An Olympic Tribute to Builders of Strong Bodies in the Stacks


Nadia Comaneci on the uneven parallel bars at Montreal.

Collecting illustrated books on sports has never been a priority at Cotsen, but the research collection contains a wealth of material about the history of physical culture since the late 18th century.  But I had no idea how many treasures there were until I started poking around for things to feature in this post, which describes a sample of books and prints from Europe and the Far East.  They reveal a great deal about what kinds of activities were considered beneficial for young people and why, expectations for boys versus those for girls, attitudes towards display of individual bodies and collective identity, and the different conventions for representing athletic prowess.

One discovery was Children Love Sports, which appeared in 1977 when China was emerging from the long shadow of the Cultural Revolution (thank you Minjie!). This picture book’s celebration of Chinese children unified by a love of sports perfectly reflects the Olympic ideal.  The collection has the original Chinese edition and the more finely produced English translation for overseas readers.  Its full-color illustrations show children of different Chinese ethnic minority groups participating in all kinds of sports–some mainstays of international athletic competition, such as running, high jump, and basketball, others closely associated with particular cultures, such as wrestling with Inner Mongolia or shooting on horseback with Tibet.  Children in their gorgeous traditional costumes mingle in the spirit of friendly competition, reflecting pride in a unified, diverse Chinese citizenry, while also reminding us of the Games’ opening spectacular.  Another remarkable thing about the book is that girls are portrayed prominently as active participants. In a foot and a horse race, a slender Kam (侗族) girl and a daring Kazakh girl rider have both sprinted ahead of boy competitors.


Upper left hand corner: Hu Zhenhua, Nursery Rhymes of Chinese Ethnic Sports. Illustrated by Liu Bingjiang. Beijing: Ren min ti yu chu ban she, 1977 (Cotsen 93620). The other five illustrations are from the English translation, Children Love Sports. Peking: Foreign Languages Press, 1978 (Cotsen 71696).

Celebrating sports is hardly confined to the twentieth century.  The beautiful Japanese print from the  Meiji era below documents the introduction of all kinds of competitive games and group sports from the West.  In the late nineteenth century, lawn tennis, croquet, cricket, field athletics, football, and baseball, were all integrated into the Japanese school curriculum.  Notice that the boys are working out in a mixture of traditional Japanese and modern European garments.  The ones in the first two rows are using various sorts of equipment, while the ones in the back seem to be stretching  (with a few sprinting in the upper left-hand corner).


Kinitoshi Baiju, Gakko taiso undo no zu [Illustrated picture of school gymnastic exercises]. Illustrated by Kiyoshuke Yamamura. Tokyo: Tsutsumi Kinchibei, 1886 (cotsen 101304). This print consists of three panels, each 36 x 25 cm.

 J. C. F. Guts Muth laid out a system of purposeful physical activity n Gymnastic fuer die Jugend (1793) and it is widely credited as one of foundational works of modern European physical culture. (It was came to Cotsen with the en bloc purchase of Kurt Szfranski’s  remarkable children’s book collection in the late 1990s.)  Guts Muth, who was a teacher at the famous progressive school Christian Gotthilf Salzmann founded in Schneptenthal, is also considered to be one of the fathers of modern gymnastics, along with his fellow countryman Friedrich Ludwig Jahn.  Guts Muth categorized gymnastic exercises as either natural, or those designed to keep the body healthy and strong and the artificial, the non-utilitarian physical activities that evolved into modern artistic gymnastics.


J. C. H. Guts Muth, Gymnastic fuer die Jugend. Schnepfental: Buchhandlung der Erziehungsanstalt, 1793 (Cotsen 40334). The frontispiece designed by Lips, shows naked adherents of Hygeia, or Health, circling around her statue.

Within a decade A. Amar Durivier and L. F. Jauffret,  an author of highly innovative children’s books during the revolutionary period, brought out a free French translation of Guts Muth.


J. C. F. Guts Muth, La gymnastique de la jeunesse. Adapted by A. Amar Durivier et L. F. Jauffret. Paris: A. G. Debray, 1803 (Cotsen 703). The fully clothed French lads look frivolous compared to the serious, naked boys in the German original.

