Collector’s condition???

In the 6th edition of John Carter’s essential ABC for Book Collectors (1980), it is noted on p. 67 that the word “condition” in book collector’s mind “means a good deal more than the volume’s superficial, physical appearance; for the term covers the completeness and integrity of the contents, a proper degree of margin, etc., as well as the beauty or appropriateness or originality, and the state of preservation of the covering.”

Children’s books obviously weren’t on Carter’s radar screen, because if you want to collect historical children’s books, almost nothing comes up to his gold standard.

"Nye Billed=A,B,C for Børn," page 1 with 'annotations'

“Nye Billed=A,B,C for Børn,” page 1 with ‘annotation’

Take the Danish alphabet book, Nye Billed=A,B,C for Børn [New Illustrated ABC for Children] (Alborg, 1778), in the Cotsen Children’s Library. It is one of the earliest alphabets of proper names I’ve ever seen and unusual for having been designed as a set of little picture cards, which were probably supposed to be cut apart by little learners.   It passes the rarity test: when I couldn’t find a description of it, I wrote to a Danish colleague for help.  She was absolutely thrilled to learn of its existence, because she had never heard of it either.

Many collectors I know would never consider giving shelf space to a scruffy pamphlet bound in wrappers of a thickish paper the color of burned porridge.  To add injury to insult, most of the pages have been scrawled upon by disrespectful young persons.  None of it could be graced with the term “marginalia.”  But look closely at the “annotations” and you will find some absolutely delightful stick figures interacting with the illustrations.  If given a choice between a pristine copy and this one with all the doodling, there’s no question in my mind which one is in superior condition…

Page 3: The letter J, as annotated.

Page 3: The letter J, as ‘annotated.’

Page 3: More 'annotations'

Page 3: More ‘annotations.’

Page 4: Even more 'annotations'

Page 4: Even more ‘annotations.’

 

Detail of 'annotation' for the Letter N

Page 4: The Letter N, as ‘annotated.’

Packaging Picture Books

Into every curator’s day some drudgery must fall and for the forseeable future, it’s going to be evaluating duplicates–which is actually more fun than it sounds.

Being an omnivorous kind of collector, Mr. Cotsen has always been prone to picking up multiple copies of books. When it had to be brought (very tactfully) to his attention that two (or more) copies of the same thing had been bought within months of each other, he would quip that at least he knew what he liked. Picture books from all over Europe between 1890 and 1950 are books he particularly likes. So looking through all these duplicate and variant copies means I get to be dazzled over and over again by the extraordinary creativity of artists during this period.

Part of the fun of not knowing what will be on the truck: it’s like being handed a box of chocolate truffles–you never know what you’ll bite into next.  A week ago there was a run of striking Art Nouveau picture books.  What caught my eye in the four examples here was the progression from front cover to title page.

Below is volume 3 of Jugendland (1903), a periodical for boys and girls edited by Heinrich Moser and Ulrich Kohlbrunner that was published by the Swiss firm Künzli.  Its binding design, the endpapers, and title page are all executed by illustrator and caricaturist Arpad Schmidhammer (1857-1921). He got his start contributing to annuals like Jugendland and Knecht Ruprecht, but is perhaps better known for his propagandistic picture books like Lieb Vaterland magst ruhig sein.

Front cover  Cotsen 18814

Front cover
Cotsen 18814

endpapers  Cotsen 18814

Endpapers
Cotsen 18814

Titlepage Cotsen 18814

Title page
Cotsen 18814

The illustrations for the binding, endpapers and title page of Gartenlaube-Bilderbuch der deutscher Jugend (1902), on the other hand, are more uniform in style and subject than those for Jugendland.  The picture on the front board is by Hermann Kaulbach (1846-1909), a well-known painter famous for idealized pictures of children.  No credits are given for the endpapers or title vignette, but someone made sure that the theme of books and reading was repeated on the title page.

Front cover  Cotsen 91566

Front cover
Cotsen 91566

Endpapers  Cotsen 91566

Endpapers
Cotsen 91566

Title page  Cotsen 91566

Title page
Cotsen 91566

Except for the goblin’s eyes peeking out of the “O,” the cloth boards of O Hastromanvi [The Goblin] (Prague: B. Koči, 1903) by Jožena Schwaigerová are conventional compared with the patterned endpapers.  Both the binding design and endpapers contrast sharply with the rather severe title page, with the bold type cutting deeply into the thick paper.  Whoever drew the repeat of frogs and pearls is not identified, so perhaps it was also the work of the Bohemian illustrator Hanus Schwaiger (1854-1909) who did the delightfully creepy pictures for the story.

Front cover Cotsen 44194

Front cover
Cotsen 44194

Endpapers Cotsen 44194

Endpapers
Cotsen 44194

Title page  Cotsen 44194

Title page
Cotsen 44194

There’s a frog prince on the front board of Ernst Dannheiser’s Miaulina: Ein Märchenbuch für kleine Kinder (Cologne: Schaffstein, 1902), but he hasn’t got any pearls on his crown. Illustrator Julius Diez (1870-1953) let his imagination run wild in this collection of fairy tales. In the book, the tales are told to an industrious little girl by the cat Miaulina, who is shown with a satchel over one shoulder. There is the repeat of the pine tree men and red squirrels on the endpapers, an added illustrated title page where Miaulina eyes little mice watering the garden, and title page dominated by the figure of a fantastically dressed Moorish slave boy, who bears Miaulina on a pillow amidst a riot of exotic birds.  And I left out the illustrated vignettes of the poor veteran mouse begging in the cold and the jaunty little fellow riding a rooster, not to mention the frame of mice, beetles and weird rootmen enclosing the table of contents!

Front cover Cotsen 150184

Front cover
Cotsen 150184

Endpapers Cotsen 150184

Endpapers
Cotsen 150184

Decorative title page  Cotsen 150184

Decorative title page
Cotsen 150184

Title page  Cotsen 150184

Title page
Cotsen 150184

These exuberant picture books may be over the top, but their packaging gives contemporary bindings of laminated boards, or sober cloth backstrip and boards covered in a contrasting color, a run for their money…