Palmer Cox (1840-1924), Creator of the Brownies

Matthew Farfan

medium_palmercox.jpg"Brownies, like fairies and goblins, are imaginary little spirits, who are supposed to delight in harmless pranks and helpful deeds. They work and sport while weary households sleep, and never allow themselves to be seen by mortal eyes."
--Palmer Cox

Palmer Cox, famous the world over for his delightful children's books on the fictional creatures know as "Brownies", first gained fame in the 1870s, when be bagan illustrating his own stories with humourous drawings. Cox's popularity endured until his death in the 1920s.

Born on a farm between Adamsville and Granby in 1840, Cox attended Granby Academy. As a young man, he moved out to California, where he contributed cartoons, poetry, and prose to publications in San Francisco, including the San Francisco Examiner. He eventually moved to New York in the 1870s, where he wrote for Scribners and other publications.

medium_palmercox.yearbook.jpgIt was in the New York children's periodical, St. Nicholas, that Cox first introduced his "Brownies" to the public in 1883. Sheila Bourke, who curated a special exhibition of Cox's work at McGill University some years back, says that while Cox was growing up in Granby, he had heard Scottish folktales from his mother, folktales featuring the Brownies, or little members of the fairy world whose primary task in life was to help with chores around the house while the occupants of the house slept, but who often got into mischief.

Cox's first collection of Brownie stories was published in 1887 as the book, The Brownies, Their Book, which reputedly sold over a million copies. He would go on to publish 25 books in all, 16 of them Brownie books.

medium_palmercox.mansion.jpgCox allowed his Brownies to be marketed by numerous companies selling products ranging from dolls, to card games, to soap. According to Sheila Bourke, however, "the best known use of the Brownies in advertising was in the naming of the new camera that Eastman-Kodak invented." The Brownie camera, as it was called, "was developed to appeal to children for its ease of use." Bourke says that "in the use of Brownies in advertising and in so many commercial products, Cox predated by many years the Disney Company's employment of their films to market so many spin offs." Cox reportedly never received any royalties from the commercial use of his characters.

Throughout his life, Cox maintained a close connection to his native Eastern Townships. Eventually he returned to Granby, where he built Brownie Castle in 1902-1904. The Castle, which had 17 rooms, an octagonal tower, and stained-glass windows featuring Brownies, still stands today.