Three years before that, Joseph Johnson, the radical London publisher issued an English-language translation, which is is sometimes attributed to Wollstonecraft, who translated Salzmann’s Elements of Morality.  The Hygeia frontispiece has been replaced with a copy of folding plate that appears at the very end of the 1793 German edition.


J. C. F. Guts Muth. Gymnastics for Youth. London: J. Johnson, 1800 (Cotsen 291). On the title page, the work is incorrectly attributed Salzmann, the headmaster of the school where Guts Muth taught and the error still persists. This copy came from the collection of the great children’s book collector Edgar Oppenheimer.

While Johnson’s engraver (thought by some to be William Blake) copied Lips’ engravings faithfully, the same cannot be said of the French engraver. Overall the quality of his work is much more schematic.  In certain plates, he combined the subjects of two of Lips’ plates into one new composition, reducing the number of figures and making little attempt to retain all the fine details.


The plate facing p. 510 in the 1793 edition of Guts Muth (Cotsen 40334). Are the boys wearing some kind of padding in the seat of their pants to break any falls?


Plate II from the adaptation of Guts Muth by Amar Durivier and L. F. Jauffret (Cotsen 703).

I was delighted to find a copy of the 1804 improved third edition of Guts Muth in the collection.  At 20 cm. high, it is 3.5 centimeters taller than the first edition.  All the plates by Lips are gone and twelve plates in a radically different style by Guts Muth himself inserted.  Where Lips artfully arranged groups of boys into compositions of boys, Guts Muths drew schematic diagrams of individual boys practicing specific exercises.


Lips’ plate illustrating activities to improve balance facing p. 401 in the 1793 edition of Guts Muth (Cotsen 40334).


The author’s illustration of boys climbing ropes facing page 312. J. C. F. Guts Muth, Gymnastick fuer die Jugend. Zweyte vermerhte Ausgabe. Schnepfenthal: der Buchhandlung der Erziehungsanstalt, 1804 (Cotsen 33248).

A few plates do illustrate multiple activities, such as this one on pommel horse exercises.


Guts Muth’s illustration of moves on the pommel horse (with tail) facing page 229 in the 3rd edition of 1804 (Cotsen 33248).

As the century progressed, illustrators did not necessarily copy the master.   In the first plate below, complicated moves on the pommel horse are demonstrated by stick figures, while the second in the style of a slate drawing shows boys working on the bar and the rings.


Peter Parley’s Book of Gymnastics. London: Darton and Clark, ca. 1840 (Cotsen 83636). This work is dedicated to the boys of Great Britain “the future sinews of the state.”


Plate III by N. W. Taylor Root for School Amusements: or How to Make the School Interesting. New York: A. S. Barnes & Burr, 1860 (Cotsen 30641).

All this manly activity gives the impression that the early proponents of physical culture excluded girls from the pursuit of strong, healthy bodies, but this was not so!  But determining who was responsible for which manual addressing the needs of young ladies is a bibliographic puzzle, which someone else will have to solve.   From what I can tell, Phokion Friedrich Clias resided in England between 1822 and 1825 and through his inspired teaching established the Guts Muth system.  Both a Signor Voarino and Gustavus Hamilton, a self-styled “Professor of Gymnastics,” claimed to have  been employed by Clias, and in 1827 both of them published works on gymnastic exercise for ladies.  Voarino was accused of having lifted his material without significant alteration from Clias’ work on gymnastics for males.  The plates in the young ladies section of  Hamilton’s treatise look exactly like the ones in Calisthenie, ou Gymnastique des jeunes filles published 1828 in Paris, which may be a translation of a work by Clias originally written in German.   It’s enough to make your head spin, so now let’s see what these authors thought girls were capable of.

The frontispiece of Calisthenie ou Gymnastique des jeunes filles shows girls performing a popular activity that went by the name of flying or giant steps.  It was also recommended for boys and would have provided quite an upper body workout.  The second plate shows wand exercises, which if less strenuous that running around the pole, would have helped to keep shoulders flexible and limber.  The third plate shows a young lady taking a little hop to mount the horizontal bar.


“Pas volant ou l’enjambee du geants” from Calisthenie ou Gymnastique des jeunes filles. Paris: Audot, 1828 (Cotsen 33230).


