Do You Believe in Cottingley Fairies?
You have probably read lots of stories about them, but possibly you don’t believe that they exist. Well, if you are doubtful about them, here’s a story that may well interest you. In 1917 two young girls in in Cottingley, near Bingley in Yorkshire borrowed a simple camera and took some photographs – which still have to be explained.
They showed the girls in a copse behind their houses, apparently playing with and talking to fairies, little people about the size of a hand, with wings and traditional elves like faces. Of course, everyone said that the pictures were fake, and that the girls, Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths, had somehow tricked everybody.
But when it actually came to examining the pictures the experts could find nothing to prove that the girls had tampered with anything on the camera or the film. It seemed that they really had taken pictures of fairies. Not content, the experts went to Yorkshire and gave Elsie and Frances a camera with specially marked film, and asked them to take some more photographs of the fairies.
The girls did so, and the result was more pictures of the fairies. And still nobody could say that the photographs were anything but genuine.
The hoax fooled many people including Sherlock Holmes author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. In 1983, the cousins admitted in an article published in the magazine The Unexplained that the photographs had been faked, although both maintained that they really had seen fairies. Elsie had copied illustrations of dancing girls from a popular children’s book of the time, Princess Mary’s Gift Book, published in 1914, and drew wings on them.
They said they had then cut out the cardboard figures and supported them with hatpins, disposing of their props in the beck once the photograph had been taken. But the cousins disagreed about the fifth and final photograph. Both Frances and Elsie claimed to have taken the fifth photograph.
Frances died in 1986, and Elsie in 1988. Prints of their photographs of the fairies, along with a few other items including a first edition of Doyle’s book The Coming of the Fairies, were sold at auction in London for £21,620 in 1998.
That same year, Geoffrey Crawley sold his Cottingley Fairy material to the National Museum of Film, Photography and Television in Bradford (now the National Science and Media Museum), where it is on display. The collection included prints of the photographs, two of the cameras used by the girls, watercolors of fairies painted by Elsie, and a nine-page letter from Elsie admitting to the hoax.
The glass photographic plates were bought for £6,000 by an unnamed buyer at a London auction held in 2001. A series of the famous faked Cottingley Fairies photographs sold for more than £50,000 at auction. Auctioneers estimated the full 13 lots would fetch about £65,000. The sale was held by Dominic Winter Auctioneers in Cirencester, Gloucestershire in 2019.