Wednesday, October 17, 2018

The Sketch Book

Knowing I'm the fan of Halloween that I am, it should come as no surprise I'm also a fan of Washington Irving's "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow".  Growing up, I only knew the story through the Disney short (which is still a favorite of mine) and the various television adaptions such as the 1980 version starring Jeff Goldblum.  It wasn't until I was an adult that I read the actual story.  This recent-years collection features the headless horseman on its cover.

This newer edition is all I had until recently.  I've been on the lookout for a vintage version, but didn't think I'd come across it at an estate or garage sale, so I was shocked to find this 1848 edition at an estate sale for $2.

Though it's often referred to as simply "The Sketch Book", the official title is "The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent."  I would guess the estate sale company didn't recognize the title or the author's last name without the "Washington".

While a little tattered (and who wouldn't be at 170?), the interior is in remarkably good condition. The book is smaller than it looks, measuring 6" x 4.5".

Not long after, I found this 1950 Junior Deluxe Edition children's book at a garage sale.

While this one is called "Rip Van Winkle and other stories", you can see the Headless Horseman plays a big role on the cover.

While the 1848 edition lacks illustrations, the 1950 edition does have some, though are rather simple and a little lackluster in my opinion.

Washington Irving was born in 1783 and given his first name in honor of George Washington who had just recently won the British ceasefire ending the Revolution.

A 1798 outbreak of of yellow fever resulted in young Washington being sent to stay with a friend in Tarrytown, New York near the small town of Sleepy Hollow.

In 1809, in a a bit of self-promotion and an early example of viral marketing, Irving posted an ad in a local newspaper posing as a hotel manager who had been shorted by a tenant who had disappeared named Diedrich Knickerbocker. The post included a threat that if the gentleman did not appear before him and give him his due, he would publish the welsher's journal. Coincidentally, Irving published "A History of New-York from the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty, by Diedrich Knickerbocker" soon after to a well-receiving public.

He was often approached by aspiring authors including Edgar Allen Poe who asked for advice on "The Fall of the House of Usher". He also maintained correspondence with peers such as Charles Dickens who stayed with him during Dickens' American tour in 1842.  Irving was a pioneer in championing copyright law in the U.S.

In addition to the "Headless Horseman", Irving is responsible for other holiday iconic images including St. Nicholas flying over treetops in a wagon. In the five Christmas-related stories in "The Sketch Book", Irving reinterprets the observance of Christmas reintroducing many old English customs, changing the way Christmas was celebrated in the United States.  He is also responsible for the term "Gotham" for New York, and where would Batman be without that? And remember that pseudonym Irving used for "The History of New York"? That's where the New York Knicks (Knickerbockers) get their name.

So you can see how much influence Irving had on America literature as well as culture. It's a shame he's only remembered for "Sleepy Hollow".

Here's a short Walt Disney produced on Washington Irving that was shown on "Disneyland" (a precursor to "The Wonderful World of Disney") prior to the television debut of "Ichabod Crane" in 1955.


  1. wow, that antique book is awesome. i love how tattered it is! and i also really love the illustrations on the cover of that Junior Deluxe Edition (i seem to remember that series...) -- but i agree that the interior illustrations are meh.

    1. >i seem to remember that series
      Yeah, there was a bunch of books in that series. We had them growing up and I've found a lot of them at garage and estate sales over the years. They originally had book covers, but you don't see them very often.

  2. That is soooo cool!!! Such great finds in those books. I honestly didn't know the history and really enjoyed this post regarding Washington Irving. I had no idea that Poe knew him, etc

    1. Thanks Holli. That's part of the fun of writing these posts. I learn a lot too. It's kind of neat to have a piece inspire you to learn, that's why I keep writing these.

  3. Wow - an 1848 edition - that is pretty sweet.

  4. I believe that The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, despite the somewhat clunky title, to be one of the best, and one of the most underrated of the Disney animated features. I'm glad its a favorite of yours, too.

    1. Thanks, James. I agree. The animation and particularly the backgrounds on Ichabod are beautiful.


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