ROBINSON, William Heath (author and illustrator). Bill The Minder. London, Constable & Co. Ltd. 1912.
4to. Original pale green cloth with large onlaid pictorial label to upper board surrounded by rococo flourishes in gilt, top edges green; pp. [xvi] + 254; illustrated with 16 fine mounted coloured, and tissue-guarded, plates and line drawings throughout in profusion; a fine copy in exceptional condition both internally and externally, with only the faintest speckling to endpapers and fore-edge of book block; scarce in this condition.
First edition, first issue, of this sought-after, and elusive, children's classic by the famed cartoonist and inventor of whimsically elaborate machines to complete basic everyday tasks. The name Heath Robinson has entered the lexicon to describe a particular brand of British eccentricity. In this fairy tale Heath Robinson weaves together a ridiculous, and riotous, series of events which exploit this talent. The main protagonist, a 15 year-old-boy named Bill, devises an array of gadgets to solve the problems faced by the eccentric figures he meets on his adventures. These include characters as diverse as the green-toed button crane of Baraboo, and a Sicilian cleaning lady. Given the task of looking after his younger cousins Boadicea and Chad, Bill and the two youngsters enjoy a loosely connected series of mind-bending experiences as the story unfurls.
Following the great success of his first major work, the masterpiece Uncle Lubin (1902), Heath Robinson followed up with another fantasy about a guardian of the young, but this time a champion child minder, Bill. The book is made up of 16 crazy stories which combine to form a work which the artist himself referred to as "not a book for children". Constable, the publisher, commissioned 125 line drawings, which are very finely executed and among Heath Robinson's best work, as well as 16 plates of jewel-like colour which surpass, in quality, much of his output. The publisher was probably experiencing financial pressures at the time of publication because far fewer of the expensive coloured plates were printed than sets of sheets, and only a relatively small run of the first issue of the book was produced in this decorative publisher's binding. Remainder sheets were issued subsequently in a much plainer red cloth, with half the number of plates. Interestingly three of the illustrator's children, Joan, Oliver and Alan, appear in one of the coloured plates.