Mother Goose Gets a Makeover…

Courtesy of McLoughlin Brothers…

What does the name “Mother Goose” call to mind?  For one thing, it’s pretty much synonymous with fairy tales and nursery rhymes, isn’t it?  The name Mother Goose also tends to conjure up a picture in the mind’s eye of many people a kindly old lady, telling stories to children, but very much a figure from times past–just like the tales associated with her, which are actually rooted in the (pre-printing) oral story-telling tradition in France1.

I’ll take a quick look at some aspects of the “history” of Mother Goose tales in a moment, but first I’d like to focus on how she’s pictured–both in actual illustrations and in imagination.  I’ve always seemed to imagine Mother Goose as a timeless sort of character, not changing much with passing trends, in much the same way that the tales associated with her remain relatively “stable” as texts (which isn’t to say that details in the tales don’t change in different versions–they do–but rather, that the tales themselves and their essential outlines have generally been remarkably durable and quite constant over time).


Mother Goose, as pictured on the cover of “McLoughlin Brothers 81st Annual Catalogue” (New York, 1909) Cotsen 94404

What sort of a portrayal am I talking about?  One much like the view of Mother Goose featured on the cover of a sales catalog issued in 1909 by American children’s book publisher McLoughlin Brothers, which I recently cataloged.  Take a look for yourself!  The hat, the cape, the “granny glasses” … clearly, a figure from a bygone era.  Nobody dressed like that in 1909!  McLoughlin Brothers wants to hearken back to another era, not a specific one, but one generally located in the past. And it’s worth pointing out that Mother Goose isn’t actually mentioned by name anywhere on the cover, but it’s immediately obvious who is pictured, now as it was then.  Talk about an image fixed in the public’s mind!


Upper wrapper of McLoughlin Brothers 1909 “Catalogue” (Cotsen 94404)

Since Mother Goose is featured on the the cover of McLoughlin’s catalog, it’s almost as if the firm is trying to appropriate her as their spokesperson, endorsing the products they want to sell!  And who could resist an endorsement from Mother Goose herself?


Mother Goose, as pictured on the title page of 1909 catalog (Cotsen 94404)

A similar depiction of Mother Goose appears on the title page of this McLoughlin catalog too.  Her appearance and clothing is consistent, as you can see.  She’s mounted on a goose here–a visual play on her name!–set against a circle suggesting the moon, a depiction McLoughlin Bros. frequently used, including as a series logo for their “Mother Goose Series.”

That same image of Mother Goose appears in more than ten McLoughlin catalogs, as we can see on the two title pages below, one from 1909 and one from 1913.  All McLoughlin changed on the title page was the date (and the catalog’s content, of course).


1909 catalog title page (Cotsen 32836)


1913 catalog title page (Cotsen 94154)







A timeless character, an unchanging pictorial rendition… Pretty much what we’d expect…

Mother Goose on the cover of McLoughlin Bros. 1923 "Catalogue" (Cotsen 94157)

Mother Goose on the cover of McLoughlin Bros. 1923 “Catalogue” (Cotsen 94157)

But as I worked my way through some of the other, later, McLoughlin catalogs, I noticed something  surprising!  McLoughlin modified their portrayal of the “timeless” figure of Mother Goose, more or less in sync with shifts in the overall “look” of their artwork and design.

The first catalog where I noticed a change was McLoughlin’s 1923 issue.  She’s still riding the familiar goose on the cover, but she has lost her “old-fashioned” glasses and her clothing has been slightly updated.  Her cape is billowing out behind her, and the figure is less static and little more dramatic.  Small changes perhaps but quite a different look.

The change becomes more noticeable in McLoughlin’s 1947 “Catalog,” which drops the Anglicized spelling “Catalogue” in favor of the “American” and more “modern” version of the word.


Mother Goose on the title page of McLoughlin’s 1947 “Catalog” (Cotsen 94156)

Mother Goose’s “look” has really been made over by McLoughlin’s artists this time, in terms of both her clothing and her determined facial expression.  No granny glasses.  She seems to be a woman who knows exactly where she wants to go and who is getting there fast, as her flapping cape suggests.  After all, she’s flying, much like the planes that had become increasingly familiar objects to readers in the 1940s.  (Her goose also seems to have gotten progressively happier too.)

