Sunday, May 17, 2009

Peter Fraser

Peter Fraser
by Gordon Howsden

Book illustrator and cartoonist Peter Fraser was born in the Shetland Islands on 6 November 1888. At some stage he moved to the south east of England and his entry in Who’s Who in Art records him as working in the City (1907-10) and studying art at the Central School of Arts & Crafts. He also took a correspondence course in art through a Percy Bradshaw correspondence course.

At what stage his art training began is not known but it is possible that both courses were undertaken in his spare time whilst otherwise employed. His first cartoon was published by Punch in 1912 and he went on to become a regular contributor until 1941. Other magazines that accepted his work were Tatler, Sketch, Happy Days, Time & Tide, Humorist and Passing Show.
During the Great War Fraser served in France for three years as a Gunner in the Royal Field Artillery and Royal Garrison Artillery. His career in art started to blossom in the early years after the war and his first book, Funny Animals, was published by Nelson in 1921. During the next decade he contributed illustrations to many of the Children’s Annuals that proliferated in the 1920s from publishers such as Blackie, Thomas Nelson, Hulton Press and Frederick Warne.

In 1924 he was commissioned by Mardon, Son & Hall to prepare a series of 50 cigarette cards for the tobacco firm Stephen Mitchell. The series was titled “Humorous Drawings” and Peter Fraser was credited as the artist on the reverse of the cards, which does indicate that his name was likely to be known to smokers of the time. Although Mitchell was based in Scotland and that they patriotically used a Scottish born artist, only one of the fifty cartoons in the set has a Scottish angle to it. A confectionery company, H J Packer of Bristol, also issued this series using the identical artwork in 1936.

Mardon’s must have been impressed with Fraser as in 1926 they called on him to prepare the artwork for another humorous series, this time for Ogden’s of Liverpool. The series was one of 25 cards titled “ABC of Sport”. The reverse consisted of a humorous rhyme that related to the scene illustrated but the artist’s name was not mentioned.

Although no other cigarette card series are credited to him Fraser did prepare a number of rough sketches for a potential card issue in the late 1940s. These were titled “Seascapes & Ships” but as cigarettes were in short supply after the war the Imperial Group did not have the need to advertise them and this, and other proposed card series, were abandoned

During the 1930s Fraser began to develop one of his signature characters, a small terrier type dog, and this friendly creature took a starring role in Tufty Tales which was published in 1932 by Frederick Warne. This had the accolade of stating on the front cover “A Peter Fraser Book”. This publication probably led to him being asked to design a series of six postcards for M&L in their National Series, where the dog is pictured in a number of humorous scenes.

Another prominent part of Fraser’s output revolved round street urchins and some of these had already been seen in his Punch cartoons and in his first series of cigarette cards. It is recorded that Fraser worked with deprived children in the East End of London and the likelihood is that this is where he picked up inspiration for many of his sketches. Certainly, an excellent book, Humour in the East End by Wilfred Harrison (Epworth Press, 1933), is full of superb jokes most of which hold up well even today. Although not listed by the British Library a follow-up called More Humour in the East End was published three years later.

With the outbreak of World War II Fraser was commissioned by the Ministry of Information to design a poster as part of a series created to encourage food production at home. His design of a gardener striding along with a basketful of produce and a fork casually held over his shoulder became one of the iconic images of the war. The slogan used, “Dig on for Victory” suggests that the poster was a follow up to earlier designs in the “Dig for Victory” campaign.

During the 1940s Fraser’s book illustrations entered its most prolific phase. In particular, he collaborated extensively with Edith Fraser but so far I have not been able to trace whether she was his wife, a sister or just someone with the same surname. The entry for Peter Fraser in Who’s Who in Art does state that he was married with two sons and gives an address of Grunnavoe, Seasalter, Whitstable, Kent. Chuffy, Floppity-Hop and Helping Mrs Wigglenose were among the titles that emerged from the fruitful Fraser partnership. Also probably dating from the 1940s or perhaps earlier is a series of children’s china wear from James Kent titled “Animal Frolics”. Peter Fraser’s name is quoted on the underside of the items with the registration number 846382.

