More Marks in Children’s Books

The Rare Romance of Reynard the Fox…

Title: The Rare Romance of Reynard the Fox, the Crafty Courtier: together with the Shifts of his Son Reynardine: in Words of One Syllable/ by Samuel Phillips Day; with coloured illustrations.
Edition: Third ed.
Published/Created: London; Paris; New York: Cassell, Petter, & Galpin, [not after 1879] (London: Cassell, Petter and Galpin; Belle Sauvage Works)
Physical Description: [2], [viii], [9]-221, [1], [4] p., [6] leaves of plates: col. ill.; 18 cm.
Publisher's decorative cover for the 3rd ed. of Reynard; design is similar to the 1st ed. but in rust-colored cloth instead of earlier lilac.

Publisher’s decorative cover for the 3rd ed. of Reynard; design is similar to the 1st ed. but in rust-colored cloth instead of earlier lilac.

In our last blog posting, I talked about some of the various “marks in books”: gift inscriptions, ownership inscriptions or owners’ signatures, booksellers’ marks, and “non-verbal” markings, or coloring, by children.  What may seem like relatively inconsequential jottings, scribbled names, or even random markings can often provide important evidence of how a book was used by those who owned and/or read it.  Some types of marks are of course more common than others, in both adult’s and children’s books.  As David Pearson notes in Provenance Research in Book History, “hand-written inscriptions on title pages or flyleaves for the most frequently encountered evidence of provenance.”1  Pearson goes on to note that book owners frequently add other information too, such as the date or other details of acquisition (gift, purchase, prize reward, Christmas present, etc.). Pearson is writing about books for grown-ups, but his comments are equally applicable to children’s’ books, even though the “evidence” may be less systematically placed and harder to interpret.

Frontispiece, "The Fox Made Knight," by Griset, showing Reynard in action.

Frontispiece, “The Fox Made Knight,” by Griset, showing Reynard in action.

We’ve all seen children’s books with signatures or inscriptions, often (but not always) on the inside paste-downs, free-endpapers, or title pages.  But children are still acquiring “received ideas” of book culture or ownership, so their markings are perhaps more likely to be found in other parts of a book than these generally-accepted locations for adults’ markings.  How do they/we actually learn this behavior, though?  Perhaps someone explicitly taught some of us this bit of cultural behavior, but in many cases, I think that’s something we just pick up on our own, either by observation or intuition–it just seems to make sense.  How many of us recall for certain how we learned this, though?  That sort of uncertainty of memory is one of the challenges of working with marks in children’s books and interpreting them.  As adults, we can see them, but the hows and whys behind their creation are conjectural in most cases, to those us now grounded in the critical world of “experience.”

Inked gift inscription in Cotsen copy on page with pencil markings from an apparent child-reader and a bookseller.

Inked gift inscription in Cotsen copy on page with pencil markings from an apparent child-reader and a bookseller.

In Our Girls, we saw a gift inscription on the front free-endpaper verso, facing the title page, as well as inscriptions elsewhere, and other markings.  In another recently-cataloged Cotsen Library book, The Rare Romance of Reynard the Fox (including The Shifts of Reynardine), we find a gift inscription in another traditional place: the front free-endpaper recto, facing the pastedown: “George Curtis, from his father, Christmas, 1879.”  This is typically the first page we see when we open a book, so the placement here makes perfect sense, at least to an adult, who seems to be the inscriber here: the father of George Curtis, whose own first name is ironically lost to history at this point, one of the quirks of annotations in book history.  It’s a nice script hand, with some discreetly decorative capitals and flourishes: note the capital letters “G” and “C” in “George Curtis” and the flourished “f” in “father”–tastefully understated, but special, as befits a Christmas present from father to son.

Detail of gift inscription: George Curtis, from his father, Christmas, 1879.

Detail of gift inscription: George Curtis, from his father, Christmas, 1879.

