This Folio Life: Creating The Complete Flower Fairies

When we realised that Cicely Mary Barker’s charming Flower Fairy stories were no longer available anywhere in the single volumes they were originally presented in, we couldn’t resist giving the collection the full Folio experience. Every element of these poems have been refreshed and restored – from including the current Latin names of each featured plant, to carefully reproducing the colours of the original artwork and crucially following that beautiful original pocket format. This blog explores some of the work behind this enchanting set.

Open page spread from The Complete Flower Fairies, The Folio Society 2020

Finding the elusive fairies

Since the publication of Cicely Mary Barker’s first little book of Flower Fairies in 1923, there have been many different editions and collections of her work. For The Complete Flower Fairies, we returned to a number of first editions – visiting private collectors, as well as archives in the British Museum and the Victoria & Albert Museum – cross-checking the books to ensure we gathered together every one of the 169 fairies that Barker created, as well as her delicate black-and-white line drawings.

Original Flower Fairies artwork in museum archives

One of the discoveries of Folio’s meticulous cross-checking was that eight of Barker’s Flower Fairies had come to be left out of all recent editions. The publication history of the individual books is complicated, so the reasons why this happened will probably remain a mystery. In some cases, it may be that Barker was more taken with one variety of a flower than another or with one fairy over another, for over the years she did paint and compose lines for several varieties of certain plants. This may have been the case for her Convolvulus Fairy, which she also painted as the White Bindweed Fairy; and similarly for White Campion, as the Red Campion somehow remained in recent collections whereas its white sibling was somehow lost from view. But who knows why the Thistle, Sorrel, Wild Thyme, Scentless Mayweed, Goose-grass and Cat’s Ear fairies were left out? No matter: they can all be found and pored over in this first truly complete collection of Barker’s Flower Fairies.

All the individual Flower Fairy illustrations spread out over a table at The Folio Society

A botanical name for every drawing 

Some editions included the Latin terms for the flowers and plants so exquisitely painted for Barker’s books. However, 100 years is a long time in botanical terms; names and spellings evolve over the decades, and we discovered variations and omissions once we had collected every painting. So, to ensure we included the current, accurate Latin name for each plant depicted in the collection, we commissioned a specialist in botany to revise the botanical names. This up-to-date labelling for every one of Barker’s paintings is unique to our edition, and allows the books to be used more widely for identifying plants and introducing inquisitive children to nature.

Open page spread of the Flower Fairies of the Trees, The Folio Society 2020

Perfecting the colours

By Scarlett Mills, Senior Production Controller

One of the joys but also challenges of creating this edition of The Complete Flower Fairies was ensuring that our reproductions of Cicely Mary Barker’s beautiful paintings were as faithful to her original artwork as possible.

Comparing the original artwork of the Strawberry Fairy to Folio's new reproduction

We were allowed special access to take our digital proofs into the Frederick Warne Archive at the V&A and compare them with each and every original painting and first edition held there. Working through them, we made notes about boosting colours and adjusting tones to ensure our images were truly representative of the original artwork.

Comparing the original artwork of the Scarlet Pimpernel Fairy to Folio's new reproduction

As you can imagine, with over 160 fairies to check, this was quite a mammoth task, and we spent several hours in the archive to ensure we checked every one. What was most striking was actually how strong and vibrant her colours still were, rather than the muted tones you might expect.

Comparing the original artwork of the Geranium Fairy to Folio's new reproduction

The yellows, reds and purples really do bring each flower and fairy to life!

Complete Flower Fairies, The Folio Society 2020

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