Plate XXXVII from Gustavus Hamilton, The Elements of Gymnastics for Boys and of Calisthenics for Young Ladies. New edition. London: A. K. Newman and Co., 1839 (Cotsen 15347). The Science and Art Department of the Educational Library deaccessioned this copy at some point.


Plate XXXIX in Gustavus Hamilton’s The Elements of Gymnastics (Cotsen 15347).

What would those bold young ladies of the 1820s made of their counterparts today?  Would they have been embarrassed? Or amazed?


Simone Biles on the balance beam at the Rio Olympics.

Escapees from an Exhibition: Some Curious “Alice in Wonderland” Items…

Alice once fell asleep and she was dreaming. / When she awoke, she started screaming... "Jabberwocky: Novelty Fox Trot Song," [©1921]. (Cotsen SM 1965)

Alice once fell asleep and she was dreaming. /
When she awoke, she started screaming… “Jabberwocky: Novelty Fox Trot Song,” [©1921]. (Cotsen SM 1965)

Exhibitions of illustrated books, manuscripts, ephemera and other “curiosities” are great ways of highlighting certain aspects of “rare” collections that usually don’t otherwise see the light of day. This is certainly true for items relating to Alice in Wonderland, due to the book’s ongoing popularity and all the “variations on the original theme” by later illustrators, pop-up book designers, and manufacturers of collateral marketing paraphernalia. Imagine seeing a Through the Looking Glass biscuit tin once owned by Lewis Carroll’s sister! Or depictions of Alice as a 1920s flapper girl or as grown-up woman waking from a nightmare dream in a musical score. Or a number of later illustrators’ reinterpretations of John Tenniel’s original illustrations for Alice.

One problem, though, is that an exhibition (particularly a “live” one) can never accommodate everything. There are usually just too many books and items to display them all! Selecting from among all these items was one of the (fun) challenges in curating Cotsen’s “Alice after Alice” exhibition, which will soon be ending its run (extended from its original July 15 end-date). With that in mind, I thought it might be amusing to feature here some of the “also-rans” and items that we just didn’t have room for in the display cases.

First up, is perhaps Cotsen Library’s smallest version of Alice, measuring just 7 cm (2 ¾ inches) in height: a 1998 Russian edition, Alisa v strane chudes. The pictorial paper dust-jacket shows a smiling Alice with a somewhat modern, but essentially timeless look — fitting perhaps with the timeless beginning of Alice: “All in the golden afternoon…”

Minaiture Book version of Alice

Cover of Russian miniature edition of “Alice” — Alisa v strane chudes — with a penny for size comparison (Cotsen 153255)


Alice as imagined by illustrator Ekaterina Shishlova

But things really get interesting when we open the book and see Ekaterina Shishlova’s language-transcending, process-printed color illustrations, which accompany the Russian text. In one, Alice herself is shown as a doe-eyed, brown-haired girl, full of perplexity, when trying to decide what to make of the key after she tumbles down into Wonderland. An interesting ‘take” on a character depicted many different ways by various illustrators in the 150 years since the first edition (a number of which were featured in the “Alice after Alice” exhibition)..

But I think Shishlova’s real genius manifests itself in her depictions of Alice tumbling down into Wonderland and a too-large Alice peeking through the tiny door.

timblign alice

Alice tumbles down into Wonderland

In the first, Alice seems to be tumbling down into a well-cum-malestrom, along with a framed picture (the river-bank scene where her sister had been reading to her?) and some leaves from tree Alice was sitting under; you can almost feel the downward motion! Note the tiny circle of sunny sky at the top of the well. And how about Alice’s hand, foregrounded so it looks like the disembodied hand of some giant? Brilliant!


“Big” Alice peering though the tiny door…

I also particularly like Shishlova’s depiction of Alice peering through the door she’s too big to go through before swigging from the “Drink Me” bottle. The garden seems full of mysterious plants, befitting an enchanted place; and note the hint of red from the Queen of Hearts garden to come.  And how about Alice’s huge eye peering through the door? While great in and of itself, this illustration seems especially perfect for a miniature book!  A big eye peering into a brave new miniature world…

"I'm late, I'm late..."

