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.


Les Fruits Animes!


New acquisition


Above is our newly acquired set of three French jigsaw puzzles: Les Fruits Animes! (The Animated Fruits!). Though Cotsen has many jigsaw puzzles, this might be our first fruit-themed toy. Featuring numerous fruits from around the world, and even some nuts, the jigsaw puzzles gives each piece of produce a personality. I’d also like to mention that this is the best example in the Cotsen collection of figures in period dress . . . with fruits and nuts for heads.


Puzzle 1

Puzzle 1

Puzzle 2

Puzzle 2

Puzzle 3

Puzzle 3

This set of jigsaw puzzles was illustrated by A. Belloguet, and lithographed by H. Jannin at his shop on Rue des Bernardins in Paris. Though undated, other work by Belloguet and Jannin (at this particular address) point towards a date of manufacture in the mid- to late 19th century (maybe 1870s).

Some of the personifications are unfairly essentializing: such as the “savage” looking Ananas (pineapple) or the orientalized Chinois (found in puzzle 3 and 1 respectively). Meanwhile, smaller and sweeter fruit are more likely to be anthropomorphized into young girls. Most of the characters, however, seem to have been chosen for more benign associations: such as the brown-robed monk Noix de coco (coconut) with his brown husked head ( found in puzzle 3). But of course, what 19th Century French publication would be complete without a little dig at proper English ladies:


Poire d'Angleterre (the English Pear),

Poire d’Angleterre (the English Pear), Puzzle 1