RANDOLPH CALDECOTT! He was born in the town of Chester, England on March 22, 1846. Mr. Caldecott was truly one of our great nineteenth century artists, yet most of us today know him best for his contribution to children's literature through his ageless illustrations, and the Caldecott Medal, given annually in his honor.

Caldecott attended school in Chester and his records show that he was one of the best students. However, in the present instance we are more interested in knowing that from the time he was six he used to draw and model animals. Not much more is recorded of his childhood.

When he reached the age of fifteen, he left Chester to work in a bank in Whitchurch. At Whitchurch, he lived on a farm two miles from town. He enjoyed rural life and used to go fishing and hunting, to meets of hounds, to markets and cattle fairs, always carrying a sketchbook in which to record his impressions.

After six years at Whitchurch, he was transferred to a bank in Manchester, and there he led the life of an artist. He studied at the Manchester School of Art and joined the Brasenose Club. Before long, his sketches began to appear in the local magazines and papers.

Caldecott moved from Manchester in 1872 to pursue an art career in London. Soon he was supplying the London Graphic and London Society with his humorous and original sketches of fashionable life, hunting scenes and landscapes. Time was found to study at the British Museum and the zoological garden.

Henry Blacburn, editor of London Society , became a friend to Caldecott. Caldecott went with Blackburn to the Harz Mountains in Germany at the age of twenty-six. Selections from his sketchbook served as illustrations for Blackburn's The Harz Mountains in 1872. Mr. Blackburn took other sketches to the United States and subsequently Caldecott's market enlarged to include American periodicals - Harper's Monthly Magazine and the New York Daily Graphic.

According to Mahony, Latimer and Folmsbee, "Caldecott experimented with various methods of reproduction. The pictures for the Graphic, for instance, were drawn in pen and ink for direct printing without the help of the wood engraver. No one, however, realized better than Caldecott the added quality that might be given a drawing through the work of a careful engraver, and all of his more serious, permanent work was put through the regular process, 'being photographed on the block and then passed through the engraver's hands'. Mr. Caldecott was most fortunate to have the aid of two notable engravers: J. D. Cooper and Edmund Evans".

During the summers of 1872, '73 and '74, we find Caldecott spending his time in a cottage owned by Mr. Blackburn at Farnham Royal. Here, he worked on the sketches for Washington Irving's Old Christmas (1876) and Bracebridge Hall (1877). These two books established him in the field of illustration.

A journey to Brittany with Mr. Blackburn produced sketches for the latter's Breton Folk.

Caldecott's health, which had always been frail, was beginning to break and he went to Northern Italy and the Riviera. However, one gets no reflection of diminished strength. He did many sketches for the Graphic and some charming illustrations for a book by Mrs. Alice Carr called North Italian Folk (1878).

Back to England in 1877 or '78, Caldecott began the work that would probably be longest remembered - his picture books. Here we must give thanks to Edmund Evans for urging Caldecott to do them. This partnership produced, in all, sixteen books, of which perhaps the most "typically Caldecott, and the most typically English" is, according to Hilda Van Stockum, The Three Jovial Huntsmen.

In 1879, the artist settled at "Wybournes", a small house near Sevenoaks. It was also in 1879 that Caldecott met Juliana H. Ewing. They had many tastes and interests in common, and the artist illustrated her Daddy Darwin's Dovecote (1884). He also did drawings for Mrs. Ewing's Jackanapes and Lob Lie-by-the-Fire.

Quoting Kunitz and Haycraft, "Caldecott's sketches, which Edmund Evans found so 'racy and spontaneous', were drawn in pen and ink on smooth-surfaced paper, photographed on wood and then engraved. There were blocks for six colors. His work is characterized by vigorous action ... and ebb and flow of perpetual motion. His observations held a gentle satire, but he had no malice".

Throughout his life the artist had modeled in clay. He also worked in oil, and exhibited at the Royal Academy in London.

A man of great charm, with "genial, overflowing spirits", Randolph Caldecott was said to be tall and handsome, with blue-gray eyes and light brown hair. In 1880 he was married to Marian H. Brind.

