THE first attempts by Beatrix Potter to publish ``The Tale of Peter Rabbit'' produced turndowns by six commercial publishing firms. Determined to produce her book, she got in touch with a private publisher and underwrote the cost of the book. On Dec. 16, 1901, the small book (103mm by 135mm) was ready. Miss Potter gave copies of it to friends and relatives at Christmas and also offered it for sale at a cost of 1/2 d, a halfpence.
Such a modest beginning offered no indication of the immense popularity Potter's stories would achieve. The demand for her work, however, would not be satiated with the books themselves.
In late 1940s, Frederick Warne & Co. authorized Royal Doulton to produce figurines based on Potter's characters.
Peter Rabbit, Tom Kitten, Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle, Jeremy Fisher, and Jemima Puddle-Duck were among the first of Potter's heroes to be made into figurines.
The next item introduced to the Beatrix Potter Creation, as Warne has named the trademarked line, was the nursery ware manufactured by Josiah Wedgwood. Today, the nursery ware includes a candy jar, a money box, a nursery set, a tea set, and a tea service.
But the list of products does not stop there. Nowadays there are stuffed toys, wallpaper friezes, note cards, wrapping paper, jigsaw puzzles, soap, and cookies. Doting grandparents may also purchase music boxes, and baby books, as well as stationery and scrapbooks.
In the past few years, Warne has added ``The Peter Rabbit Pop-up Book'' and ``The Jemima Puddle-Duck Pop-up Book'' to its list.
Peter Rabbit is a chef in ``Peter Rabbit's Natural Foods Cookbook,'' by Dobrin Arnold, while Potter herself has become a gourmet in ``The Beatrix Potter Country Cookery Book,'' by Margaret Lane, her biographer.
Peter Rabbit's experiences in Mr. McGregor's gardens have spun off ``Peter Rabbit's Gardening Book,'' by Sarah Galland.
Frederick Warne also publishes numerous books about Beatrix Potter, including ``The Journal of Beatrix Potter'' and ``A History of the Writings of Beatrix Potter,'' by Leslie Linder; ``The History of the Tale of Peter Rabbit''; ``The Magic Years of Beatrix Potter''; and ``The Tale of Beatrix Potter,'' Ms. Lane's biography.
What would Potter have to say about all this?
The commercial enterprises surrounding Peter Rabbit would probably horrify her. During her later years she shrank from publicity. In a letter to a friend, Potter wrote, ``I don't want to be exploited! and I am grateful to Nicholas [a wooden doll] for his reticence.''