Happy Halloween! Cotsen Launches a Curatorial Blog on Its 11th Anniversary Today…

The Cotsen Children’s Library opened to the public eleven years ago today. Because Halloween is such an important day for children, candymakers, and the fabricators of costumes, the 31st of October 2008 seemed a propitious time to launch the Cotsen blog.

In the spirit of the holiday, this first post might be considered a swag of seasonal eye candy celebrating those things that go bump in the Cotsen stacks.


This first gathering of pictures was gleaned during the review of an interlibrary loan request and a truck of duplicate copies.   Almost any job at Cotsen is an opportunity to prowl for images. This week I went looking for scary creatures and was not disappointed.  “The Boy Who Became a Goblin” in Anna Wahlenberg’s Swedish Fairy Tales, tr. Axel Wahlenberg (Chicago: A. C. McClurg & Co., 1901) contains this charmer by Helen Maitland Armstrong (1869-1948), the stained glass artist, who was also the sister of the binding designer Margaret Armstrong.



This alarming picture of the smuggler Bill Brines being transformed into an albatross appears on p. 130 and the cover of Coppertop Cruises: The Wonderful Voyage of the Good Ship “Queercraft” (Melbourne, Melbourne Publishing Co., [ca. 1920]). It is the work of the well-known Australasian fairy artist, Harold Gaze (1885-1962), who was a contemporary of Ida Rentoul Outhwaite. Gaze seems to have reined in his sense of the grotesque in the color plates, which are much more conventional and decorative in style, than the line art. To see some examples of his work in color, visit http://www.australianfairyartists.com/howard_gaze/index.html


On Halloween night, witches are supposed to gather for revels with the devil and to create mayhem for the unsuspecting. But it is hardly a new trend to try and domesticate witches, as in this picture of a rather sedate tea-party hosted by Dame Durden by Sheila E. Braine in Happy Hearts: Stories in Verse and Prose for Boys and Girls (Chicago, Akron, New York: The Saalfield Publishing Company, c.1912). There is a smudgy signature in the right-hand corner of the image which I can’t make out.  The names of authors and illustrators in the volume are British—so I suspect an unauthorized reprint of an English children’s book.


Ivan Bilibin’s magnificent color illustration of the Russian witch Baba Yaga in Vasilisa the Beautiful (St. Petersburg, 1902) must be one of the best known pictures of any crone in the annals of the folk or fairy tale. But I fell in love with this old hag the minute I spotted her on the left-hand corner of the plate for letter B in Elizaveta Merkur’evna Bem’s Azbuka (Paris: I. S. Lapin, 1913-1914). Bem died before completing the fourth and last fascicle of this splendid alphabet, which offers a fascinating contrast to the much better known one by Alexander Benois.


— Andrea Immel

 To be continued…