For a bunny that’s over a hundred years old, Peter Rabbit is a spry little hare.
Beatrix Potter’s creation, the great-grandbunny of animated characters, is believed to be the oldest existing licensed character still active. As he embarks on his second century, his popularity with parents, children and licensees remains high.
The Tale of Peter Rabbit is among the best-selling classic children’s storybooks as is ‘The World of Beatrix Potter’ among international literary licensed merchandising programs. Currently, over 300 licensees exist worldwide, generating over $500 million a year at retail.
Not bad for a little rabbit that was originally drawn by a shy young woman as part of a letter to an ill boy in 1893. After failing to achieve success in the natural science field, Potter returned to drawing, reworking her illustrations into a book, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, which she published privately in 1901. The next year, Frederick Warne published Potter’s book, which featured her own watercolor illustrations. Eighty million Beatrix Potter books later, the stories are now enjoyed by families from South Carolina to South America.
Potter understood early on that a child’s enjoyment of books could be enhanced by creating related products. As early as 1903, she designed a Peter Rabbit soft toy. So began a licensing bonanza that has run the gamut from toys to nursery items, clothing to china and much more.
‘Potential licensees know that with Peter Rabbit, they are getting something that has perennial appeal,’ says Deborah Hooper, marketing director at Frederick Warne, a division of Penguin Books in London, England. ‘It’s part of everyone’s childhood. When consumers buy Beatrix Potter, they’re looking at something that they consider special.’
Longtime Peter Rabbit licensees include Wedgwood (nursery ware), Eden Toys, Royal Doulton (porcelain figurines) and Crabtree & Evelyn (toiletries). The Copyrights Group acts as Frederick Warne’s international licensing agent.
Potter was reluctant to take her work into other media. In 1936, she even turned down Walt Disney. It wasn’t until recently that Frederick Warne, to whom she bequeathed the rights to the work, believed that animation technology could faithfully reproduce the watercolor effect of her original drawings to standards she would have accepted.
‘Beatrix Potter was always open to new ideas if they reflected the quality and essential values of Peter Rabbit,’ says Hooper, ‘and those are the guidelines that we follow to this day.’
Here are some recent developments:
- 1992: The World of Peter Rabbit and Friends, a series of six (now nine) animated programs created in conjunction with TVC, airs on BBC1 in the U.K. and The Family Channel in the U.S. The programs are some of the most lavish and expensive animation ever created in the U.K. (£9 million/US$14 million). A home video deal is struck with GoodTimes.
- 1993: A Peter Rabbit Centennial celebration is held worldwide. In Great Britain, numerous retail promotions, celebrations and exhibits are held. A commemorative stamp is issued by the Royal Mail. In the U.S., Peter Rabbit enjoys a tea party on the White House lawn.
- 1994-95: Frederick Warne begins discussions with several companies to create a Peter Rabbit CD-ROM. Pearson, the company that owns Penguin, acquires software maker Mindscape. Frederick Warne and Mindscape begin a joint venture to produce a series of entertainment CD-ROMs for children aged four to eight under the banner of Peter Rabbit’s Interactive World including The Adventures of Peter Rabbit & Benjamin Bunny (released in late 1995 in the U.S. and 1996 in the U.K.) and Peter Rabbit’s Math Garden, titled Peter Rabbit’s Number Garden in U.K. (early 1996). The CD-ROMs stay true to the timeless appeal and detail of Potter’s original illustrations.
- 1996: Frederick Warne partners with Round One Media to produce a third CD-ROM. In development for future release, The Magic World of Beatrix Potter will explore the life and work of the author, and will serve as a reference tool for students and teachers.
The company expands licensing activity into South America and Southeast Asia. An exhibition of Beatrix Potter’s work tours U.S. museums. Frederick Warne is working with Macy’s to have a Peter Rabbit balloon at Macy’s 1996 Thanksgiving Day Parade.
A Web site is in development for a spring 1997 debut.