Illustrating the Grimms

Our treasures display celebrated the 200th anniversary of the Grimm brothers' publication of popular German fairy tales. It ran from 19 September to 18 November 2012.


The fairy tales collected by the brothers Grimm are among the most famous works in German.

Two hundred years after they were first published, they are still being translated and produced in new versions and as plays for children.

Our display looked at how the stories have been adapted and illustrated across two centuries.

We revealed the connection between the brothers and Scotland, and highlighted some of their other interests in literature and language.


First published tales

Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm published their first volume of fairy tales in 1812.

They had started collecting fairy tales in the hope of discovering some essential truths about the cultural heritage of the common people.

'Kinder- und Hausmärchen', as the volume was called, was aimed more at the scholarly public than at children.

During the following years, the brothers began editing the tales to make them more child friendly, opening up an obvious market.

Since then they have been translated into more than 160 languages and have been adapted for drama, opera, film and other media.

Rare Books Curator Anette Hagan talks here about the brothers Grimm:


Collection highlights on display

Items on show from NLS and other collections illustrated different aspects of the Grimms' work and interests.

'The Scottish connection'

Exhibits included:

  • Correspondence between Jacob Grimm and Sir Walter Scott
  • Sir Walter Scott's copies of the first German and English editions of the tales (on loan from the Faculty of Advocates Abbotsford Collection Trust).

Editions of north European literature

Exhibits included:

  • Wilhelm Grimm's first published work, a collection of Old Danish heroic poems, ballads and fairy tales (1811)
  • A volume, edited by Wilhelm, containing Scottish poems with German translations (1813).

Illustrated editions

Exhibits included:

  • 19th-century editions with colour illustrations, some made using copper or steel engravings
  • English editions with illustrations by artists such as:
    • Walter Crane, a member of the Arts and Crafts movement
    • L L Weldon
    • Wanda Hazel Gág, an American artist, author and translator
    • Edward Henry Wehnert, a German artist
    • Brinsley le Fanu
    • George Morrow
  • Editions published in Germany (1894) and France (1864), with illustrations by Chekla Brauer and Charles-Albert Arnoux Bertall respectively, and from Poland (1898).

German linguistics and philology

Exhibits included:

  • Jacob's Grimm's 'German Grammar' (1818-1837)
  • A volume of the Grimms' German dictionary (1854)

Adaptations for different media

Examples on show were for stories such as:

  • 'Little Red Riding Hood'
  • 'Rumplestiltskin'
  • 'The brave little tailor'
  • 'Hansel and Gretel'
  • 'Snow White'



The treasures display in our George IV Bridge Building is a small sample of the millions of items in our collections. We change the display several times a year.

Past treasures displays



Treasures main page


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