Monday, 12 October 2015

Ruth Cobb a Guest Post by David Redd

Ruth Cobb (1878-1950) was an English illustrator and writer, particularly noted for portraying children and dolls in colourful costumes.  Some of her full-colour plates may be found disbound and sold separately as prints (“My First Pet”) or reproduced as modern posters (“Little Girls of Other Lands”).


My First Pet & Little Girls of Other Lands


Ruth was born on 14th June 1878 to Thomas Cobb, a future novelist but at the time evidently a tailor in New Bond Street, London.  Curiously Ruth’s birthplace is stated as 164 Regent Street, later the sumptuous studio of Victorian society photographer Walery.  However the family soon moved to Tunbridge Wells where her sister and brother were born.

All the family became busy writers, but young Ruth was determined to be simply an illustrator.  She worked first in a studio then as a freelance, eventually selling to magazines as varied as Chatterbox, the Autocar, the Builder, and Punch.

Notable success began from 1902 with her three books in the Dumpy Books series, where Richard Hunter’s verses accompanied Ruth’s vivid colour sketches of Dollies, More Dollies, and Irene’s Christmas Party.  (Other Dumpy titles included one by her father and two by Mary Tourtel, pre-Rupert.)  She then produced larger-format books such as The Wonder-Voyage and A Trip to Fairyland, and provided illustrations for books by others.


The Wonder Voyage - front & back covers 

Meanwhile her holiday sketches of old buildings started seeing print, eventually blossoming into a long secondary career of illustrated articles.  For adults she decorated works such F J Harvey Darton’s A Parcel of Kent, her brother’s first novel Stand to Arms, and – a striking dust-jacket – E H Young’s 1930 best-seller Miss Mole.  However she remained devoted to children’s art.

Ruth Cobb cover art (Image The Bamboo Bookcase

During the Twenties and Thirties Ruth contributed to an astonishing number of children’s annuals and miscellanies for Blackie, Collins, Nelson, Tuck and others.  At times she provided both text and pictures for stories or articles.  Some young readers could not resist colouring her black-and-white drawings, and surely a portfolio of her children’s sketches would make a lovely colouring book for modern times.

However, this long extension of the Edwardian Summer in children’s illustration was ended abruptly in 1939 by the outbreak of World War II.  Ruth’s market was shattered, and so was her whole way of life.  A memoir states: “She went to live with relations in Sussex.  There, she did a lot of voluntary war work, became President of a Women’s Institute, did map drawing, for the War Agricultural Committee in Lewes, and spoke for the Ministry of Information.”  Typically, a 1941 lecture of hers was “Some of London’s Bombed Buildings.”

Later she resumed her work for periodicals, and as the war ended she began producing a quartet of slim illustrated topographical books, all well-received.  Evidently she suffered a sudden heart attack, being found dead on 7th December 1950.  Her wartime struggles seem to have deepened her appreciation of liberty; the first chapter of A Sussex Highway is entitled “The Beginning of the Road”, its main illustration dated shortly after VE Day.  The final chapter of her final book commemorates Thomas Paine, author of The Rights of Man.

Charming as those late adult books were, it is for her delightful children’s illustrations that Ruth Cobb will be remembered.


Illustrations from The wonder voyage



Note on Ruth Cobb’s family.

Her father Thomas Cobb (1853-1932) was the author of nearly 80 popular novels and many shorter items.  Her sister Joyce (1890-1970) produced poems, articles, short stories (notably WWI fiction) and one novel.  Her brother (Geoffrey) Belton Cobb wrote approximately 70 crime thrillers.  Ruth herself created only a dozen books of her own, but contributed to over a hundred more.

Note on signatures.


Her preferred location was generally the lower right-hand corner, as “Ruth Cobb” or “ruth cobb” sometimes boxed or enscrolled.    Smaller drawings bore initials “r c” or perhaps nothing.  In Edwardian times, the plates for Dollies etc were unsigned, while larger paintings gained a stylised slanting “R” within a “C”.  Sketches for adults published then or as late as 1953 were signed “Ruth Cobb” in handwriting, with smaller items initialled.


Grateful thanks to The Society of Women Writers and Journalists for providing the picture of Ruth Cobb and for other kind assistance. David Redd.


