I love to walk and wander around cities when I’m traveling because I often find wonderful things by chance. If I had read about a shop or something in a guidebook or magazine, I would probably spend most of the day pulling my hair out trying to find the place and be disappointed when I finally arrived. It might even be closed (doggone pet boutique in Milan). Or there would be no parking because I didn’t know it was market day (entire city of Siena). Even then, recovery is possible because other things can be discovered like an unexpected shop or a fantastic hidden-gem-of-a-locals-restaurant and hotel like Il Ceppo (see ya later, Siena). So, it’s taken a while but now I know: over-planning is overrated and chance encounters are best.
Example: seven years ago, I was wandering around in London when I came across one of those nifty London shops tucked away on one those nifty London streets whose specialty is antique prints. Not expensive prints, but old engravings and other cellophane-wrapped things in bins organized by subject matter. I bought three small prints that day featuring a cute dog because, well, I was smitten. They were only £6 each, but I could tell they were actually old and chopped out of a book. But what book?
It turns out, the book is called A Dog Day, written by Walter Emanuel and illustrated by Cecil Aldin. Okay. It’s basically a day in the life of this cute but mischievous dog that gets away with everything and comes out smelling like a rose (Ferris Bueller?). This book has been reprinted several times over the years, but I doubt that a reprint would make me happy for the same reason my sister refuses to watch colorized old movies, Mr. Ted Turner: it just won’t be the same. I wouldn’t mind reading the whole day’s account though, because what I’ve read so far is pretty good. From the backs of my prints here’s a little disjointed sample of the story, complete with time stamps:
So I end up being even more smitten than before. The thick paper stock feels special, the letterpress printing is wonderful, the metal typesetting’s imperfections make it perfect. I would say this find was a happy accident indeed, because while all of Great Britain has loved him forever and a day, I had never heard of Cecil Aldin or seen his wonderful illustrations. Mr. Aldin’s dogs Cracker (the Bull Terrier) and Micky (the Irish Wolfhound) are a famous pair that he featured in his popular book Sleeping Partners and as models for many other illustrations. Royal Doulton and other prominent English manufacturers have used his illustrations for a range of products over the years and these items are now hugely collectible. All of Cecil Aldin’s engraving plates were destroyed in World War II, so original prints are rare and have skyrocketed in value. I’m not a collector of anything (well, except dog hair) so I’m pretty happy with my three little prints, even if they were chopped out of a book. Unraveling the mystery of what I bought that day in London has been fun and I definitely plan to keep my eyes open for more things from one of England’s best loved illustrators, Mr. Cecil Charles Windsor Aldin.
If you’d like to read more about Cecil Aldin collectibles, this article seems very helpful.