To me, the overall impression of the 1947 illustration is consistent with the artwork we see in McLouglin’s actual children’s books of this period–also generally more schematic, less fussy in the detailing of feathers and clothing folds, and just more “modern” in feeling than the previous versions.


Cover of McLoughlin Bros. “1947 Catalog” (Cotsen 94156)

The change in the cover design of the cover of the 1947 catalog is really striking–that’s really what keyed me to the changes in Mother Goose’s appearance on the title page.  The colors are vivid and bright, the text pared down, and a more stylized font used. The actual cover illustration is populated with characters from the “Little Lulu” books that this catalog itself touts as a new McLoughlin offering in children’s books.


New look–traditional title: Little Lulu reads “Fairy Tales”

But, despite the new look and new characters, what is Lulu herself reading to the children?  Why, it’s “Fairy Tales,” the familiar old favorites associated with Mother Goose!  Some things really are timeless!



Fairy tales themselves are essentially timeless.  Tales and stories get told and retold over and over again. Part of their attraction lies in their very familiarity, the same way that part of Mother Goose’s attraction is how familiar a figure she seems to be.  McLoughlin Bros. repeatedly uses illustrations of her in their advertising, apparently in hopes invoking this comfortable familiarity to appeal to child-readers and their book-buying parents.  But in terms of both how Mother Goose is depicted and the overall look of McLoughlin’s catalogs, things come a long way in 40 years, as we can see in the grouping below of the catalog covers I’ve been talking about:


1909 “Catalogue” (Cotsen 94404)


1923 “Catalogue” (Cotsen 94157)

1947 Catalog" (Cotsen 94156)

1947 “Catalog” (Cotsen 94156)








McLoughlin Brothers–always attuned to ways they could update children’s classics with an eye to sales and marketing–does much the same thing with the “timeless” figure of Mother Goose in other places too.  In addition to recycling old favorites in many  cases, the firm also seemed to be endlessly trying out “new takes” of them–just to see if these might catch on with customers. Sometimes “old” and “new” coexist side-by-side, as we see in the catalog entry below for two “Mother Goose Editions”:

Mother Goose

Two “Mother Goose Editions” advertised in McLoughlin’s 1909 catalog (Cotsen 32836)

Next to the cover of one book featuring the familiar “old” version of Mother Goose is another cover depicting Mother Goose as a little girl on the cover of “Little Mother Goose.”  A very different character, one presumably seeking to capitalize on how much children are attracted to illustrations of other children. But apart from her trip to the Fountain of Youth, Little Mother Goose’s paraphanlia is very much in the traditional mode–and instantly recognizable to a child-reader or adult book-shopper as “Mother Goose.”

Another version of Little Mother Goose appears on the cover of McLoughlin Brothers’ 1906 catalog, one of those featuring the same traditional view of Mother Goose on the title page that we saw above (in the 1909 and 1913 catalogs).  Traditional and updated views of Mother Goose are thus juxtaposed, quite different depictions but both immediately recognizable.  (Note how the hint of a moon in the “logo version” has been turned into a smiling Man in the Moon here.)


Mother Goose on the upper wrapper of McLoughlin Bros 1906 catalog (Cotsen 94406, v. 57)

McLoughlin Bros. invokes the “timeless” aspect of Mother Goose, while feeling free to innovate and update, just as they did time and time again with virtually all children’s literature they published.


  1. Peasants Tell Tales: The Meaning of Mother Goose,” Robert Darton (The Great Cat Massacre, (Basic Books, 1984)

A Christmas Box, or, a Little Bibliographic Holiday Mystery…

Some Early Holiday Books for Children Published by the Baldwins

Book publishers frequently reissue a variety of new versions of books around the holidays, many in “special holiday editions” or versions meant to make them suitable as gifts. Sometimes, these are indeed new books, but often they’re just reissues of prior editions, with colorful new covers or dust-jackets, designed to catch the eye of someone looking for a entertaining but educational gift.  This is especially true of many children’s books.  What adult hasn’t spent time looking for a last-minute gift or stocking-stuffer for a child?

We tend to think of this repurposing of content as a modern phenomenon—after all, isn’t this the era of marketing and targeted sales? But—as in many cases—children’s booksellers seemed to have caught on to this idea long ago—indeed, in the eighteenth century they seem to have been one of the early innovators of this practice.

