How to Rub Down Your Pictures

Spoiler alert: this post is not about an obscure form of biblioclasty–or something even more unimaginable.

Cotsen has its fair share of picture book introductions to the ballet, many of them in the Diana R. Tillson collection. Of course there’s a copy of Noel Streatfield’s The First Book of the Ballet (1956), complete with an inspirational story about a young girl who wants to dance, a glossary of steps, history of the ballet, and plot synopses of famous ballets (Streatfield also wrote the beloved 1936 Ballet Shoes).

page 29 and 87, Cotsen 85248

page 29 and 87, Cotsen 85248

For a much quirkier approach by a certifiable balletomane, there’s Edward Gorey’s The Lavender Leotard: or Going a Lot to the New York City Ballet (1973).

Front board and page [1], Cotsen 152312

Front board and page [1], Cotsen 152312

For those who prefer to see supple animals instead of ballerinas demonstrate arabesques, entrechats and grands jetes  (chacun a son gout), there’s Donald Elliott’s Frogs and Ballet (1979) or Janis Mitchell’s The Hamster Ballet Company (1986).

Page [4] and [12], Cotsen 86267

Page [4] and [12], Cotsen 86267


Page 21 and 29, Cotsen 85247


Then there is Patterson Blick Instant Picture Book number 5, written and illustrated by Dennis Knight. It may be the only introduction to the ballet in the collection that is also an activity book.  It comes with two leaves of “rub down instant pictures,” which turn out to be forty-six Letraset transfers.  For those of you fascinated by this form of image-transfer technology, check out the webpage for SPLAT, the Society for the Preservation of Letraset Action Transfers.

The sheets of transfers are divided into five sections (A-E) and each has been designed to complete a particular illustrations in the text.  B and D require the same skills as filling in an outline drawing in a coloring book, once the correct figure is located.  A, C, and E are much more complicated. The figures have to be arranged on the sets of different ballets without any synopses or photographs of actual productions to help visualize how they might be placed.  Perhaps this was intended to engage young artists, who might design costumes or sets, more than young dancers.


Luckily, Cotsen has two impressions of this Instant Picture Book: a pristine copy of the 7th impression, with all the transfers unused, and an earlier one with no impression given, whose illustrations have been completed, quite credibly.  The instructions, which appear on the rear wrapper, are illustrated with five cartoons, while those for the 7th impression use only the first, third, and fifth (but it has a cheery logo featuring a bee).


Rear wrapper, Cotsen 16093

Rear wrapper, Cotsen 16093 c.2

Rear wrapper, Cotsen 87411


Notice the simpering White Cat (sans Puss in Boots) in the background of Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty.

Page 8, Cotsen 16093

Page 10, Cotsen 16093

There is one obvious goof in the scene from Adolphe Adam’s Giselle, where the reclining figure of Albrecht is rotated so that he is balancing en pointe.  On second thought, it makes him look a bit like Gene Kelly, so maybe it was done on purpose to juice things up.

Page 8, Cotsen 16093

Page 8, Cotsen 16093

For the third ballet, I was expecting Stravinsky’s Petroushka but found instead a scene from Checkmate (1937), a ballet with music by Arthur Bliss with choreography by Ninon de Valois, founder of the Birmingham and Royal Ballet.

Page 13, Cotsen 16093

Page 13, Cotsen 16093

Considered a cornerstone of the British ballet repertory, I wonder if it was chosen at the suggestion of  the publication’s technical advisor, the great English danseur noble Michael Somes, who created the role of the Black Knight  (The ballet’s premise is that the chess pieces come to life and play out the emotions of love and jealousy during the course of the match).

Michael Somes

Michael Somes

Whoever completed the illustration in the Cotsen copy arranged the figures so that one Red Knight is poised to stab a Black Pawn, while his twin is about to be attacked by the Black Knight, with the Black Queen, the femme fatale of the piece, advancing from the rear.

Did an older child or adult who had seen a fair number of ballets (or had studied dance) go through the trouble of completing the pictures? Whoever the reader was, he or she seems to have taken the task fairly seriously, whether or not the scenes that were composed reflect actual choreography.  It’s evidence of a different kind of engagement with the book…

checkmate 1

The Black Queen


checkmate 2

The Black Queen and Red Knight


Here’s a Ball for Baby

Cotsen 31857

Cotsen 31857

I’ve been working on processing collections material that needs to be moved out of a space that will be demolished during the renovation. Much of this material is unprocessed, otherwise under-described, or not accessioned. It’s been tedious work, but I’ve managed to blow the dust off some great items and uncover some diamonds in the rough.

One such surprisingly delightful item has been Baby’s Ball (pictured above), which I came across the other day. It’s a stuffed textile ball which includes a nursery rhyme accompanying 6 lithographed illustrations. The initial record for the item didn’t have much information. But after some careful sleuthing, Andrea and I were able to discover a lot about this Victorian baby toy.

Each illustration is accompanied by 2 descriptive lines of verse, one above and one below the image. We started our investigation when Andrea noticed that this nursery rhyme was vaguely familiar:

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“Here’s a ball for baby, nice and soft and round / here’s the baby’s hammer, hear the baby pound / here’s the baby’s soldiers, standing in a row / here’s the baby’s trumpet, hear the baby blow / don’t take the ball away, to make baby cry / here’s the baby’s cradle, to rock baby by”

At first, we found several versions of the rhyme on the web, but no attribution or history. It was most commonly referenced as a finger play, a nursery rhyme or other simple song that one also performs with hand motions. Itsy Bitsy Spider is probably the most familiar example. Frustratingly, though the song appears so well known, we couldn’t locate it in any of our reference books on early nursery rhymes.

But then we finally hit pay dirt! Andrea found that the original version of the nursery rhyme is attributed to Emilie Poulsson in her book, Finger plays for nursery and kindergarten (Boston : Lothrop Publishing Company, c1893) under the title “All For Baby”. This book, it just so happens, is in the Cotsen collection:

finger plays cover

Front cover, 86551


page 38


Page 39


Page 40

Though we were able to learn more about the ball’s verse by locating a related item from Cotsen’s own collection; this didn’t help use discover any information about the toy’s manufacture. That information came from a much less likely source: eBay.

While looking for information on our Baby’s Ball, I stumbled across an auction listing for: Antique Dated 1900 Art Fabric Mills Cloth Rag Doll BABY’S BALL Rare Uncut NR yqz. At first it didn’t look pertinent. But after scrolling down the page I realized that the item for sale was an original uncut cloth pattern sheet for the very same ball now in our collection. From this eBay listing, we were not only able to learn about the manufacturer and dates of the item, but that it was probably stitched together and stuffed at home, after the purchase of the uncut sheet.

Below, I’ve Included 2 pictures from that eBay listing for reference. But you can click on the link above to see the original listing which includes more pictures of the uncut sheet.

Uncut sheet for Baby's Ball

Uncut sheet for Baby’s Ball

Patent and manufacturer

Patent and manufacturer

We started with no information on a cute Victorian cloth ball and a vaguely familiar nursery rhyme.  We ended up with a fully described Baby’s Ball (New York : Art Fabric Mills, 1900) which borrows (liberally) from a well-known finger play originally written by Emilie Poulsson in her book Finger plays for nursery and kindergarten, just 7 years before the pattern for the ball was patented. In short, it was a fun day at Cotsen doing research on collections material.

Purely for your edification, I’ve embedded a video performance of the finger play as well:

This video comes from the YouTube channel WCCLS Birth2Six, where a few more finger plays have also been acted out.