Paddington Bear painting. Image: The Telegraph
Thirty-six years ago, I was involved in a scientific caving expedition to Peru. For three weeks, I was part of a team exploring and mapping caves in the Andes high above the capital, Lima.
Whenever people ask me why I did it, I jokingly say: “I was looking for the home of Paddington Bear”.
Dermot Martin in Peru
There was no trace of the bear or his friends but by then the marmalade addicted Paddington had been found on the station platform in London and adopted by the Brown family. He was also making a career in the world of children’s books and entertainment.
Michael Bond’s literary creation celebrated sixty years last year. The charming bear has grown from a small idea in a BBC cameraman’s head, to a massive worldwide franchise which has conquered Hollywood and spawned millions of artefacts – many of which are drawings of the bear in various states of misadventure.
Strong growth in the bear market
Paddington in the new release films. Image: Manchester Evening News
Thanks to the genius of Michael Bond, who died in 2017, the world is a richer place. His 70 stories have been translated into 40 languages, made into a TV series and two blockbuster Hollywood films. Not a bad outcome for a character inspired by a glove puppet bought by Michael as a last-minute Christmas present for his wife. Paddington Bear is a monolith in the canon of childrens’ literature.
I was chatting recently to a friend who restores fine art for a living. He spends much of his time looking for hidden fine art gems at auctions all over the south. I happened to ask if he had ever come across original drawings of Paddington.
Woman behind that Paddington look
Original drawing of Paddington by “Peggy” Fortnum. Image: Cambridge Auction House
I was curious because the visual image we know and love was not Michael Bond’s creation. It was a product of the artistic skills of Margaret Emily Noel Nuttall-Smith (1919-2016) a book illustrator, who worked under the name “Peggy” Fortnum.
Paddington memorabilia is a magnet for collectors. My friend believes that good quality prints in good quality frames have been attracting serious attention since the movies and last year’s the anniversary.
Finding original works on Paddington by Peggy Fortnum is a difficult. My arty friend said he could not remember seeing any original drawings but quality colour prints were common, especially on-line.
Artist who replied to her fan mail
“Peggy” Fortnum at work. Image: Essex County Newspapers
Peggy Fortnum was commissioned in 1958 to illustrate the first volume of Paddington stories. She worked in black ink creating simple humorous line drawings but she, together with other artists, added colour later. Over time she helped shape the distinctive look and feel of the increasingly famous marmalade-loving bear.
She began to receive fan mail for her work and replied to every letter personally and each letter reportedly contained a drawing of Paddington. Those letters, if any survive, would certainly have a value at auction.
I noticed that one auction room recently had two draws on sale. One, initialled by Peggy had a reserve price of £5,000, the other under the name of Caroline Nuttall-Smith. Caroline, was Peggy Fortnum’s niece and became part of the group of artists who helped out on the Paddington books project in those early years.
Is there a Paddington in your pocket?
The Paddington at the Station UK 50p Coin
The numismatic world has taken full advantage of our ever-growing love for Paddington. Last year saw the release of two Official UK 50p coins; the first time Paddington has ever appeared on UK coinage!
Issued in celebration of the 60th anniversary of the first Paddington book – ‘A Bear Called Paddington’, the Paddington at the Station 50p and Paddington at the Palace 50p have been exceptionally popular and were two of the most sought-after coins of 2018. In fact, the Gold Proof versions sold out at The Royal Mint in no time at all and the Silver Proofs are looking to go the same way! Any that are found in change are quickly snapped up by collectors so finding them in your pocket in proving extremely difficult.
The collector demand for these Paddington coins is truly remarkable and it is not slowing down.
My message is, pass the marmalade and keep a close eye-out for all things Paddington Bear.
If you haven’t yet got your paws on a Paddington 50p –you’re in luck!