Pussy’s Wedding Planned Perfectly

Weddings of animals have been solemnized in picture books since the mid-nineteenth century, even though it can be difficult to draw the bride or groom in their finery when they have tails, wings, or more than two legs.  The toy-book Pussey’s Wedding (and yes, that is the correct spelling)  has plenty of amusing illustrations of well-dressed toms and tabbies by Percy Cruikshank, the nephew of George.  What makes this particular title interesting is the way the very slender story was used by its down market publisher Read, Brooks & Co. to shamelessly promote London retail emporiums.

The product placement begins on the cover illustration, which shows Miss Tortoiseshell whipping up a dresser runner on the new Singer sewing machine she received as a gift.  Apparently the interior decorators Rose, Wood & Co. mentioned in line four cannot be trusted entirely to make the newly weds’ villa a home!  (I wasn’t able to determine if Rose, Wood & Co was a London general furnishing company, but it may have been, even with that generic name.)  Read, Brooks & Co. reinforced the notion that no young wife should be without a sewing machine by running additional advertisements on the front endpaper for not one, but two other brands of the machine, neither of them Singer.

Above the advertisements for the sewing machines are two others for Read, Brooks & Co: one as a general printer,  the other as a publisher of toy books printed in color, which were also available in untearable editions.  Next to the advertisement for the Monarch sewing machine is one for “pretty little clocks” to be had at Marriott & Co. at 386 Oxford Street.  Guess where  the groom Tom takes Miss Tortoiseshell to purchase a clock for the house and watch for her?  Surely salesmen didn’t show customers merchandise on the street in front of the display windows, but I suppose the brave show of different clocks, none higher than 4/6, suggests why Marriott’s was Tom’s first stop.Then there was the all-important matter of the fabrics for the wedding gown… The cats’ destination?  Peter Robinson’s Silks on Oxford Street, of course.   I don’t think Tom or Miss Tortoiseshell appears in the scene below, although it is possible that their visit to Robinson’s was on another day when they wore different outfits.   The white cat in yellow talking to the salesman is leaning against the counter in front of all the bolts of silk for wedding gowns are stacked, awaiting inspection by discerning ladies who must have every detail right.   Like Marriott’s, Peter Robinson Silks was a real shop on Oxford Street.Does Pussey’s Wedding  reflect the values of a particular moment in the history of nineteenth-century consumption?   Even with all the clues scattered in the book, it’s a question without a neat and clear answer.

Parameters for the publication date can be established.  Read, Brooks & Co. are known to have been trading at 25 and 26 New Street near Cloth Fair in West Smithfield between 1877 and 1885. Other tidbits of information suggest this toy book might have been first issued earlier than that.  References to Peter Robinson’s Silks turn up as early as 1866 and by 1874 the business was sufficiently well-established so that a reference in a satirical piece in Belgravia Magazine could serve as an indication of a young Marchioness’s extravagance.

This, and the information that Singer sewing machines had been manufactured in the United Kingdom only since 1867, could push the publication date back to the early 1870s, but that doesn’t square with the dates of Percy Cruikshank’s activities.  Old information floating around the web has him working as an an illustrator and wood engraver between 1840 and 1860.  Percy isn’t sufficiently  important to get an article in Grove’s Artists or the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography,  but Robert Patten’s authoritative biography of George Cruikshank has a telling anecdote about him and his uncle.   In 1868, the  irascible old man tangled with Percy’s publisher over some toy books of fairy tales whose illustrations credited to just plain “Cruikshank,” which was not, strictly speaking, a lie.   They were the work of a Cruikshank, just not the really famous one.   Patten doesn’t identify the precise titles, but the advertisements above for the Grandmama Goodsoul series and the front wrapper of Pussey’s Wedding credit the illustrator just as he stated.

Only additional research can resolve the quandary authoritatively.  Perhaps Percy executed the illustrations in the late 1860s, when the shops on Oxford Street were becoming a destination for fashionable consumers. Another possibility is that Cotsen’s copy of Pussey’s Wedding is not an early issue, but a later one, something which could be determined by more detective work about the businesses of the  advertisers who appear  on the endpapers and rear wrapper. It makes sense that  Read, Brooks & Co might have reprinted individual titles of Grandmama Goodsoul’s series as called for and found new advertisers as appropriate.

This doesn’t clarify Read, Brooks & Co.’s motive was for promoting businesses on Oxford Street, when its premises in West Smithfield were a good two miles east of Oxford Street.  It’s unclear how this would have benefited a publisher in a less posh neighborhood.  Perhaps Reads, Brooks and Co. was trying to play the marketer of dreams for the little girl reader, who wanted to fantasize about her wedding and project upon the unknown Prince Charming a willingness to grant her every desire and cater to any whim that would allow her to appear before her friends and family as a stunningly beautiful and fashionable bride…

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