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Publije, revue de critique litteraire
(littérature pour la jeunesse et littérature générale)

1. Pratiques de lecture de jeunesse en Europe : XIXe-XXIe siècles - Workshop Jeunes Chercheurs

Giorgio BACCI

Commentaire du poster



Established in Florence in 1862 by Adriano Salani, the Salani firm is one of the oldest Italian publishing houses still in business. Its catalogue includes authors such as Roald Dahl, Astrid Lindgren, Eva Ibbotson, Michael Ende and, going back to the 19th and 20th centuries, bestsellers such as, on the “romance” side, Carolina Invernizio, Elisabeth Werner, Delly. The Salani archive preserves about 30,000 original drawings, from the end of the 19th to the end of the 20th centuries, thanks to the famous “Gl’Istrici” series, thus also including contemporary artists (Quentin Blake, Emanuele Luzzati, Grazia Nidasio, etc.). The database, which is freely accessible online ( and also contains some of the most important Italian illustrators, as well as some of the earliest Disney publications in Italy (e.g. Snow White [Biancaneve] or Mickey Mouse [Topolino]) and the animated Japanese cartoons in the Seventies and Eighties.

The article, starting from the poster Salani Archive: Italian Illustrations between 19th and 20th centuries, will focus on a specific case-study, which is particularly interesting considering the wide range of problems and suggestions linked to it: the unknown relationship between Salani, Oxford University Press and Walt Disney during the Thirties, attesting to a particular side of the Salani production during Fascism.

Texte intégral

1 Using the poster Salani Archive: Italian Illustrations between 19th and 20th centuries as a starting point, this paper will focus on a specific case study, particularly interesting considering the wide range of problems and suggestions linked to it, that is the unknown relationship between Salani, Oxford University Press and Walt Disney during the Thirties, attesting to a particular side of the Salani production during Fascism. Indeed, the Florentine publisher was careful not to contradict the fascist dictatorship, and at the same time ready to receive typographic and figurative innovations from abroad, always interpreting the spirit of the time, as attested, besides this case study, also by the influence of the cinema on the covers for books for women1.

2 On the 12th of January 1934, Salani bought 17 titles from the "The Peek-a-Boo series" from Oxford University Press, with exclusive rights for Italy. The series was devoted to children and contained funny illustrated stories, thus opening a new publishing season: Pat becomes Bombolino, Jane–Melarosa, Polly–Annette, and everything remains the same. The books are so-called «shaped books», because of their particular shape, resembling the body of the protagonist, very successful in England as heirs of the first books designed around 1913 by Chloe Preston. The shaped cover presents the main character of the story developed along the subsequent pages, while the rhythm of internal illustrations follow a regular and fixed model, with a “narrative” head and a decorative ending bordering the text. An internal disposition (preserved in the huge historical Salani archive), destined to illustrators, is useful to observe the attention devoted to the illustrations: it regards the covers of the «Librini del Cuccù» and it specifies that the angles «should not be too sharp»2. It is a technical note, which becomes a figurative note, considering that a new style is emerging, based on a soft and smooth figuration, which characterizes the Disney characters, some of which, as Pluto or the Seven Dwarves, were published precisely in the «Librini del Cuccù» collection [plate 1]. Among the titles there would also be some Fascist books, such as Cuccù… Balilla [plate 2], confirming Salani’s commercial ability to adapt a foreign format to the present Italian situation, diminishing, in doing so, its power of innovation.

3 Two years earlier, in the month of June 1932, the Florentine publisher had already bought several titles from «Little Big Books», among which were abridged versions of Alice in Wonderland and Gulliver’s Travels.

