The Man Behind Peter Rabbit Antiques And Tins

Peter Rabbit Candy Tin
Walter Harrison Cady, the artist responsible for the design work on the popular Peter Rabbit antiques and cartoon tins was born in Gardner, MA in 1877 and lived there throughout his boyhood and adolescent years. As a child, he received only basic grammar school education but was always drawn to art and nature from an early age.
Walks in nearby fields introduced Cady to the insects, birds and animals that were to become his stock in trade in later years. The city of Gardner was barren of art instruction, education, or influence as it focused primarily on lumber and furniture manufacturing earning it the title of “Chair City”. Searching for artistic inspiration, a young Cady eventually met a local artist who would allow him to visit his studio to copy his pictures to refine his practice. The future famed artist who would go on to more than 10,000 illustrations for publications including Life Magazine, The Saturday Evening Post, Century Magazine, Puck, Harpers Bazaar and the New York Herald tribune among others was almost entirely self taught and never set foot in an art school.
By the time he was 18, his savings amounted to $13 which he deemed sufficient to launch his career as an artist sent him on his way to New York City. Upon arrival a newspaper advertisement directed him to a vacancy in a small house on 9th street, where he rented a windowless room that would serve as his home and studio
Cady’s first professional work was done for Truth Magazine, which was an early rival of Life Magazine which is still in existence today. This first gig consisted of drawing a set of decorative letters for which he was paid $60 and more importantly connected him with the renowned children’s book publishers McLaughlin Brothers for whom he did several silhouette decorations and drawings for the popular Mother Goose book.
Harrison Cady Mother Goose Illustration
Cady continued to work for McLaughlin Brothers until the recession of 1907 during which Cady was unemployed for a significant stretch of time. While considering returning to Gardner, Cady caught a break as the Brooklyn Daily Eagle needed a replacement for their newspaper artist. Although not true to his inspiration Cady happily accepted the $20 a week salaried job covering crimes, fires, shows and social events. After 4 years of grueling work with next to no time off he began to become fed up with the taxing lifestyle as he contemplated the simplicity of his childhood walks.
Cady began to focus on nature and began creating nature inspired pen sketches of the various animals, insects and plants from his more rural past. These sketches were submitted to Life Magazine which purchased them for $90 and continually encouraged Cady to submit his work. After 5 months, at the age of 24, Cady was invited by editor John A. Mitchell, to join the Life Magazine staff where he began to expand his talents and created several popular multipage features focused on political and social issues.
Although well received, his political cartoons were shadowed by the burgeoning success of his zoological extravaganzas that brought him his true fame. These nature inspired illustrations were widely reproduced in many publications, often in full-color magazine covers and children’s pages in Good Housekeeping, The Ladies Home Journal, Country Gentleman and the Saturday Evening Post. His scenes were filled with unparalleled detail as Cady was fond of representing entire countryside’s and towns alive with garbed inspects acting foolishly to portray common human folly.
Cady flourished during his time working in connection with Life Magazine but was ultimately ended upon the death of Editor Mitchell in 1918. Fortunately, Cady has already begun his illustrations for Thornton Burgess’ adventure series of Peter Rabbit, including books such as “Old Briar Patch”, “The Smiling Pool”, and “The Green Forest”. In 1922, he was invited by the New York Herald Tribune to contribute a Peter Rabbit series to its syndicated Sunday comic section which became popular and were eventually included in decorations of the popular and highly collectible Peter Rabbit antiques.

Peter Rabbit Peanut Butter

Peter Rabbit Peanut Butter

Canadian Peter Rabbit Peanut Butter

Canadian Peter Rabbit Peanut Butter

Peter Rabbit Cartoon Strip
These Peter Rabbit antiques ranged from tin lunchboxes to talcum powder tins to trays and eggs, and were typically manufactured by Tindeco (Tin Decorating Company of Baltimore). Several of these tins including the egg, baby powder container and both trays were unmarked although many believe these to have been made by Tindeco, as they carry the distinctive sky-blue basic color of the marked items (with the exception of the egg, which is mostly gold colored). These Peter Rabbit antiques remain today as a treasured part of many tin collections and Cady’s timeless illustrations will continue to be enjoyed by collectors for years to come.
Peter Rabbit Plate

Peter Rabbit Plate

Peter Rabbit Pail

*Courtesy of Tin Type Newsletter and its founder and editor Clark Secrest
*Click Here for a listing of past auction prices for Peter Rabbit Items

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