Bernard Sleigh’s masterpiece, An Anciente Mappe of Fairyland

Bernard Sleigh / Printed by Vincent Brooks Day & Son, AN ANCIENTE MAPPE of FAIRYLAND newly discovered and set forth. London: Sidgwick & Jackson, [1918/1925].
Lithograph printed in colors, 15”h x 57 ½”w at neat line plus margins, lined with line. Very minor soiling, else excellent.

The scarce 1925 second edition of Bernard Sleigh’s marvelous Anciente Mappe of Fairyland, a tour de force of the imagination that delights even today.  

Originally published in 1918, this imaginary map depicts a marvelous variety of scenes from literature, fairy tales, and Norse and Greek mythology in a beautifully-imagined landscape. Every inch of the map is covered with vivid images from the rich body of Anglo-Saxon and English folklore, leaving almost no unused space. To give but a few examples, Peter Pan’s house overlooks the Sea of Dreams, while Valhalla and Asgard lie on the horizon. Red Riding Hood’s cottage sits at the base of Avalon, home to Excalibur, not far from Cerberus, guardian of the Underworld. Despite the darkness of Witch Woods and The Valley of Fire on the left portion of the map, this is juxtaposed by the much brighter overall landscape, illustrating the prevalence of good over evil. A legend at top right, flanked by angels, provides symbols for “A Wishing Well,” “Dwarfs’ Treasure,” “Elfin Temple,” “Fairie Shrine” and “Village Inn.” A faint red path travels across the landscape “From the World” to “a place that never was and always will be.” Binding the image is an intricate foliate border, interspersed with text panels explaining the imagery on the map.

Originally published at the end of World War I, An Anciente Mappe of Fairyland evokes the innocence of childhood, which viewers would have experienced in delightful contrast to the horrors of the Western Front. Sleigh’s daughter Barbara writes in her memoir, “One wet holiday my father drew a Map of Faeryland for us. On it were marked the sites of all our best-loved fairy-stories,” most likely in reference to a prototype of the map from eight years prior to the 1918 publication.

The first edition (1918) was on a rather larger format, printed by Griggs and Sons on three sheets joined. It was accompanied by A Guide to the Map of Fairyland, a short pamphlet written by Sleigh and dedicated to his two children. The map’s popularity spread from England to the U.S. in 1919-1920 after Ethel Sidgwick, wife of one of the map’s publishers, gifted a copy to the New York Public Library’s children’s section. There it caught the eye of a New York publisher, who soon distributed the map in the United States, where it was something of a hit.

Offered here is a second edition from 1925, printed on a single sheet by Vincent Brooks Day & Son.

Bernard Sleigh (1872-1954)
Sleigh was born in Birmingham and attended The Birmingham School of Art, the leading school for decorative arts at the time. He gained popularity through his wood engravings for books, but also worked with illustrations, stained glass, and murals. Sleigh was much influenced by Arts and Crafts luminaries William Morris and George MacDonald, and he was a student of Arthur Gaskin at Birmingham.

Fascinated by fairy tales and fantastic lands, Sleigh wrote various books and short stories, though his autobiography, Memoirs of a Human Peter Pan, was never published. In the preface to his 1920 book Faery Calendar, he admits “I believe in Faeries. It is very. Natural and not a bit foolish, for in these days we are quickly learning how little we know of any other world than our own.”

Baynton-Williams, The Curious Map Book, pp. 212-213. Bryars & Harper, A History of the Twentieth Century in 100 Maps, pp. 58-59. Rumsey #11306 (the first edition of 1918).