4 The series «Grandi Piccoli Libri» (Italian version of «Little Big Books»), sold at 2.50 lire per volume, is certainly proof of Salani’s intuition. The Florentine publisher imported this very successful format, sometimes copying the English original exactly, sometimes publishing new titles, 98 volumes in total. Besides the already cited versions of Alice in Wonderland [Alice nel paese delle maraviglie] and Gulliver’s Travels [I viaggi di Gulliver], there were other famous books such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarves [Biancaneve e i settenani], Mickey Mouse [Topolino], Pinocchio the Inventor [Pinocchio inventore], Mickey Mouse and Pluto [Topolino e Pluto], Buci and Bobi [Buci e Bobi]. As happened with «Librini del Cuccù», even for this series Salani prepared the corresponding fascist ones, «Piccoli Libri della Patria», with emblematic titles: Our balilla [I nostri balilla], Heroes and Martyrs [Eroi e martiri], Fascism [Il fascismo], The conquest of the Empire [La conquista dell’Impero].

5 As in a kaleidoscope, different traditions are mixed in this collection: from the Anglophone and Italian traditions to new perspectives developed in Snow White and the Seven Dwarves [plate 3]. Salani also included the religious version of the «Little Big Books», that is «Little Books of the Bible», bought in 1937 as well as in 1938. Going through the «Piccoli Libri Santi», from the Story of the Virgin Mary to the Story of David, to the Story of Daniel, it emerges once more that Salani sometimes bought text and image as licenses, and sometimes the publisher commissioned the illustrations from Italian artists.

6 Speaking about the links with Disney, the first contract, renewed on 22nd August 1935, was signed the 9th of June 1934, when the Florentine publisher bought Mickey Mouse the Mail Pilot [plate 4 Topolino pilota postale], Mickey Mouse and the Treasure [Topolino e il Tesoro], and Mickey Mouse and the Gypsies [Topolino e gli Zingari]. In creating the series «Piccoli Grandi Libri», Salani copied the Dean & Son format, 11.4 x 10.4 cm, a bit smaller than the «Grandi Piccoli Libri». One image characterizes the book cover, while a series of plates, with captions, illustrate the corresponding text. Salani is among the first publishers in Italy to import Mickey Mouse, in somuch as he will proudly say, in a letter dated 22nd June 1939, to ‘Disney Italia’, that he was «among the Italian pioneers of Mickey Mouse»3.

7 The first contact concerning Snow White, between Salani and Disney, is dated 7th July 1938, when ‘Disney Italia’ asked Salani to provide for them, for the purposes of publicity, «charms, pendants, bracelets of the series “Snow White and the sevend warves”, like those solda broad in large scale»4.

8 Instead Salani, not interested in charms and pendants, decided to publish the book of Snow White, and began a long negotiation with ‘Disney Italia’, which came to a close one year later when Disney finally permitted the publication of Snow White in the «Librini del Cuccù» series. From now on an intense mail correspondence started between Disney and Salani, who asked for copies of books already published abroad, and movie frames, in order to help his illustrators.

9 On the 7th of December 1939 another contract was signed which in all respects was similar to the preceding one, which allowed the publication of Snow White also in the series «Grandi Piccoli Libri», where indeed Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, and Snow White’s Dwarves [I nani di Biancaneve] were published. The contractual clauses were quite severe: the format had to be that of the «Grandi Piccoli Libri», and the illustrations «had to be the ones by Walt Disney. It’s strictly forbidden to include in this volume, characters, inventions or sketches not byWalt Disney. Before publishing the volume you must submit the publishing proofs and the illustrations, and only after our written approval, which is unchallengeable, or only after you will have done the requested modifications, you will be authorized to publish the volumes»5.

10 The book of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (largely copied from the Annual Snow White of 1938) reveals a different visual perception, linked to the cartoon, which permeates thew hole figurative apparatus [plate 5]. In this way a new illustrative dimension was introduced, designed to project the reader in to a fantastic and nearly three-dimensional perspective, entirely derived from a cinematographic approach.

11 Salanis interest in Disney cartoons did not end with the release of Snow White, but continued with the attempt to publish Pinocchio as well, which was to be released in the United States in February 1940, but distributed in Italy only in 1947.

