Unique Copy of “Nancy Cock’s Song-Book” (1744) Acquired

Copies of the four foundational collections of English nursery rhymes are as scarce as  proverbial hen’s teeth.  There’s less chance of finding in your grandmother’s attic a copy of the two-volume Tommy Thumb’s Pretty Song-Book (1744), Mother Goose’s Melody (1780), or Gammer Gurton’s Garland (1784) than a 42-line Gutenberg Bible.  There are forty-eight copies of Gutenberg, versus no copies of the first and two copies of  the second volume of Tommy Thumb’s Pretty Song-Book, one copy of  the 1784 edition of Mother Goose’s Melody, and the compiler Joseph Ritson’s copy of Gammer Gurton’s Garland.

Until now, the black swan of nursery rhyme anthologies was the first edition of Nancy Cock’s Song-book, which was assumed to have vanished without a trace.  The English Short Title Catalog of eighteenth-century imprints lists an edition printed around 1786 in Newry, North Ireland and the Elisabeth Ball copy of a John Marshall edition from the early 1790s, now at the Lilly Library, Indiana University at Bloomington.  The nursery rhyme scholars Iona and Peter Opie considered Miss Ball’s copy of Nancy Cock one of the most important books in her collection because it was almost certainly a late edition of an anthology published earlier in the century.  The rhymes it contained were recorded in the Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes (1951).

Who published it and when remained a mystery until Brian Alderson and I found an advertisement in the May 15 issue of the Daily Post identifying the publisher as one T. Read of Dogwell-Court while researching the history of Tommy Thumb’s Pretty Song-book.  Read is not mentioned in the scholarly literature as a competitor of Thomas Boreman, Mary Cooper, and John Newbery during the 1740s.nancy-cock-ad

James Burgh’s Youth’s friendly Monitor; or, The affectionate School-master. Containing his last pathetic farewell Lecture to his young Pupils, on their Entrance into a busy World (1752) was a Thomas Read book, but childrens’ books do not seem to have been part of his stock in trade unless Joe Miller’s Jests or a ripping yarn like The English Rogue: or, The Life of Jeremy Sharp, commonly called, Meriton Latroon (1741) are counted.   More down Read’s alley were things like  A Collection of the most remarkable Trials of Persons for High-treason, Murder, Rapes, Heresy, Bigamy, Burglary; and other Crimes and Misdemeanors (1734), Warm Beer, a Treatise. Proving, from Reason, Authority and Experience, that Beer so qualify’d, is far more wholesome than that which is drank cold (1741), or Celibacy: or, Good Advice to young Fellows to keep single. In which are painted, in very lively Colours, the Pictures of many terrible Wives, both at Court and in the City (1739).

Read’s motives for publishing a novelty like a nursery rhyme anthology are not clear, but he produced a winner.  Advertisements for different editions of Nancy Cock in London and American papers between 1747 and 1770 indicate it was frequently reprinted.  No copies by any publisher survive, however.   Only one copy of any edition of Nancy Cock has come into the rooms in the last twenty years.   Cotsen was the underbidder for the Marjorie Moon-David R. MacDonald copy of a 1795 provincial edition with the imprint “For the booksellers” sold December 2 2014 at Sotheby’s New York.  Even though it was likely that this would be my last chance to add a Nancy Cock to the Cotsen, I was philosophical about the loss.

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Illustration of “Little Robin Red-Breast” from the “for the booksellers” edition of Nancy Cock previously owned by the collectors Marjorie Moon and David MacDonald.

It is an unwritten law of bibliography that if you publish speculations about a rarity no one has ever seen, and a copy will rise up eventually to bite you.  In the 2013 Cotsen Occasional Press edition of Tommy Thumb’s Pretty Song-book, Brian Alderson and I reconstructed the contents of the lost volume 1 and ever since then we have been waiting for our come-uppance.  Instead, we have been rewarded for going out on a limb because the 1744 Nancy Cock has turned up this fall.  And it’s a very special copy, having been passed down by three generations of English women as a family treasure.

The 13 January issue of the Times Literary Supplement features our account of its discovery and importance in the “Commentary” section.  But it is not illustrated with pictures from the book, and this post is!  Here is the title page spread, with the frontispiece of a cross schoolmaster punishing one of his pupils.   Notice that Nancy Cock is credited to the fictitious Nurse Lovechild, who is also supposed to have compiled Tommy Thumb’s Pretty Song-book.