It’s also of course possible that George Curtis is himself the inscriber, recording a gift he received from his father–hence the omission of Pater Curtis’s name.  The hand could be that of a mature boy of the time, and there possibly some indication of letters being gone over twice (the “G” in “George” and “t” in “Christmas”), but these latter features could also just be the product of a stubborn fountain pen (remember those?), and my money is on the father.

Title page for the 3rd ed., including edition statement and Cassell's Paris office.

Title page for the 3rd ed., including edition statement and Cassell’s Paris office.

Apart from telling us about the (presumably) original owner of this book, the gift-giver, and the occasion, this inscription adds a date too: 1879.  This is significant bibliographic information in this case because the title page of this book does not include a publication date, although it does note that this is the “Third Edition.”  Also noted on the title page are Cassell’s three different offices at the time of publication: London, Paris, and New York.  This is significant too, because the firm opened its Paris office in 1871 (adding a Melbourne office in 1884),2 and it published under the imprint “Cassell, Petter & Galpin” from 1859 to 1879.3  Based on that publishing history information and the inscription, we can date the third edition of the Rare Romance of Reynard the Fox, as issued between 1871 and 1879, probably closer to 1879, when it was inscribed, but with no way of knowing that for certain without additional, external evidence.

Accordingly, I’ve dated Cotsen’s third edition as “[not after 1879],” rather than “[between 1871 and 1879],” to indicate the likelihood of it being published closer to the later date.  If there was no inscription, I’d probably have to date the edition as [between 1871 and 1884], based on the inclusion of Paris but absence of Melbourne on the title page–accurate but a little less precise.  (Some catalogers would still opt to date the book as “between 1871 and 1884,” but I think “not after 1879″ provides more useful information for researchers trying to distinguish editions and their dates–particularly with that information reflected catalog coding of the 008 field, which determines date sorting, at least in Princeton’s OPAC .)

First page of publisher's advertisements including Cassell's Paris office and advertisement code.

First page of publisher’s advertisements including Cassell’s Paris office and advertisement code.

Additional information relevant to dating this book is found in publisher’s codes at the foot of page 221, the last page of text, and at the foot of the first page of the publisher’s advertisement at the end of the book: “374″ and “7AI74,” respectively.  These both point to an 1874 date, but that could be the date of printing, not actual publication.  The text pages might have been printed earlier and conceivably even repurposed from an earlier edition (Cotsen’s first edition of Reynard has the same number of pages in the text, as presumably did the second, which I’ve not myself seen).  A close analysis of the titles listed in the publisher’s advertisement could yield additional information about the date of publication, one of the reasons why these are now regarded as important pieces of bibliographic information and routinely noted in rare book catalog records and pagination collations.  That was not always the practice; once, advertisements went uncataloged and sometimes they were even physically excised altogether, especially during library binding; the copy of the first edition of Reynard in Princeton’s general stacks lacks the advertisements altogether, which were presumably removed during later library rebinding.

Title page for the 1st ed.; note differences in imprint info from the 3rd ed.

Title page for the 1st ed.; note differences in imprint info from the 3rd ed.

Another copy of the first edition, in the Cotsen collection, still in its original lilac cloth publisher’s binding (with a design similar to the third edition), retains the advertisements. Unfortunately, records of additional copies of Reynard in OCLC include only hypothetical dates, and none of these notes the edition.  At least one bibliographic source identifies this edition of Reynard as having first been published with Griset’s illustrations in 1869.4  (As an aside, one of the amazing things about a collection like Princeton’s is that fact that “reading copies” of books like this can be checked out to read–so I’m now reading about the “japes and bourdes” of Reynard at home, thanks to that copy.  Quite a story…)  Cassell’s version of Reynard was a popular book–the fact that it went through at least three different editions with the publisher testifies to that. Part of this popularity no doubt stemmed from its “coloured illustrations,” credited to Ernst Griset, a Victorian-era illustrator of no slight renown (and two illustrated plates are signed by him).

Plate facing p. 154: "The Fox Throws Down His Gage" challenging the wolf in front of King Lion.