Caldecott had frequently sought to improve his health by change of climate so, late in 1885, Mr. and Mrs. Caldecott sailed for America, once more in search of health and he promised the London Graphic a series of sketches illustrative of American life. Unfortunately, the terrible winter weather and his poor health left him with little strength to work, and he died on February 13, 1886 of organic heart disease in St. Augustine, Florida, in his thirty-nineth year, "at the height of his powers and reputation". Mr. Caldecott is buried in Evergreen Cemetery in St. Augustine, Florida.

A friend of Mr. Caldecott, Fredrick Locker-Lampson, summed up Randolph Caldecott's work with these words: "It seems to me that Caldecott's art was of a quality that appears about once in a century. It had delightful characteristics most happily blended. He had a delicate fancy, and humor was as racy as it was refined. He had a keen sense of beauty and to sum up all, he had charm."

Fifty-two years after Caldecott's death in St. Augustine, Mr. Frederic G. Melcher established the Caldecott Medal. It was first awarded in 1938. A committee each year selects the most distinguished picture book by an American artist published during the preceding year, and the medal is presented at the annual meeting of the American Library Association. The award serves a double purpose as it honors an artist in the field of Children's Literature and it also helps to keep the memory of Randolph Caldecott alive!

Caldecott Picture Books

The Picture Books were published in pairs as follows:

1878 The House That Jack Built John Gilpin
1879 Elegy on a Mad Dog The Babes in the Wood
1880 Sing a Song for Sixpence The Three Jovial Huntsmen
1881 The Farmer's Boy The Queen of Hearts
1882 The Milkmaid Hey Diddle Diddle and Baby Bunting
1883 A Frog He Would A-Wooing Go The Fox Jumps Over the Parson's Gate
1884 Come Lasses and Lads Ride a Cock Horse and A Farmer Went Trotting
1885 The Great Panjandrum Mrs. Mary Blaize

All were first published by Routledge. Later: London and New York - Frederick Warne & Co.

Other Books

  • The Harz Mountains; A Tour in the Toy Country - by Henry Blackburn, Illustrations by Randolph Caldecott.

  • Old Christmas: Selections from the Sketch Book - by Washington Irving with illustrations by Randolph Caldecott.

  • Bracebridge Hall: Selections from the Sketch Book - by Washington Irving with illustrations by Randolph Caldecott.

  • North Italian Folk: Sketches of Town and Country Life - by Mrs. Comyns Carr with illustrations by Randolph Caldecott.

  • Breton Folk: An Artistic Tour in Brittany - by Henry Blackburn with sketches by Randolph Caldecott.

  • What the Blackbird Said - by Mrs. Frederick Locker. Illustrated by Randolph Caldecott.

  • A Sketchbook of R. Caldecott's: Original Sketches for the Four Seasons - Reproduced by Edmund Evans, the engraver and printer.

  • Some of Aesop's Fables with Modern Instances - Shown in designs by Randolph Caldecott, from new translations by Alfred Caldecott.

  • Jackanapes - by Juliana H. Ewing with a frontispiece by Randolph Caldecott.

  • Daddy Darwin's Dovecote - by Juliana H. Ewing and illustrated by Randolph Caldecott.

  • The Owls of Olynn Belfry - by A.Y.D., illustrated by Randolph Caldecott.

  • Jack and the Beanstalk - by Hallam Tennyson, illustrated by Randolph Caldecott.

  • Lob-Lie-by-the-Fire - by Juliana H. Ewing and illustrated by Randolph Caldecott.

  • Randolph Caldecott's Sketches - with an introduction by Henry Blackburn.

Further Information about the Randolph Caldecott Society of America
and Links to Kindred Resources

This information prepared by:
Gwen P. Reichert
Randolph Caldecott Society of America
112 Crooked Tree Trail
St. Augustine, Florida 32086

Pages Written by Allan C. Reichert
Randolph Caldecott Society of America
Updated on 10/19/02