The first section of the book consists of twenty-three pages, each with two captioned etchings, many showing children at play.   Pages five and six  includes one of children playing a card game.  It looks as if the boy is about to take the trick and the pot.  The other not-so-innocent amusement shown is bird’s nesting, or climbing up into a tree to steal the chicks from its mother.  Even though this favorite boys’ pastime was considered rather cruel, it is illustrated fairly often in children’s books of the period.  This is one in Nancy Cock may be among the earliest ones.spread6-7

This opening, with the swan in full sail on the left, and boys trying out different ways of breaking their playmates’ backs on the right, is another of my favorites.spread12-13If some of you think you’ve seen the illustrations of the child musicians in the next opening somewhere else, you’re right.  It has been copied from this little set of prints by Hubert Gravelot.  But it was also adapted in the frontispiece for the second volume of Tommy Thumb’s Pretty Song-book.  The lifting of this particular image strongly suggests that the engraver George Bickham, junior may have been involved in the production of Read’s Nancy Cock, along with several other of the “little books” Brian and I discussed in “Nurse Lovechild’s Legacy.”


The Gravelot original of the two child musicians.


The copy of Gravelot in Nancy Cock.


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The same two musicians and friend face the title page of Tommy Thumb.

Nancy Cock’s second section consists of twenty-seven nursery rhymes and “Hey my kitten,”a poem imitating nurse’s prattle attributed to Alan Ramsay, chopped up into sections.  Tommy Thumb’s Pretty Song-book and Nancy Cock print a handful of the same rhymes, but the illustrations are not the same.  “Mary, Mary Quite Contrary” is a good example.  In Tommy Thumb, the picture has nothing to do with the text.   In Nancy Cock, the illustration brings out the bawdy undertones of the final line, the refrain of a famous song set to a famous tune in John Playford’s 1651 The Dancing Master.  The three men waiting on Mary are wearing horns, the cuckold’s signature headgear.

tommy thumb page18

Nowhere in the text is a monkey mentioned…


Mistress Mary and her row of cuckolds.

One of the jolliest English nursery rhymes must be “Boys and girls come out to play.”  It is also among the earliest recorded, cropping up first in William King’s Useful Transactions in Philosophy, a 1709 satire on the Royal Society, then alluded to in Henry Carey’s “Namby-Pamby” (1725).  It also appears on page 32 of Tommy Thumb’s Pretty Song-Book accompanied with a etching of two children looking up at the full moon, and in Nancy Cock with a picture of three boys, one with a cricket bat, hallooing a boy standing in the doorway.  There’s a crescent moon shining in the upper right hand corner.

tommy thumb page32


Nancy Cock makes two appearances on facing pages in her song book, as the newly minted heroine of “Ride a cock horse” and of “Up hill and down dale,” a now unfamiliar rhyme long associated her.  The picture of Nancy as a demure milkmaid was adapted from the same set of Gravelot designs, perhaps hoping to distance her from the associations with the name “Nancy Cock,” which in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries signified a girl who no better than she should be. Thomas Rowlandson seems to be playing on those connotations in his drawing of a luscious young laundry maid with a come-hither expression.nancycockspread52-53

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Thomas Rowlandson, “Nancy Cock clear starcher.” National Gallery of Art, Washington, D. C.

I am extremely grateful to the Friends of the Princeton University Library, whose generous contribution helped make poassible the purchase of  this wonderful children’s book.  And with the addition of Nancy Cock’s Song-book, Cotsen needs just the R. Stockton Gammer Gurton’s Garland to complete the quartet of foundational English nursery rhymes.   It would be the perfect retirement present…



Thank You for Drawing Our Happy Soviet Childhood!

Over the years, the Friends of the Princeton University Library have underwritten major purchases for the Cotsen research collection–Musical Games, an elaborate early 19th-century educational toy invented, designed and marketed by Ann Gunn Young, several Beatrix Potter drawings, Natalie Parain’s maquette for her picture book Baba Yaga, a collection of writing blanks filled in for presentation to parents in several generations of one American family, and more.

After the success of the May 2015 conference, “The Pedagogy of Images,” which featured Cotsen’s important holdings of Soviet-era children’s books to a new group of scholars, I wanted to make a major addition to that collection.  Instead of adding a few titles at a time, I submitted to the Friends a proposal to purchase nearly forty titles that were being offered for sale by four different antiquarian booksellers.  Thanks to the Friends’ enthusiastic support, this will be the first of several posts highlighting this windfall.

What do we in the West see when we think about Soviet childhood?  Probably images like the one below, where healthy, attractive little citizens of the Soviet Union bask in the love of their leader, Stalin.


Detail from Viktor Govorkov’s poster, “Thank You, Beloved Stalin, for a Happy Childhood” (1936).