In much the same spirit of entrepreneurial innovation, bookselling was perhaps the first trade to realize that the packaging for item—that is, books’ covers or paper wrappers—could be a marketing tool for helping attract purchasers. Books, which had been offered for sale unbound or in plain bindings or paper wrappers, were sold in increasingly attractive publisher’s bindings, some illustrated, some colored, and some in eye-catching materials.  Dutch gilt paper for instance, was used by Thomas Boreman and John Newbery to bind up entertaining books for young readers as a way of distinguishing them from school books or more serious titles.

The Three Baldwin variations (arranged earliest to latest from left to right, in their appealing Dutch Paper wrappers. (Cotsen New Acquisition)

The three R. Baldwin editions (arranged from earliest to latest, left to right, in their appealing (but quite different) Dutch gilt paper wrappers.
(Cotsen New Acquisition)


Title page of a Christmas Box (R. Baldwin, [after 1754] (Cotsen new acquisition)

Title page of A Christmas Box, 
(R. Baldwin, [after 1754])
(Cotsen new acquisition)

Cataloging several editions of a previously unrecorded eighteenth century children’s book brought home the idea of repurposing content to me. The first book I cataloged announced that it was a Christmas book in its title: A Christmas Box. The full title, as it appears on the title page is: A Christmass Box, or, Little Polite Tales, Fables, Riddles, Stories, Letters, Epitaphs, &c.: in Easy Prose and Verse, with Other Lessons of Morality Equally Instructive & Entertaining for Little Masters and Misses: Adorned with Sculptures.  Quite a mouthful, compared to the current practice of keeping titles to single words.  (Note: “Christmass,” which I first thought must be a typo, turns out to be an early variation on the spelling, more widely used in the sixteenth-and seventeenth-century, but clearly still in use in the mid-eighteenth century. By the way, a “Christmas box” was a small clay container with a slot like a piggy bank and at the end of the year servants went around with them collecting tips from employers.  The term could also be used in the eighteenth century as a synonym for any present given during the extended Christmas holidays).

As the subtitle suggests, the book is miscellany of fables, tales, riddles, short Bible stories, short poems, precepts, and epitaphs. This broad range of material was consistent with prevailing eighteenth-century views that an anthology ought to mix up serious and humorous materials as a way of catching and holding the interest of children, so they might learn something useful from their pleasure reading. It’s still fairly typical of gift books.

But this book posed some small mysteries for a cataloger.  When was it published? (It’s undated, as the image of the title page shows.)  Also, who was the publisher “R. Baldwin”? There several booksellers and printers using the name “R. Baldwin” at about the same time.  Cotsen Library has no other book titled Christmas Box by Baldwin, nor did I find one in the WorldCat, the world-wide combined library catalog.  With so little information and no other similarly-titled book to compare, the plot thickened…

But the long alternate title turned out to be an important clue.  And Cotsen does have another Baldwin publication—in fact two copies of one—titled Little Polite Tales, Fables Riddles, Stories, Letters, Epitaphs, &c.  Looking inside these books, I quickly realized that all three books had the same content, and the same number of pages (128, plus two leaves of engraved plates, the frontispiece illustration and the title page). Only the title pages were different—along with some other, relatively minor printing variations; take a look at the variations in the woodcut headpieces and the decorative capital letter “T” at the first selection in each book.

First page of text in all three books: actual text is the same but all three have different woodcut headpieces and decorative capital initial "T," among other smaller changes--suggesting different editions of similar content.

First page of text in all three books: actual text is the same, but note how all three have different woodcut headpiece ornaments and different printer’s device decorations around the initial “T,” among other smaller changes–suggesting different editions of similar content.


Little Polite Tales, R. Baldwin, Jr, (1751) (Cotsen new acquisition)

Title page of Little Polite Tales,
R. Baldwin, Jr,  (1751)
(Cotsen new acquisition)

Only one book was dated, the 1751 edition of Little Polite Tales. Was it the first one printed, or was one of the other books printed first?  How to tell?  One potential clue—or point of confusion—seemed to be in the variation in the publisher’s name, “R. Baldwin, Jr.” (on both Cotsen copies of Little Polite Tales), as opposed to “R. Baldwin” (on the Christmas Box).  But was this the same person or two different people, perhaps a father and son?  (Publishing in this era was often a family affair.)  To make things more confusing, there were at least five R. Baldwins issuing books in London at this time, three Richards and two Roberts, two brothers and their three sons!

