The entry for illustrator, painter and designer Walter Crane in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography has long noted the presence in the Beinecke Library at Yale University and the Houghton Library at Harvard University of 29 shiny black notebooks containing watercolours to accompany stories Crane told his children at bedtime. Alan Crawford, writing in the ODNB, states: ‘There is not much in his work that is finer than the visual wit and tenderness of these books, which were the work, Crane tells us, of the odd half-hours of winter evenings’.
Since 1956 three such books have also been held at Senate House Library: thirty water-colours in a book entitled ‘Beatrice Crane her Book, April 1880’; thirty-nine, mainly on mythology and geography, in ‘Beatrice’s Painting Book’, Jan. 30, 1881; and thirty-eight pen-and-ink drawings in an undated notebook, ‘Lancelot his Book’ – Beatrice being Crane’s oldest child (b. 1873) and Lancelot (b. 1880) his youngest. We highlighted them last year in library director Christopher Pressler’s collection of favourite items, Director’s Choice (London: Scala, 2012) and in an exhibition based on it. Now the Senate House ‘black books’ have joined those at Yale and Harvard to gain a mention in the ODNB.