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Burton (Virginia Lee) Maybelle the Cable Car Collection
BASC 4  
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Conditions Governing Access
  • Conditions Governing Use
  • Publication Rights
  • Preferred Citation
  • Provenance
  • Biographical Note
  • Scope and Content
  • Arrangement

  • Title: Virginia Lee Burton Maybelle the Cable Car Collection
    Date (inclusive): 1952-2019
    Identifier/Call Number: BASC 4
    Creator: Burton, Virginia Lee
    Physical Description: 3 pamphlet boxes, 1 oversize folder (3 linear feet)
    Contributing Institution: Book Arts & Special Collections, San Francisco Public Library
    100 Larkin Street
    San Francisco, CA 94102
    (415) 557-4567
    Abstract: The collection contains the original manuscript and illustrations for the popular children's book Maybelle the Cable Car written and illustrated by Virginia Lee Burton. Published in 1952, Maybelle the Cable Car tells the story of the 1947 fight to save the cable cars in San Francisco.
    Physical Location: Collection is stored onsite.
    Language of Materials: Collection materials are primarily in English, but includes Japanese.

    Conditions Governing Access

    Collection is open for research and is available for use during Book Arts & Special Collections hours.

    Conditions Governing Use

    Original artwork and photographs are fragile and may not be photocopied.

    Publication Rights

    Copyright is retained by Aristides Burton Demetrios and Eleanor Demetrios. All requests for permission to publish or quote from materials must be submitted in writing to Book Arts & Special Collections. Permission for publication is given on behalf of the San Francisco Public Library as the owner of the physical items.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item/Title of folder], Virginia Lee Burton Maybelle the Cable Car Collection (BASC 4), Book Arts & Special Collections, San Francisco Public Library.


    The original manuscript and illustrations for Maybelle the Cable Car were donated by Virginia Lee Burton to the San Francisco Public Library on December 19, 1967. The exhibition catalogs, A Life in Art, The Little House, and Japanese articles on Burton were added to the collection in December 2011. The Valentine and Holiday cards were added in July 2019.

    Biographical Note

    Virginia Lee Burton (1909-1968), also known by her married name Virginia Demetrios, was an artist, author and illustrator of children's books. She wrote and illustrated seven children's books, including The Little House (1943), which won the Caldecott Medal. She was born in Newton Centre, Massachusetts where she lived until she was about eight when her family moved to California, first to San Diego, then to Carmel-by-the-Sea the next year. When she was sixteen, she was sent to live in Sonora, California.
    In her junior year of high school, she won a state scholarship to the California School of Fine Arts in San Francisco. While attending art school she lived across the bay in Alameda with a school friend named Mabel. Without any bridges in those days, she used her long commute by train, ferry, and cable car to train herself in making quick sketches from life and from memory. A year later, in 1928, she returned east to help care for her father, who, before retiring was the first dean of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Although she attended art school for only a year, her studies would lay the foundation for her artistic career to come, and her memories of her time in San Francisco would become the basis for Maybelle the Cable Car .
    Back in New England, she got a job as an illustrator for the Boston Transcript newspaper, and in the fall of 1930, enrolled in a drawing class at the Boston Museum School. The following year, she married her instructor, George Demetrios, a sculptor and teacher. They had two sons together and lived in a section of Gloucester, Massachusetts, called Folly Cove until her death.
    Burton also founded the textile collective, Folly Cove Designers, and designed some of their textiles. From 1941 to 1955 the group participated in sixteen museum exhibits and sold their designs in thirty retail stores.

    Scope and Content

    The collection contains Virginia Lee Burton's original artwork for Maybelle the Cable Car. The artworks consist of a mock-up of the book, complete with watercolor artwork and copy set in type, as well as rough watercolor and ink sketches. The collection also includes copies of Burton's biographical sketch, photos and a press release from when she donated her manuscript to San Francisco Public Library in 1967, two autographed copies of Maybelle the Cable Car, and a Japanese language copy of Maybelle the Cable Car. Box 3 contains other works by Burton such as the 1965 Horn Book Calendar and a Japanese language copy of The Little House, as well as publications regarding the life and work of Burton, including the Folly Cove Designers exhibit catalog and her biography by Barbara Elleman.


    Collection is organized into four series: Series 1. Mock-up; Series 2. Watercolor and ink sketches; Series 3. Biographical and donation information; and Series 4. Other publications by and about Virginia Lee Burton.

    Subjects and Indexing Terms

    Burton, Virginia Lee, 1909-1968 -- Juvenile literature
    Burton, Virginia Lee, 1909-1968
    Authors, American -- 20th century -- Biography -- Juvenile literature
    Illustrators -- Juvenile literature.
    Illustrators -- United States -- Biography -- Juvenile literature
    Children's stories -- Authorship -- Juvenile literature
    Illustration of books -- Juvenile literature
    Cable cars (Streetcars) -- Fiction
    Cable cars (Streetcars) -- California -- San Francisco.
    San Francisco (Calif.) – Fiction
    Folly Cove Designers (Group of artists)