Plate facing p. 154: “The Fox Throws Down His Gage” challenging the wolf in front of King Lion.

A look at Griset’s work here shows why it was popular–the crafty Reynard and the other animals are compellingly portrayed and characterized.  But part of the book’s appeal is the compelling story of Reynard itself, first published in English by Caxton in 1481 as one of the earliest books printed in England, and based on a Dutch version of the story from “nearly six centuries ago,” according to Samuel Phillips Day in his preface to this “one-syllable” edition (written in 1869, so the story of Reynard is now seven centuries old and counting!).  Contemporary scholars think the figure of Reynard originated in Alsace-Lorraine and that the name is derived from the German “Reginhard,” or “strong or crafty counsel.” Foxes have been associated with guile, craftiness, or slyness since the very earliest tales we have–just think of Aesop’s Fables or the fox-like, wily Odysseus.5

Detail showing Griset's signature on one of two signed plates, although all six are credited to him.

Detail showing Griset’s signature on one of two signed plates, although all six are credited to him.

The character of Reynard in this story is further portrayed as a fast-talking, treacherous trickster–the trickster a recurrent late medieval archetype–an aspect Griset captures well in his illustrations.  Would you buy a used car from this fox?

Caxton’s Reynard was not intended as a children’s story but rather a moral exemplum, meant to teach virtuous behavior via an engaging fable. Presumably though, children read the story, or were at least told some oral version of it–a panoply of talking animals, a regal court ruled by a lion (always popular in England!), good and bad exemplars in action would all have appealed to children of all ages.  But Reynard, like many comparable stories, was adapted specifically for child-readers.  Day’s “one syllable” version uses simplified words and hyphenated versions of longer words (even “Li-on”) in the manner of similar adaptations of “classics” for children: A Pilgrim’s ProgressRobinson Crusoe, or Gulliver’s Travels, for instance. A look at the first page of his text gives us an idea of how this style actually reads–better than a “one-syllable” text might seem in the abstract, which is generally true of similar adaptations I’ve seen.

Beginning of text, comprised primarily of the "one-syllable" words, with longer words  hyphenated into syllables.

Beginning of text, comprised primarily of the “one-syllable” words, with longer words hyphenated into syllables.

As a final provenance-related aspect of interest, the copy of (the first edition of) Reynard in Princeton’s general stacks has an embossed ownership stamp from the library of the “College of New Jersey,” the name by which Princeton was known until officially renamed in 1896.  This gives us some idea of when the book was added to the library, but we don’t know for certain why a “one syllable” adaptation of Reynard was added to the University’s collection.  Was it because Reynard was such a renowned story? Or perhaps because it was seen as such a strong moral tale, especially for college students, in a era when morality was inseparable from education?  Was it perhaps seen as a complement to other versions of Reynard, for grown-ups, in the library, or as a notable adoption of Caxton’s early English version?  Was it because Griset’s illustrations were so admired at a time when his reputation was perhaps at its height? Or was it just a recent “best-seller” that a librarian thought might both delight and teach college students? We’ll never know for sure, but that shouldn’t prevent us from savoring the book we have before us now.  That’s certainly what I’m doing, and isn’t that really the point of any book, either for children or grown-ups?

Library stamp on title page of Princeton's general collection copy of Reynard (1st. ed), noting "The College of New Jersey," the University's name until changed in 1896.

Library stamp on title page of Princeton’s general collection copy of Reynard (1st. ed), noting “The College of New Jersey,” the University’s name until changed in 1896.

  1. David Pearson, Provenance Research in Book History: a Handbook, 1994.
  2. Simon Nowell-Smith, The mHouse of Cassell, 1848-1958, 1958.
  3. Philip A. H. Brown, London Publishers and Printers, c. 1800-1870, 1982.
  4. Simon Houfe, The Dictionary of 19th Century British Book Illustrators and Caricaturists, 1996.
  5. “Reynard Cycle,” Wikipedia; accessed Aug. 26, 2011.

