Black Beauty

Abingdon Art Deco Ceramic Bookends with Mirror Black Glazing (LEO Design)


Yesterday we discussed Rob Roy, the horse who meets a tragic end in the 1877 novel, Black Beauty.  The horse is put-down, shot, after breaking his leg during a fox hunting jumping accident.  His rider, George Gordon, dies, too, having broken his neck in the fall.

Black Beauty was written by English author Anna Sewell and it is her only published work.  It was written in the final years of her life and published a short five months before her death.  Sewell had been injured in an accident as a child and, due to poor medical treatment, was never able to walk again.  She spent much of her life sick and bedridden, though, when she was able to leave the house, she depended on a horse cart to get around.  She developed a close relationship with and deep respect for her horses—and a calling to help improve the lives of working horses, indeed all animals.

The novel's narrator is the horse, Black Beauty himself.  He tells of his happy childhood (with his mother) on a farm in England.  Later he tells us of his difficult life pulling a carriage in London—a life of drudgery, pain and cruel treatment.  Eventually, he is returned to a farm where he can live out his days in rest.  The first person narrative, from the point-of-view of the horse, was groundbreaking in its time.

Fortunately, Anna Sewell was able to witness the immediate commercial success of her work before she died.  Since then, the book has sold more than 50 million copies and has become a classic of children's literature.  Sewell, however, never intended for Black Beauty to be a children's book.  Her intention was to enlighten the Victorian public to the plight of working animals—especially horses—and catalyze change in the laws and practices which affected them.  In this regard, too, she was most successful.  Along the way, she hoped to inspire people to treat each other with greater kindness and respect.

These Art Deco horse head bookends were made by the Illinois ceramics company Abingdon.  For a short time during the Depression (1938 through the 1940's), Abingdon replaced its plumbing fixture production (sinks, water fountains, toilets and tubs) with small home decor items (vases, bowls, bookends).  Once the Depression was over, and home building resumed, Abingdon abandoned the small items and returned to its traditional production of high-quality plumbing fixtures.  Click on the photo to learn more about them.


Though our Greenwich Village store is now permanently closed, LEO Design is still alive and well!  Please visit our on-line store where we continue to sell Handsome Gifts (

We also can be found in Pittsburgh's historic "Strip District" at Mahla & Co. Antiques ( or in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania at The Antique Center of Strabane (

Or call to arrange to visit our Pittsburgh showroom (by private appointment only).  917-446-4248