It would be easy to show that the picture is not especially truthful, compared to photographs documenting the actual living conditions of Soviet children between 1932 and 1953.  Invaluable as archival photos can be to a historian like Catriona Kelly, author of Children’s World: Growing up in Russia 1890-1991 (2007), they may not project a society’s aspirations for children as clearly as that poster does.  Some illustrations and paintings are better than workmanlike shots at revealing ideals for the treatment of children or the discrepancies that emerge in the process of trying to prioritize and reconcile social values.  This seemed to be the case with the illustrations of children this group of books I randomly assembled from the offerings on the antiquarian book market at one point in time.

This skillfully composed cover design that balances blocks of colors like Tatiana Chevchenko’s cover for Letom kartinki [Summer Pictures] is a good example of what I’m talking about.  Its bucolic representation of children playing at farming, a popular subject  in Western European children’s books of this period, is surprising in a Soviet book.  Notice the boy in the lower right filling a toy wagon with hay, an innocent activity which somehow looks out of place in a book produced by a society racing to industrialize its economy.


Tatiana Chevchenko, Letom kartinki (Moscow, Leningrad: GIZ, 1929) Cotsen in process 7208276.

Children at play are the subject of the great Avant-garde poet Aleksandr Vvedenski’s Begat, prygat [Run, Jump].  “Play” is perhaps the wrong word, because it is obvious that the children are exercising.  As charming as the illustrations by Vera Ermolaeva are, all the boys and girls exude a strong sense of purpose, as if good Soviet children are so determined to build strong bodies that no prodding from adults is necessary.


Aleksandr Vvedenski, Begat, prygat [Run, Jump] illustrated by Vera Ermolaeva. (Leningrad: GIZ, 1930) Cotsen in process 7208293.

Andrei Brei’s cover design for Veter na rechke, a tribute to the benefits of attending summer camp, on the other hand, expresses a more hedonistic sense of joy in a healthy body.


Ye. Aleksandrov, Veter na rechke. Illustrated by Andrei Brei (Moskva: Vetizdat tsk VLKSM, 1936) Cotsen in process 7203345.

Likewise, this double-page spread seems less intent on inculcating an internal sense of discipline in children.  On the left, a boy is concentrating on turning a sheet of paper into a ball, while on the right, his comrades happily toss a paper ball around.  But perhaps the purpose is to inculcate a sense of cooperation in whatever children do, just as the previous picture.


A. Abramov, Konveier. Illustrated by A. Laptev (Moskva: OGIZ/Molodaia Gvardiia, 1931) Cotsen in process 7208480.

It was even possible to find in one of these books a tribute to the socially unacceptable activity of making way too much noise for the fun of it.


Mikhail Ortsev, Baraban [The Drum] Illustrated by M. Purgold (Leningrad, Moskva: Raduga, ca. 1925) Cotsen in process 7208584/

Which is not to say that if things get out of control, that someone in the household will take matters into his own hands.


Cotsen in process 7208584.

 This next double-page spread is one of my favorites for its capture of a sense of stillness and of energy. Like many little boys, Eremka draws pictures of complex machines like trolley cars.  But Nas mnogo [We Are Many] is not a picture book about a dreamy, artistic child.  It’s about Eremka’s discovery of belonging on the city’s busy streets–of being pressed by a crowd of passerbys, of dodging cars and horse-drawn wagons, of watching, then joining in a parade of Soviet youth.


M. Ivensen, Nas mnogo [We Are Many] Illustrated by Andrei Brei (Moskva: OGIZ/Molodaia Gvardiia, 1932) Cotsen in process 7208265.

Creating a  wider sense of unity with workers around the world was  Agnaia Barto’s goal in her famous Bratishki [Little Brothers].  Its cover design by Georgi Echeistov shows children of the white, yellow, brown, and black races united in brotherhood.  Yet some of the most striking images Echeistov drew were of  mothers with their babies.  These two illustrations come from the Tatar-language translation published by OGIZ/Molodaya Gvardia in 1933.


Sometimes there are unexpected spaces in Soviet picture books where boys can stop and smell the flowers….


Ye. Aleksandrov, Veter na rechke. Illustrated by Andrei Brei. (Moskva: Detizdat tsk vlksm, 1936) Cotsen in process 7203345


V. Glinka, Poleviye tsvetii [Field Flowers] Illustrated by M. Stepanova (Moskva: G. F. Miramanov, 1927) Cotsen in process 7208315.

 Next time, I’ll feature the publisher Raduga, one of the twentieth century’s great children’s book publishers.