To make a long story short, it seems that “R. Baldwin, Jr” was Richard Baldwin, 1724-1770, son of Richard, brother of Robert, and both nephew and cousin of two Roberts. He first issued books under the name “R. Baldwin, Jr.” to distinguish himself from his father, but gradually dropped the “Jr.” once he became more established himself; the last book he issued as “R. Baldwin, Jr.” was in 1754.¹

Title page of Little Polite Tales, R. Baldwin, Jr, ([between 1751 & 1754?]) (Cotsen new acquisition)

Title page of Little Polite Tales,
R. Baldwin, Jr,  ([between 1751 & 1754?]) 
(Cotsen new acquisition)

What does all this mean in terms of dating our books? Remember, one copy of Little Polite Tales was dated 1751. So the other copy of Little Polite Tales, the one with no date, seems likely to have been issued sometime between 1751 and 1754—that is, between the date of the first (dated) edition and the date when Richard Baldwin dropped the “Jr.” from his imprint.  This conclusion seems supported by an interesting change to the title page of this undated edition, the addition of the text: “A Pretty Present as a Christmas Box, or New Year’s Gift.”  This suggests the original Little Polite Tales was reissued as a holiday gift book. (Perhaps the printing of the frontispiece and title page in red ink was meant as a festive touch?)

The book titled Christmas Box, then, must date from sometime after 1754, since Baldwin identified himself just as “R. Baldwin.”  Cotsen’s copy of this book also has an inscription dated “1774,” so we can use 1774 as the last possible date the book could have been issued. So the Christmas Box seems to date from between 1754 and 1774 and it is apparently the last of the three books to be published.

Inscription, dated Jan1774, in Christmas box, which suggests a 1774 terminal date

Inscription, dated Jan, 7, 1774, in A Christmas Box, which suggests 1774 as a terminal date for publication: thus a date of [between 1754 & 1774].  The January 7 inscription also suggests that this book was indeed given to Jos. Phillips as a Christmas or New Year’s holiday book.

This sequence of publication also makes sense, I think, in terms of how the title of the book seems to have evolved: 1) Little Polite Tales; 2: Little Polite Tales…A Christmas Box…; 3) A Christmas Box. The idea that Baldwin took a “regular” book and reissued it at least twice seems to make sense too, in terms of the general publishing “model” I talked about at the beginning of this piece—it seems unlikely that Baldwin took a Christmas book and reissued it as a non-seasonal piece (but technically, that remains a possibility).

And what sort of Christmas delights could be expected by the “masters and misses” to whom Baldwin dedicated each version of his book?  “A Short Essay on the Nature and Beauty of Fable,” and “An Alphabet in Verse, containing Rules of Life,” lead off the book, followed by fables each followed by an explicitly didactic moral “application.”  Next come the riddles, and after them, the Bible stories, such as “A History of the Creation of the World, and the Fall of Man,” “The History of Cain and Abel” (accompanied by a woodcut of Cain braining Abel with a huge club), and “ The History of Daniel in the Lion’s Den.” Following these Bible stories, comes the seven-page “Filial Ingratitude: the Ancient History of King Lear and his Three Daughters,” which at least follows the eighteenth-century editors’ practice of having Lear and Cordelia survive “for some years afterwards,” instead of meeting the tragic ends Shakespeare provided.  (Dr. Johnson, for one, thought the original ending of King Lear was just too horrific for adults, not to mention for children.)

Concluding all three of the “Christmas Box” books and its kin are “serious” and “humorous” epitaphs, the last reading:

An Humorous Epitaph

On Little Stephen, a noted fiddler, in the Country of Suffolk.
Stephen and Time
Are how both even;
Stephen beat Time,
And Time beat Stephen.

So, while these eighteenth-century books are quite different from earlier religious instruction, primers, and alphabet catechisms aimed at “miniature adults,” as they’re sometimes termed, publishers clearly had quite a different idea of what an “instructive and entertaining book for little masters and misses” was than we have now.

And on that note, Cotsen Library wishes all of you–children and grown-ups alike–a very Merry Christmas!

 Note:  1) C.Y. Ferdinand, “Richard Baldwin Junior, Bookseller,” in Studies in Bibliography, Vol 42 (1989), p. 259.