Marks in Children’s Books

Marks that readers make in their books has been an area of interest to book historians for some time, particularly since Roger Stoddard’s 1985 Marks in Books.  They provide evidence of how people actually used their books and what they thought about them.  Some readers note the dates each time they read, which tells us how frequently they read and how much reading was done in a sitting.  Some note questions, indicating  how they responded to their reading. And some make comments, indicating agreement or disagreement with the text being read.   Some readers make marks not consisting of words at all: shorthand symbols, doodles, faces and figures, or copies of the illustrations printed in the book. These can be especially hard for book historians to interpret, especially in the case of children’s markings, because they are not in words.

Cover of Our Girls: Stories for the Young (London: Routledge, [not before 1888]).

Cover of Our Girls: Stories for the Young (London: Routledge, [not before 1888]).

Yet marks in children’s books–annotations, pictures, squiggles, or coloring of printed illustrations–are increasingly seen as an important avenue for book-historians to gauge how little readers–sometimes “pre-literate”–actually used their books and how they may have responded to them.  M. O. Grenby’s recent book, The Child Reader, uses inscriptions and marginalia, along with other sources, such as diaries, to reconstruct child-readers’ experiences.

A recently-cataloged Cotsen Library book, Routledge’s Our Girls: Stories for the Young, has some readers’ marks that provide considerable evidence of use by those who previously handled the book.

Here’s the basic record in Princeton’s catalog:


Our Girls: Stories for the Young.


New York; London; Glasgow; Manchester: George Routledge and Sons, Limited, 9 Lafayette Place [not before 1888] (N[ew] Y[ork]: Beatty & Co., Lith., 193 & 194 West St.)

Physical description:

[48] p.: ill.
(wood engrs.); 24 cm.
Frontispiece ill. (signed by Stoddard) hand-colored by a child-reader.

Frontispiece ill. (signed by Stoddard) hand-colored by a child-reader.

Like many children’s books, especially those published by Routledge or Warne, this book isn’t dated; the 1888 date is based on the dates that Routledge was active under the imprint “George Routledge and Sons, Ltd.” and on the date that the firm opened up their New York offices (1889). A collection of stories and poems for children, Our Girls is extensively illustrated with wood-engravings, many occupying a full page, signed by well-known engravers and illustrators, such as the Dalziel Brothers, Edmund Evans, Alfred Thomas, E.J. Walker, Lizzie Lawson, Robert Barnes, Joseph Blamire, and others.

For a mass-produced Routledge title from this period, this book is surprisingly rare today, no other copy being found in OCLC, the world-wide library catalog (although other similar titles were found, suggesting a possible series of related books).

But our interest here is in the marks made in this book by those who handled it after it came from the publisher. There are three different sorts.

  • A gift inscription on the first leaf of the book, the front free endpaper, apparently in an attractive adult hand: “Blanche, from Fansie.”  Above this, in the upper right corner are some pencil markings, presumably by a book dealer: “B51539, 15 [stuck out], 10″
  • Another pencil inscription on the last leaf of the book, facing the last illustration, apparently from a child reader that reads: “Faustina Freeman”
  • Apart from written annotations, a number (but by no means all) of the illustrations in the book have been colored, presumably by a child-reader.
Inscriptions on first and last pages of the book and title page hand-coloring by a child reader.

Inscriptions on first and last pages of the book and title page hand-coloring by a child reader.

What can the annotations and/or markings in this particular book tell us about the book itself, its readers, or how child-readers interacted with the book?  For starters, there are several marks–of different types–apparently made by different people at different times.  Taken together, they constitute quite a bit of evidence of possession and actual use by owners or readers.  This, in turn, tells us that this book did indeed serve “the purpose for which it was created”: to be actively handled, valued, and used, presumably by child–the second name and the colored illustrations evidence this.