Two titles in the listing below are attributed to 1949 and these must have been among the last books to carry Peter Fraser’s work as he died on 5th March 1950. Many of the juvenile books were undated and so in the list I have quoted the dates given by the British Library. A search of the British Library catalogue accounts for most of the ‘books illustrated’ section, although others have come from Abebooks and my own collection.

Books (all illustrated by the author)
Funny Animals. London, Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1921.
Animals at Play. London, Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1922.
Tufty Tales. London & New York, F. Warne & Co., 1932.
Higgledy Piggledy Tales. London, Frederick Warne, 1935.
Moving Day. London, Pocket Editions, 1945.

Illustrated Books
Humour in the East End by Wilfred H Harrison. London, Epworth Press, 1933.
The King’s Pipe by J E Gurdon. London & New York, F. Warne & Co., 1934.
More Humour in the East End by Wilfred H Harrison. London, Epworth Press, 1936.
Rough Island Story by William Moffatt. London, Heath Cranton, 1936.
Dog Nelson A.B. by Vice Admiral Gordon Campbell. London, Frederick Warne & Co., 1938.
Twilight Over Shetland by William Moffatt. London, Heath Cranton, 1939.
The Voyage to There and Back by Edith Fraser. London, Hutchinson, 1939.
Chuffy by Edith Fraser. Leicester, Franklyn Ward & Wheeler, 1942.
Buster Bunny’s Birthday by Edith Fraser. London, E J Burrow & Co., 1944.
Duckling the Dunce by Edith Fraser. London, E J Burrow & Co., 1944.
Floppity-Hop by Edith Fraser. Leicester, Franklyn Ward & Wheeler, 1944.
Helping Mrs Wigglenose by Edith Fraser. London, E J Burrow & Co., 1944.
Jack & Jock’s Great Discovery by Edith Fraser. London, Partridge Publications, 1944.
Sandy’s Silver Sixpence by Edith Fraser. London, E J Burrow, 1944.
Billy Bobtail Goes to School and Small Town Sports by Edith Fraser. Glasgow, Art & Educational Publishers, 1945.
Bunky the Bear Cub, and, Peter the Penguin by Edith Fraser. Glasgow, Art & Educational Publishers, 1945.
Camping Out by Edith Fraser. London, Pocket Editions, 1945.
The New Recruit by Edith Fraser. London, E J Burrow & Co., 1945.
The Blackberry Picnic by Susan Rye. London, Pictorial Art, 1946.
Close Quarters by Dorothy Hellings. London, Robert Ross & Co., 1947.
Grumble-Grumble by George F Evans. London, Hamish Hamilton, 1947.
Bevis and the Giant by Susan Rye. London, Partridge Publications, 1948.
John and Ann by Edith Fraser. London & Glasgow, Children's Press, 1949.
The Little Good People. Folk tales of Ireland by Kathleen Foyle. London & New York, Frederick Warne & Co., 1949.
Tales from Scotland by Beryl Jones. Evans Bros, 1949.
Little Jack Sprat and Betty Blue by Dorothy A. King. Lodnon, Blackie & Sons, 1953. [cover only]

Contributions to Annuals, etc
Animal Frolics (Thomas Nelson)
Fun For Me (Blackie & Sons)
Happy Animals (Blackie & Sons)
Just What I Like (Blackie & Sons)
Once Upon a Time (Hulton)
School Yarns for Boys (Thomas Nelson)
Stories for Tiny Tots (Thomas Nelson)
Storytime (Blackie & Sons)
That’s Mine (Blackie & Sons)
The Chummy Book – various editions (Thomas Nelson)
The Jolly Book – various editions (Thomas Nelson)
The Joy Book – various editions (Hulton/Allied Newspapers)
Warne’s Happy Book for Toddlers (Warne)
Warne’s Top All Book for Toddlers (Warne)
Wee Folks Stories (Thomas Nelson)

(* Note: There was a playwright also named Peter Fraser active in the 1940s and a children's author of the same name active in the 1950s, this latter being the pen-name of Phoebe Catherine Coles.)