I’m late, I’m late…

Other wonderful depictions of Wonderland characters in this book include the White Rabbit, wearing what looks like a red-and-blue livery of some sort with a giant floppy hat, mouth agape, and holding his packet-watch, which looms large in the foreground and features a cameo portrait of a harridan-like woman. Is it the Queen of Hearts?

Queen of Hearts

Shishlova’s Queen of Hearts

Speaking of the Queen, take a look at Shishlova’s reimagining of her — a comically scary figure, recalling the proverbial evil step-mother of fairy tales, here with a fawning courtier draped over her. Definitely recognizable as the Queen of Hearts, but also quite distinctive, in the best tradition of illustrators’ reimaginings of Tenniel’s originals!

Apart from the specific delights of this tiny Russian edition, it also serves as a reminder that Alice has been translated into some 174 different languages, including Afrikaans, Latin, Cornish, Welsh, and Tongan.


“26 Letters of Lewis Carroll,” fanned out for display, as per the book designer’s suggestion. The Q image is (of course!) the Queen of Hearts (Cotsen 46698)

Another “curious” item that didn’t quite make it into the exhibition is titled Twenty-Six Letters of Lewis Carroll, a 1998 limited printing of 26 letters that Carroll actually wrote to various children, including Alice Liddell (the “real” Alice) and Queen Victoria’s granddaughter. What makes this collection so interesting is the presentation. Each of the letters — one for each letter of the alphabet — is housed within an envelope with an illustration based on a Tenniel original: the whole collection of illustrations forming something of a rebus alphabet (A is for Alice, B for beeQ is for Queen…).  All the envelopes are bound together within a bright red “piano hinge binding,” designed so that the letters can be fanned out for display in a semi-circle. (The bound collection even comes with a descriptive sheet from the book designer, Linda K. Johnson, suggesting display options–no “mere” child’s toy, this!)


The list of letter recipients: from A (Alice Compton) to Z (Zoe Dodgson)

Carroll corresponded with a large number of “child friends” throughout his career and wrote special Christmas or holiday letters or messages to some, including Alice. The pictorial Table of Contents page provides some of of the scope of this correspondence.

Let’s take a look at just two of the letters: Carroll’s letter to Alice Lidell and her sisters and his letter to Princess Alice, Duchess of Altlone (aka. granddaughter of Queen Victoria, who is sometimes regarded as Tenniel’s inspiration for the Queen of Hearts).


My dear Lorena, Alice, and Edith…

The letter to the Liddells: Lorina, Alice, and Edith (addressed to them essentially in order of their ages) is housed in an envelope with an illustration of a lion (L is for Lion) and the letter itself has the lion illustration too, as you can see. It’s addressed to “My dear…” as were many of Carroll’s letters to children. He didn’t write to children as a celebrity author or a condescending adult, but rather as a friend, which is probably one reason he was so popular with them.

As you can see, the letter also contains an acrostic poem, the first letter of each line spelling out a letter in the three girls’ names — Lorina, Alice, Edith — Carroll loved all sorts of puzzles, based on words and math alike. He actually wrote the original version of this letter on the flyleaf of a book he gave the girls as a Christmas present: Catherine Sinclair’s Holiday House (with no lion pictured, though!). The stilted formal style of this letter, although typical of both the time and some of Carroll’s other writings, is quite unlike that in Alice — probably a good thing in terms of the lasting appeal of the book!


My dear Princess…

In another letter — P for Princess (Alice), illustrated here with a crowned regal-looking version of Wonderland’s Alice — features a letter Carroll actually wrote to Princess Alice, Victoria’s granddaughter, as well as another acrostic poem. The letter has a remarkably conversational tone (quite unlike the poems), which is doubly remarkable since Carroll was writing to a royal princess at a time when the social bounds between “commoners and royals were quite pronounced. Carroll had actually met Princess Alice previously, something he alludes to in his letter (“before you’ve forgotten me…”). After the 1865 publication of Alice, his celebrity as best-selling author allowed him an entree to social levels quite impossible for a math don (his “day job” as Charles Lutwidge Dodgson), something he clearly relished.

The original letter accompanied a “Through the Looking Glass Biscuit Tin” that Carroll sent to Princess Alice, after he had licensed Barringer, Wallis & Manners to produce the tins as a purchase incentive for biscuits (“cookies” to those of us in the USA). Although Carroll complained about the firm’s commercialism in using the tins to encourage purchase of their products, this didn’t stop him from requesting several hundred freebies to give away to various people!


