I never get tired the alphabet panoramas in the collection, even though it seems like they are a dime a baker’s dozen. I have a soft spot for mid-nineteenth-century French ones, especially those falling in the category of a children’s book for all ages, from nine to ninety, where the illustrators simply couldn’t resist caricaturing everybody and everything.
The first one, La fantasmagorie. Fantasmagoria, caught my eye because the illustrations imitate magic lantern slides with their solid black backgrounds. The cover title shows the a man in a wig operating a magic lantern projector, flanked by a Pierrot and a dancer. The style of the binding with the gilt ribbon around the title panel looks very French, but the publisher is the London firm, Darton and Hodge.
This is such a bad baby that the devil carries it off in a basket, a trope I’ve never seen in an English book. But it survives in prints about St. Nicholas…With lungs like those, it might grow up to be a tenor.
The second alphabet panorama, Grandpapa’s Book of Trades. Les petits métiers de Grand Papa, was issued as part of the same series,”Amusing Alphabets,” a literal translation of “Alphabets amusants” in the Paris editions. According to Lawrence Darton, the bibliographer of the Darton publishing houses, the foundering Darton and Hodge firm may have tried to liven up its offerings by issuing all thirteen of the bi-lingual titles. The colophon of Plon in Paris at the end of the panoramas suggests that the French editions were imported and new cover title labels slapped on the English ones.Pity the poor men of science, who get no more respect than a hairdresser.
Of the two foreigners depicted in this alphabet, it is hard to say who comes off better, Italian performers or the Kabyle man, a member of the Berber tribe who emigrated to France after Algeria’s conquest.
The author and illustrator are not forgotten. Perhaps the “Imagier” is a self-portrait of the A. Cordier who signed the picture of the Italians. It’s the only information about any of the artists who worked on these two panoramas.