  1. The long arm of coincidence! I was apprenticed to the engineering
    maintenance department of H. J Packer in the late 1950s. I had no idea their advertising included cigarette cards. Most of the design and printing, and also box-making was done in-house, and it was working there on the machines that sparked my interest in the history of printing

  2. what a super collection you have

    My grandmother used to tell me the Bunky the bear cub poem. We're trying to remember all the words but we get stuck when we get to

    "Suddenly he met a fawn with two lovely brown eyes"

    could you remind me - my 2 year old is dying to hear what happens next!!! (

  3. The checklists aren't compiled from any personal collection but from information in library and sales catalogues.

    If anyone can help with the Bunky the bear cub poem, please drop me a line or comment.

  4. Peter Fraser was my Grandfather, so this is wonderful to see. I will forward your link onto my family.
    You've made my day!


  5. Chris - so pleased that the article "made your day". As you probably gathered I am a great fan of your grandfather's work. Are you able to solve the mystery of whether Edith Fraser was a relation? Best wishes, Gordon

  6. Edith was his second wife. His first wife died when my father was a boy and so Edith became my father's step mother. I knew her very well and would visit her as a child at her home in Seasalter. Sadly, Peter Fraser died before I was born and my father died in 1995. Any other info you need, would be glad to help if I can

    Kind regards


  7. I am Chris's sister so Peter Fraser was my Grandfather too. I was thirilled to read what you had written. We never knew Peter, but my Father obviously spoke of him very fondly as did my Frnadmother Edith and we have several books and bits of memorablilia of his and a lot of his punch cartoons. One day I will visit the Shetlands were he originated from. Thanks for making my day too!

  8. Ah, I wonder if Edith had the odd nickname of Quempty, and originally came from Framlingham in Suffolk?

    I bet she did - I'm working on the papers of an unheralded Framlingham woman called Dolly Morris, and her friend "Quempty" writes from that address, and refers to a husband called Peter.

    Ed Maggs

  9. My gran also used to tell me the Bunky the Bear cub poem when I went to bed and now i have children of my own i would love to tell it to them, but can't find the words anywhere. So, if anyone can help, that would make my year!

  10. An article in "Shetland Life" February 1989 refers to Edith. A former teacher she answered Peter's advertisement for help with his two sons after the death of his wife,Mary.She later married Peter; the article states that her organising ability enabled Peter to develop his artistic talents and succeed in the highly competitive world of Fleet Street.
    Peter illustrated the first children's annual in the Welsh language written by Edith

  11. I have a watercolour painting by Peter Fraser, titled 'Seasalter, near Whitstable, Kent'. It has an inscription on the back saying: 'Peter Fraser did this, would have liked you to have it,
    Ethel F. 1956.' Anyone know if it
    is of value?

  12. Hi Steve,

    My name is Mark Harrison. I am an archaeologist and historian from Kent, specialising in the village of Seasalter. I purchased the watercolour mentioned by Nigel. The painting shows a snow covered Whitstable Bay, Seasalter at low tide. This would have been the view seen from Peter Fraser's home at Preston Parade (Grunavore). In Alfred Bestall's biography we are told that Bestall visited the Fraser's to sail. Bestall took over the artwork of Rupert Bear, when Mary Tourtel, Rupert's creator retired. We also told that Bestall later asked Edith Fraser to produce the rhymes that accompanied the Rupert stories. I will be looking closely at both mens work to see if that have integrated any of the landscape features and characters that they knew and met at Seasalter. Mark


    1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  14. Hi Dirk,

    I have no contact details for Chris or his sister; all comments are, effectively, anonymous and it is only when someone contacts me directly that I receive a contact email address unless there is a contact point included in the comment.

    You've done what I would have suggested: leave a comment and see if Chris and his sister are still checking-in. But they will now need your contact details if they are to get in touch.

  15. Edith was born Edith Emily Rose Oram, 1897 in Friern Barnet. She married Peter Fraser 7/6/1933 in Barnet and died in 1992. The 1911 census lists her as a student teacher. Hope this is of interest.

