Blue Coat Boys Make Scrapbooks of Popular Prints in the 1790s

“Portrait of a Christ’s Hospital Boy” painted by Margaret Carpenter (1793-1872).

William Pitt Scargill (1787-1836), turned occasional writer and novelist after a twenty-year career as a Unitarian minister.  He tried his hand at a children’s book once with Recollections of a Blue-Coat Boy, or A View of Christ’s Hospital (1829). Usually designated a novel, it is actually a non-fiction dialogue between a father, an alumnus of Christ’s Hospital in London, and his two sons.   They are eager to hear stories about his school days there—the games boys played, the meanest teacher he had, what they ate, how strict were the rules, etc.  The book is stuffed with information about those topics (and others) based partly on Scargill’s memories of his time as a pupil or Blue-coat boy between 1794 and 1802.

One passage describes a pastime he thinks might interest his readers because he is fairly confident that it was no longer done: collecting cheap half-penny prints, cutting them up, and pasting the cut-out images in rows on the pages of a blank book. Pictures of farming were considered the most desirable and the boys competed to get the best ones.  No reason is given why the boys would put down their pocket money to possess teeny-tiny pictures of agriculture, but apparently they coveted them more than those of military subjects, hunting, race horses, street vendors, and performers or  rude caricatures of social types.

A farmer ploughing a field from a half-penny print.One passage describes a pastime that might interest boys because the narrator was pretty sure it was no longer done: collecting cheap half-penny prints, cutting them up, and pasting in a book the cut-out images in rows.  Pictures of farming were considered the most desirable and the boys competed to get the best ones.  No reason is given why the boys would put down their pocket money to possess teeny-tiny pictures of agriculture, but apparently they coveted them more than those of military subjects, hunting, race horses, street vendors, and performers or  rude caricatures of social types.

An intact half-penny Bowles & Carver lottery print.

The school boys were purchasing and trading a kind of catchpenny print, known as a lottery, which is easy to identify from the format, a grid whose boxes are filled with a miscellaneous variety of pictures.  The print seller Robert Sayer advertised in 1775 his stock of 500 different designs that consisted of “men women, birds, beasts, and flowers “chiefly intended for children to play with.”  Lotteries, it seems, were supposed to be used up in an entertaining activity, much like a coloring or drawing book.

A detail from a Bowles & Carver print that would have pleased the schoolboy who wanted military subjects.

Scargill’s delightful account of the boys’ scrapbooking follows in its entirety.  The  illustrations from Bowles & Carver lotteries were taken from Catchpenny Prints: 163 Popular Engravings from the Eighteenth Century (Dover, 1970).

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