Multiple inscriptions suggest that this book mattered to people–both to a consumer who bought it, or otherwise obtained it, and then gave it as a gift, presumably to a child, its intended audience, and to another child reader, who inscribed it. One person (Fansie) thought it worthwhile to note giving it as a gift, and a second, a child (Faustina), then, in effect, laid  “claim” to it as her own by signing it herself.  The gift inscription is, in part, a product of its era and the culture of literacy and book-use at that time.   People signed their books, both as owners and donors, something they seem to do less often today.  (When was the last time that you inscribed a book?).

Gift inscriptions from adults to children are relatively common in Cotsen’s nineteenth-century and early-twentieth-century books, even though they are found in a relatively small percentage of the Library’s total holdings, reminding us, as Grenby points out, that inscribed book are still the exception, not the rule.  Nor do we know for certain if inscribed books were retainedat a higher rate than those without marks, although this seems plausible.Inscribed books were, after all, used and presumably given a measure of attention and respect from their owners, so it’s reasonable to infer that they were kept, and even passed along to other people, as seems to be the case with Our Girls.  But we just don’t know how truly “representative” a sample they provide of all books published.

Gift Inscription: Blanche, from Fansie.

Gift Inscription: Blanche, from Fansie.

Apart from evidencing one received tradition of nineteenth-century book-culture, this inscription suggests that “Fansie” thought that making the gift of this little book was important enough to record this fact for the recipient–and for posterity; after all, she wrote in pen.  This wouldn’t have been a terribly expensive gift  book when new, but it’s not a cheap, semi-disposable pamphlet either.  It was meant to last a while, possibly through several readers.  From the fact of the inscription, we might also infer that books mattered to Fansie and that “Blanche” was a child who mattered to her personally, as well.  Why bother inscribing a book casually passed off to a semi-stranger?

Fansie’s hand is nicely-formed, with an attractively decorative capital “B”, possibly suggesting a well-educated inscriber, or at least one well-schooled in script penmanship.  She thus seems to be a member of the educated English middle-class that valued books and reading for children, as an increasing number of people seemed to do in the latter part of the nineteenth century.  Adults were willing to spend money on books for children that weren’t strictly pedagogical or overtly religious, and publishers like Routledge were eager to supply this expanding market.

Bookseller's notation: inventory number and prices.

Bookseller’s notation: inventory number and prices.

The other annotations on the page appear to be inventory code and price codes, written by a used bookseller or antiquarian dealer.  These are typically made in pencil, to avoid “defacing” the book, and are sometimes also found on a page at the end.  The meaning of the inventory number is lost to us, but the price information does tell us how much the bookseller charged for it–and also suggests that it wasn’t a fast-seller, because the price appears to have been knocked down by 50%!  Perhaps this was due to the condition of the embrittled paper or a lack of appeal by the anonymous stories, or both?  Since we don’t know the exact date when these price notations date were made, it’s hard to be sure how revealing they are, but, clearly, it was not a tremendously expensive item for a collector, even thirty years ago (even if the price refers to British pounds, not American dollars).  Oddly enough, the “lack of appeal” is quite possibly due to the very markings under discussion, which used to be regarded as flaws or “imperfections” by dealers and collectors–and sometimes still are–since the annotations are not by important people (insofar as we know, anyway), they’re not “literary” or terribly revealing in personal terms, and some collectors and scholars regard coloring as tantamount to defacing illustrations by rendering them no longer “as issued” when a book was published.

Inscription facing last illustration: Faustina Freeman.

Inscription facing last illustration: Faustina Freeman.

The other inscription in this book was done by a child: Faustina Freeman.  It’s location is somewhat unusual: on a blank page at the end of the book, facing the last illustration.  Why here?  Usually, such a name inscription arrears on a page at the beginning of the book.  But notations certainly can appear throughout a book, particularly in one with a lot of other inscriptions.  We don’t even know for certain who actually wrote it, but it seems reasonable to assume it was Miss Faustina herself, signing her name.  Perhaps she was just using a conveniently blank page to practice writing or signing her name.  (This happens fairly frequently in children’s books from both the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.  In cases like that, though, there are usually other writings in a book.)  It’s also possible that the little girl was imitating adult practice of signing a book to indicate her ownership but just hadn’t yet learned that book-ownership convention put such signings at the beginning of the book.  There’s no way to know for sure, but whatever the case, signing your name is a claim of sorts, telling anyone else seeing the book that  “It’s mine” or at least “I was here.”