  16. Any additional information is useful and I'm always pleased to receive it.

  17. Liz Fenwick of Card and Paper Art Publishing Company Chwaer Annifyr, Machynlleth.

    Peter Fraser was also responsible for illustrating the most popular and iconic Childrens Annual ever to be published in the Welsh language. The book 'Llyfr Mawr y Plant' was published in the 1930s and is still in print today. He gave life to some of the most well loved characters in Welsh children's fiction, such as Wil Cwac Cwac and Sion Blewyn Coch.

    He inspired me to launch my company a couple of years ago, with a range of cards and prints featuring these characters which I now distribute in shops and museums throughout the UK.

    Thank you for your website - its really interesting and so nice to see someone championing his talent.

  18. Comment from Catherine Nash (nee Fraser)
    Hi Dirk If you are still out there, you can contact Steve at the address at top left of the page. I have given him permission to give you my email address. I am off to the Shetlands in August to try and find out more about Peter Fraser.

    1. Hi There, Our family have the croft where Peter was born and we have some information on his family. Did you get up to Shetland last year and if so did you get out to Walls?

    2. Yes we did! And looked for his Croft. Would love to get in touch. Can you email me on The museum in Lerwick are planing to do an exhibition of Peter’s life and works, though Corona virus has put a delay on this. Catherine Nash (nee Fraser). Really hope to hear from you.

    3. Hi Catherine, I sent an E mail to the above but have not had a response so far, perhaps it is in your junk?. If you cant find it please respond on this forum and I can try again.

  19. I remember Peter Frazer from before the war. He had two sons, Don and Rodney. I and my late sister, Barbara were quie friendly with Rodney but lost touch after the war. The family lived n Gruuunavore by the railway line in Admiralty Walk. I know Rodneyy married but I am not sure about Don. Somewhere I have a painting given to my mother but have no idea where it is. I remember Mrs F┼Ľazer as a lovely kind woman but can't remember much else. Geoffrey Hughes

  20. I lived in Whitstable as a child from 1959 until 1971. I spent much of my childhood mudlarking or beachcoming on Seasalter mudflats. Mrs Fraser always wanted to see whatever treasure I had found. The occasional 33 lb cannon ball always won me a glass of orange and much encouragement to keep searching.
    She lived comfortably in a timber ex army hut on Admiralty Walk. There were many ships in bottles and ship models, Mrs Fraser mentioned and attributed them to Scottish Islands and sea faring men. In the summer of 1966 in the company of a school mate I found a full sized complete skeleton on the mudflats. We took some vague bearings and paced it out back to the beach. I think we made a lot of noise around the discovery but needed to share our discovery with an adult.
    So headed for home, met Mrs Fraser en route and shared the news. Advised me to go and tell my mother. Ignored at home, bath and bed. Next evening out with my brothers and only found signs of diggings. That friday The Whitstable Times reported a holiday maker finding my skeleton! For over 50 years I have always regretted I did not take the skull home that first evening. In 1990 Mrs Fraser expressed regret that she thought I was telling a tall story.

  21. Oh gosh, this is so amazing to find! Catherine - Nancy Green here hello!!- Sally's daughter. Edith was my great aunt - and mum's aunt, we live together in Manchester - she's 91 now. Wierdly, I searched yesterday for Peter Fraser cos just got a new rescue dog who's a little old terrier and a pic of his came into my mind!! Would love to be in touch - was it Great Aunt Olive's funeral we last met? xxx

  22. I have also enjoyed reading this with my father, Peter Smith (now 84). He used to rent a beach hut at Seasalter from Mrs Fraser for many years, and I remember going to Grunnavoe and seeing her before heading down to the hut as a child. The picture is beautiful and the view familiar from the hut, with the Isle of Sheppey in the distance, though I never saw it in the snow. My cousins from Wingham would also sometimes meet us there, we would go out on the mud flats at low tide, have cockle races (to see which could bury itself first), ice creams from the village shop... I certainly had no idea they were such prolific, talented and famous artists, though the ships in bottles definitely ring a bell. This would have been the 1980s, so I mainly remember Mrs Fraser as a kind old lady.



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