Whenever your brother Charlie is very naughty, just pop him in [the biscuit tin] and shut the lid!

Apart from the social-climbing aspect of this letter, what makes it interesting to me is Carroll’s tongue-in-cheek advice to Princess Alice: the idea that she should “pop” her annoying little brother, Charlie, into the tin and shut the lid whenever he was “very naughty”! Take a look at the highlighted text. Imagine an author passing along that sort of advice to a kid today!

Princeton has one of these original biscuit tins in our Parrish collection, ours formerly owned by Carroll’s sister, Louisa. Even though the tin is displayed in Cotsen Library’s “Alice after Alice” exhibition, I thought you might like to see it here — from several different angles, something not really feasible in the actual “static” exhibition.


Front of the “Looking Glass Biscuit Tin”: Alice & the Knights (Parrish Dodgson 967)


One side of the tin: Alice & Humpty Dumpty


Side two: Alice, the White King, and “the Messenger”


Back of the tin: Alice, Tweedledee & Tweedledum, and the Red Queen



Top of the tin: Alice goes through the looking glass

A final “escapee” from the exhibition is a Jecktor Company Alice in Wonderland movie filmstrip from 1933. As you can see, it’s an early form of a movie, printed on a translucent paper strip with two rows of images; it’s wound on a wooden spool and would probably be about 2 feet long if fully unrolled.


“Alice in Wonderland” filmstrip (#165) by Jecktor Co., 1933 (Cotsen 40848)

But when looking at the Jecktor Alice more closely for this blog posting, I noticed a curious thing: the images on the top and bottom of the filmstrip are slightly different — I’d assumed that the parallel images would be the same, creating some sort of “stereo” or three-dimensional effect when viewed while they moved in some way. (Take a look at the photos above/below and you’ll see what I mean.) So I did what most of us do these days when looking for basic information; I looked online.


“Alice in Wonderland” filmstrip: Alice tumbles down into Wonderland… (note the differences between the images on the top and bottom rows)


Jecktor projector and movie-strips (image from:

I learned that Jecktor (based in New York City at 200 5th Avenue, close to the Flatiron Building — quite a toney address now) was an early manufacturer of home movie projectors and gramophone-projector combos gizmos in the 1930s — Jecktor/projector, get it? They made at least 12 filmstrips of popular children’s titles, including Mickey Mouse, Cinderella, and Tom Sawyer. These filmstrips were designed to be played back using an ingenious, but very unusual-looking, playback device (that combines aspects of a hand projector with a gramophone in some cases). It even had its own US patent: #1,929,353. Take a look at it!

The projector had two lenses and a shutter that flipped the projected image from top to bottom row, and back again, when the film was hand-cranked through the projector, thereby creating the effect of animation (not unlike a flip-book, but much more mechanically complex).


“Alice” filmstrip: sequence showing Alice shrinking and getting taller…

So that’s why the images on the top and bottom rows are different — shifting from one to another enhanced the  “moving picture” effect that the changing images in each parallel row create as the film was unrolled. (If you’d like to find out more about these filmstrips, the projector, and see an animated clip of Alice, take a look at the YouTube clip from the University of Texas’s Ransom Center, which also explains more about how it all works and describes a conservation project on their own Alice filmstrip for a recent exhibition.)

projector 2

“Talkie Jecktor” projector and gramophone unit (image from” Skinner Auctions,

But that’s not all. Some of these projectors also had a record-playing device on top, which enabled playing of what looks like a 78 rpm record, presumably as some sort of a musical soundtrack or perhaps even some sort of dialogue, although synchronizing the movie and filmstrip would have been very very difficult. In the 1930s, commercial movies with soundtracks were still newfangled technical marvels, so I would have guessed that the record would play music — not unlike that heard in many cartoons in the 1940s-1960s — early Mickey Mouse, for instance. (Sometimes the accompanying music was classical music too — William Tell Overture, anyone?) But the box identifies the projector-cum-gramophone as a “Talkie Jector,” so maybe the record did indeed play dialogue? But I prefer to think of Alice in Wonderland set to classical music. What a combination! What music would you select?