First full-page ill. that is hand-colored (p. [7]), to show two blond girls.

First full-page ill. that is hand-colored (p. [7]), to show two blond girls.

The hand-coloring of eight wood-engraved illustrations is too roughly done, and also too sporadic, to have been done by a publisher.  But they all do seem to have been done by the same child-reader. This coloring of printed illustrations in the book is a clear sign of a child’s use of it and an indication of a her response to it, albeit not in the form of writing or inscriptions, which are generally easier for adults studying book-history to interpret.  Do these colorings indicate the child’s engagement with the book and its contents or a lack of engagement and distraction?  Are they evidence of interest, perhaps by a child not yet able to write, or some sort of graffiti, showing disdain?  Of course, there’s no way to know for certain.  But I would argue that this hand-coloring shows engagement with the book–after all, it is quite neat and it’s also nicely artistic.  While child-like, the colorings are well within the outlines–something a very young child usually can’t manage–and many of them show an awareness of appropriate colors.  Hair is usually colored yellow and wood is brown, for instance.

Two hand-colorings, both foregrounding the girls in the illustrations with color.

Two hand-colorings, both foregrounding the girls in the illustrations with color.

Interestingly, virtually every illustration that is colored depicts a young girl, and hair coloring is always yellow, suggesting the handiwork of a young girl, perhaps four to seven years of age, and one with blond hair.  (I know of at least one little blond book-lover who almost always colored the children she drew with yellow hair, intending that they should look just like her!)  In two illustration (one depicting a girl and a boy together and one showing a little girl and her nanny) only the girl is colored, foregrounding her and leaving the other figures as background figures, perhaps indicating the way they were perceived by the little artist.

The coloring ends after the unnumbered page [19], with eight illustrations totally or partly colored-in.  Did the young artists lose interest in either coloring, or the book itself?  Or did she put the book aside, intending to come back another day?  And was she Blanche, to whom the book was inscribed?  Or was it Faustina who signed the book?  We’ll probably never know, but whatever the case–and whoever the artist–she left clear evidence of unmistakable use for us to see–and to learn from.  We have no idea if she was engaged with the stories in the book or even if she actually read them–or even if she could read.  But she obviously was engaged by the illustrations, and her use of the book is still clear and unmistakable–and it has been fortunately preserved for posterity.

The three other illustrations in Our Girls that have been hand-colored by a child, including two more blond girls.  Note how the first (not a full-page ill.) is the only one colored that does not feature a little girl.

The three other illustrations in Our Girls that have been hand-colored by a child, including two more blond girls. Note how the first (not a full-page ill.) is the only one colored that does not feature a little girl.

Postscript (Dec. 14, 2011)

The great grandniece of Faustina Freeman, who read this Cotsen blog posting, has kindly supplied some more information about Ms. Freeman.

Faustina Freeman was born in Provincetown, Massachusetts in 1886, the daughter of Prince Freeman and Dorinda Cook Young. She grew up in Provincetown, on Cook Street and was educated at Boston College, class of 1909, the University of California, Berkeley (1912), and Simmons College, Boston, in Library Science (1914).  She was a teacher for many years and died in New Brunswick, New Jersey.

The book with Ms. Freeman’s signature, now in the Cotsen Library collection, was probably owned by her as a child, not as a teacher for use with her students; she probably she taught students who were a bit more mature than the book’s intended audience.

Faustina Freeman was also active in the Provincetown Art Association as an adult, and her descendant still holds small oil paintings in the family collection that she created, so the artwork on display in this book may well have been a harbinger of her adult interests and talents.

The Cotsen Library is grateful for the additional information!