12 Beyond Snow White and Pinocchio, the relationship between Disney and Salani continued even after the U.S. entered the war. Almost on the eve of the attack on Pearl Harbor (7th of December 1941), the Florentine publisher renewed the authorization to publish in «type and shape similar to Little Big Books», six volumes which were already purchased on the 22nd of August 1935. On the 19th of December 1941Salani wrote to ‘Disney Italia’:

In order to be able to define the suspended practices with this Respectable Company, please indicate if, after the outbreak of the conflict between Italy and the United States, any change has intervened in your legal situation.6

13 The answer came in a circular dated11th of November 1942, published in the Official Gazette of the Kingdom of Italy, in which, acknowledging that «people of American nationality have the major interests in the Company», it was decided to seize ‘Disney Italy’and «to entrust the management to the sequestrator», therefore virtually allowing the publication.

14 Indeed, Salani took advantage by continuing to draw up contracts, until, on 1st September 1945, he received the message that «the Allied Military Government, Region of Lombardy, [...] appointed as temporary administrator of the Walt Disney SAI, the lawyer Mr. Vannucci».7

15 The letter can be the end of this paper, which is necessarily incomplete, as it presents only one side of the production. To balance this perspective, for example, also some explicitly fascist titles present in the catalogue, such as Ragazzi della Rivoluzione (Boys of the Revolution) [plate 6], should have been mentioned but this paper aims at emphasizing how, through an alternative publishing project, Salani was able to import in Italy significant publishing and pictorial novelties. Perhaps the ironic and caustic letter sent to the illustrators «MatteiGentili and T. Tomassini», and dated 8th of June, 1943, can be considered emblematic of the publisher’s attitude :

For your information I must tell you that the Ministry for Popular Culture has refused publishing approval for two books you illustrated, “Pier Fortunato Calvi” and “Garibaldi” [the first, a patriot executed by the Austrians in 1855 because of his involvement in the revolutions of 1848, the second, the national hero who, in those years, was re-interpreted as a pre-fascist hero for propaganda reason] because they were not considered “useful to the spiritual formation of new generations”. I didn’t have this impression, and you?8

I would like to thank Melanie Rockenhaus.


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Illustrations :

Cuccù!... Pluto, Firenze, Salani 1940. Original cover by F. Faorzi (from W. Disney), watercolor, tempera on heavy paper, 27,7 x 23 cm.

Cuccù!... Balilla, Firenze, Salanis.d.Original cover by F. Faorzi, tempera on heavy paper, 26,9 x 23,4 cm.

Topolino pilota postale, Firenze, Salani 1935. Original cover by F. Faorzi (from W. Disney), tempera on heavy paper, 19 x 32,3 cm.

Biancaneve e i sette nani, Firenze, Salani 1940. Original cover by F. Faorzi (from W. Disney), watercolor, tempera con heavy paper, 26,8 x 38,3 cm.

I nani di Biancaneve, Firenze, Salani 1941. Plate by F. Faorzi (from W. Disney), watercolor on heavy paper, 22,1 x 17 cm.

G. Fornari, Ragazzi della Rivoluzione, Firenze, Salani 1940. Original cover by G. Faorzi, watercolor, tempera on paper, 29,6 x 21,4 cm.


1 All the images are freely searchable and accessible at Salani project ( and Spreading Visual Culture: contemporary art through periodicals, archives and illustrations project (

2 Salani Historical Archive, binder 126, Istruzioni riguardanti i disegni delle copertine per la collezione “Librini del Cuccù”.

3 Salani Historical Archive, binder 126.

4 Salani Historical Archive, binder 126.

5 Salani Historical Archive, binder 126

6 Salani Historical Archive, binder 126

7 Salani Historical Archive, binder 126

8 Salani Historical Archive, binder 126, letter from Mario Salani to «Sigg.e A.M. Mattei Gentili e T. Tomassini».

Pour citer ce document

Giorgio BACCI, «Commentaire du poster», Publije, revue de critique litteraire [En ligne], IN VIVO, 1. Pratiques de lecture de jeunesse en Europe : XIXe-XXIe siècles - Workshop Jeunes Chercheurs, mis à jour le : 31/08/2015, URL :