Sunday, April 22, 2012

Chapbooks, 19th Century Children's Toy Books

When you've been collecting stuff for your whole life as I have, you are always learning and finding new things of interest. Still, after all these years, you think you've seen it all! No way!
Newly discovered chapbooks from the early 1800s
Just the other day I ran across an interesting box containing six little volumes. They looked old and were just barely small enough to be miniatures. I had to have them. A bit of research led me to realize that I had stumbled across a printing genre that I was not familiar with ... Chapbooks.
Title pages from three of the chapbooks (prices $95 each)
These little booklets were sold door-to-door by country salesmen in the late-18th and early-19th centuries, primarily in England. The format was simple, typically a little smaller than 3" x 4" and 8 to 32 pages. They contained stories, songs, poems, religious or inspirational texts, some new, most plagiarized. Simply printed using old typeset, re-used woodblock prints and coarse, laid paper, chapbooks were quite popular. (They are still made today mainly as a method of instruction, promulgating ideas, or self-publishing of poems or short stories.) To keep costs in line, as these were typically sold for a half-penny to two pence each, chapbooks were printed on a single sheet, or part of a sheet, then cut and folded into 8, 16, 24 or 32 small pages.
Title page and frontispiece woodblock prints from Kendrew's The History of Tommy and Harry ($125.00)
The star of many of these toy books were the woodblock prints. The images usually helped tell the story, but often had nothing to do with the texts. The best of the genre have original images, while many just borrowed, or rather, re-used discarded woodblocks from other publications.

Two of the better publishers of chapbooks were James Kendrew and James Lumsden & Son.
James Kendrew's The History of Little Tommy Tucker c1820 ($95.00)
James Kendrew, a 19th century publisher in Yorkshire, produced a whole series of chapbooks for children. He issued three sorts of neatly printed small pamphlets illustrated with serviceable wood engravings: 32 or 24 pages for a penny, and 16 pages for a halfpenny. Most of the titles Kendrew produced were reprints of popular works originally issued by well-known London publishers. The little collection I found includes three of Kendrew's books (Old Mother Hubbard, Little Tommy Tucker and Tommy & Harry) all published about 1820.
J. Lumsden & Son The Merry Cobler and His Musical Alphabet c1815 ($150.00)
My favorite of this group is the wonderful alphabet text by J. Lumsden & Son, a Scottish engraving and publishing firm founded in 1783 by James Lumsden. The publisher was mostly known for its short runs of high quality printings of children's books. The Merry Cobler and His Musical Alphabet is a real treasure. 

American publishers also produced some chapbooks. The other two books in this little collection are from Sydney Babcock of New Haven and the American Sunday School Union of Pennsylvania.
Hard cardboard covers added in the 1890s, possibly by Wilbur Macey Stone
One of the fun consequences of researching something new, is how the information leads down side roads that are sometimes quite interesting. This set of books was re-bound with hard cardboard covers. One of the books has an ex libris from Wilbur Macey Stone with an 1899 date. It turns out that Stone was an avid book collector and designer of bookplates. In fact he wrote some books on the subject - Bookplates of To-Day, published in 1902, is one of them. He also collected paper dolls, children's books and toys. For his books, he would often make special slipcases or protective covers to store them in. Could he have been the binder who made the covers for these books? I think so.
Bookplates from these books
All of these books have a bookplate from Sylvia Lent, the famous concert violinist. Lent married Alfred Frankenstein, an avid book collector and acquaintance of Mr. Stone! Looks like a connection to me.

So here is a new collection for you ... and me as well.

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