I would like to add my thanks to David for sharing this very interesting article.   

The Miss Mole cover image is from The Bamboo Bookcase, other images supplied by David Redd.


Update 25th October, 2015

David kindly sent along another example of Ruth’s work.



This plate is from The Collins’ Children’s Annual for 1925 which is currently available to purchase from eBay.

32 comments:

  1. What a lovely post!

    Such wonderful illustrations to look out for, and more beautiful books to covet ♥

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    1. Hello Yvonne, I absolutely agree with you; David did a fantastic job on this post, and as you say more books to covet. Barbara

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  2. Oh those illustrations dearest Barbara, they themselves are the story of a time that was again, so much more gentle, or at least depicted as such. I want to jump into each scene and hide away. LOVELY!

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    1. Hello Anita, I'm not sure I want to visit the burning mountain, but a trip in the boat would be idyllic. xx

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  3. Thanks to David for a lovely and fascinating post.

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    1. Thank you Tracy, I'm sure David will be happy to read your comment. Barbara.

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  4. Terrific post. So many books from so few writers. Makes my offerings positively pitiful.

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    1. You've made a start Roger, and you have plenty of time to write more.
      As they say on Strictly “Keep Writing”. That’s not what they say? Oh my mistake, but you know what I mean. :-)

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  5. I love the Little Girls of Other Lands, it reminds me of the colouring book given to me by my grandmother.

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    1. Hello Darlene, I knew that picture reminded me of something but couldn't think what. Having just taken another look at your post I can see exactly what you mean, they are very similar.

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    1. I agree Joleene and am very glad David offered to share some of it on my blog.

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  7. I love this sort of history. What a talented family, all producing great quantities of literature and art. My favorite is the center watercolor at the end of the post, with the two kids paddling the boat under the moon. Thanks for sharing!

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    1. Hi Marcia, that illustration does have a lovely quality to it, and it makes me want to read the story. Barbara

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    2. Hello Marcia and Barbara, her boat picture is one of my favourites too. Her original artwork for "Three Little Explorers" was on sale last year, and the one example on-line looked more delicate and charming than in the printed book. Thank you everyone for sharing kind comments on Ruth Cobb's art.

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    3. Hello David,
      I’m lucky enough to own a couple of pieces of artwork by Rene Cloke, and they look very different to how they appear in the printed books. Sadly, I don't own anything by Ruth Cobb, so I can’t compare those, but I’m sure you are right. Thank you again for allowing me to share your work. Barbara.

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  8. I love her style! I agree with David and think a coloring book of her line drawings would go over very well.

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    1. I agree too Bish a colouring book would be wonderful.

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  9. What a unique style she had! I was amazed to see what a creative family she had and all the works they have between them! Wow! Thanks for sharing. :)

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    1. It was my pleasure Stephanie, thanks for calling in.

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  10. Lovely post and wonderful illustrations. Thank you.

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  11. Have to say, that is one heck of an artistic family! I'd even like to read her brother's crime novels. I like Ruth's children's art very much. You're absolutely right, Barbara. I think the black and white ones will make excellent colouring books. But at the same time, I'm mesmerized by Miss Mole's cover as well. Thanks for educating us on the background of talented illustrators! Happy weekends ahead. xoxo C.

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    1. I'm fascinated by Miss Mole too Claudine & think I will have to look for a copy. Thanks for your visit, Barbara.

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  12. Hi Barbara,
    How fascinating ! Thank you for this wonderful post. Love the beautiful illustrations. So sad that her life ended abruptly and what a talented family.

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    1. Hi Shashi, the thanks should really go to David. It was all his hard work. I was just lucky enough to share it. I hope your mum is keeping well & you too of course. Barbara.

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  13. Thank you again for sharing all this nostalgic talent! I get lost in the pictures!

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    1. Hi Eve, it was my absolute pleasure! Thanks for calling in and leaving a comment.

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  14. Hello Barbara,

    Thanks for this post. The illustrations are beautiful.

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  15. Belton Cobb's novel, Stand to Arms, which as you say was illustrated by Ruth, is about life in the trenches in the First War. The grim realism of thes illustrations showed that she was able to produce a much greater variety of work that one might imagine.

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I really appreciate your comment. Thank you!
Barbara xx

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