian Papers, Box 5, Folder 1, A, 22 June 1916, Lothian to Outhwaite.


Lothian Papers, Box 5, Folder 1, A, 23 June 1916, Outhwaite to Lothian.


Lothian Papers, Box 5, Folder 1, A, 15 June 1916, Outhwaite to Lothian.


Lothian Papers, Box 5, Folder 1, A, 27 June 1916, Lothian to Outhwaite.


Lothian Papers, Box 5, Folder 1, A, 27 June 1916, Outhwaite to Lothian.


Lothian Papers, Box 5, Folder 1, A, 28 June 1916, Lothian to Outhwaite.


Sending circulars to the whole telephone book shows how small, relatively, the number of telephone subscribers was at the time. Lothian made good use of this public index of Melbourne's financially advantaged.


Lothian Papers, Box 5, Folder 1, A, 29 June 1916, Outhwaite to Lothian (1).


Lothian Papers, Box 5, Folder 1, A, 29 June 1916, Outhwaite to Lothian (2).


Lothian Papers, Box 5, Folder 1, A, 30 June 1916, Outhwaite to Lothian.


Lothian Papers, Box 5, Folder 1, A, 3 July 1916, Lothian to Outhwaite.


Lothian Papers, Box 5, Folder 1, A, 4 July 1916, Outhwaite to Lothian.


Lothian Papers, Box 5, Folder 1, A, 5 July 1916, Lothian to Outhwaite.


Lothian Papers, Box 5, Folder 1, A, 7 July 1916, Outhwaite to Lothian.


Lothian Papers, Box 5, Folder 2, A, 20 July 1916, Outhwaite to Lothian.


Lothian Papers, Box 5, Folder 2, A, 31 July 1916, Lothian to Outhwaite.


Lothian Papers, Box 5, Folder 2, A, 7 August 1916, Outhwaite to Lothian.


Lothian Papers, Box 9, Folder 20, 17 August 1916, Outhwaite to Lothian.


Lothian Papers, Box 9, Folder 20, 18 August 1916, Lothian to Outhwaite.


Lothian Papers, Box 5, Folder 2, A, 18 August 1916, Outhwaite to Lothian.


Lothian Papers, Box 5, Folder 2, A, 22 August 1916, Lothian to Outhwaite.


Lothian Papers, Box 5, Folder 2, A, 23 August 1916, Outhwaite to Lothian.


Lothian Papers, Box 5, Folder 2, A, 23 August 1916, Lothian to Outhwaite.


Lothian Papers, Box 5, Folder 2, A, 14 September 1916, Outhwaite to Lothian.


Lothian Papers, Box 5, Folder 2, A, 19 September 1916, Outhwaite to Lothian. The catalogue for the exhibition of 14–23 September survives, listing 86 pictures, Lothian Papers, Box 5, Folder 2, B (2).


Lothian Papers, Box 5, Folder 2, A, 19 September 1916, Lothian to Outhwaite.


Lothian Papers, Box 5, Folder 2, A, 19 September 1916, Outhwaite to Lothian (2).


Lothian Papers, Box 5, Folder 2, A, 20 September 1916, Lothian to Outhwaite.


Lothian Papers, Box 5, Folder 2, A, 22 September 1916 and 27 September 1916, Lothian to Outhwaite, and 22 September 1916, Outhwaite to Lothian.


Lothian Papers, Box 5, Folder 2, A, 27 September 1916, Lothian to Outhwaite, and 29 September Outhwaite to Lothian, and Box 18, Folder 6, B, 22 September 1916, Osboldstone to Lothian.


Lothian Papers, Box 18, Folder 6, B, 18 September 1916, Osboldstone to Lothian.


Lothian Papers, Box 10, Folder 4, G, 28 October 1919, Outhwaite to Lothian, further negotiations at this location.


Lothian Papers, Box 24, Folder 12, A, 14 November 1919, Outhwaite to Lothian.


Lothian Papers, Box 24, Folder 12, A, 18 November 1919, Lothian to Outhwaite, further negotiations at this location.


Lothian Papers, Box 6, Folder 1, A, 17 October 1916, Lothian to Sir W. Baldwin Spencer.


Lothian Papers, Box 6, Folder 1, A, 27 October 1916, Arthur Wadsworth to Lothian.


Lothian Papers, Box 6, Folder 1, A, 8 November 1916, J.H. Thompson to Lothian.


Box 5, Folder 2, A, 1 February 1917, Queen's Private Secretary Edward Wallington to Outhwaite.


Lothian Papers, Box 5, Folder 2, A, 14 February 1917, Outhwaite to Lothian.


Lothian Papers, Box 5, Folder 2, A, 20 February 1917 and 30 April 1917, Outhwaite to Lothian, and 22 February 1917 and 30 March 1917, Lothian to Outhwaite.


Lothian Papers, Box 5, Folder 2, A, 14 November 1916 and 21 November 1916, Lothian to Outhwaite, and 20 November 1916, Outhwaite to Lothian.


Lothian Papers, Box 5, Folder 2, A, 22 February 1917, Lothian to Outhwaite.


Lothian Papers, Box 5, Folder 2, A, 30 April 1917, Outhwaite to Lothian, and 2 May 1917, Lothian to Outhwaite.


Lothian Papers, Box 5, Folder 2, A, 11 May 1917, C.S. Olcott to Lothian.


Lothian Papers, Box 5, Folder 2, A, 13 July 1917, Outhwaite to Lothian.


Lothian Papers, Box 5, Folder 2, A, 27 July 1917, Lothian to Outhwaite, and 31 July 1917, Outhwaite to Lothian.


Lothian Papers, Box 9, Folder 20, 17 February 1919, Outhwaite to Lothian.


Lothian Papers, Box 9, Folder 19, 24 November 1918, Annie Rentoul to Lothian.


Lothian Papers, Box 24, Folder 12, D, 15 November 1919.


Lothian Papers, Box 9, Folder 20, 19 December 1918, Outhwaite to Lothian.


Muir and Holden, The Fairy World, pp.57–9.