Scrapbooking in the 1790s: School Boys Collect Popular Prints

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

William Pitt Scargill (1787-1836), was a Unitarian minister for twenty years before turning occasional writer and novelist.  His one children’s book was Recollections of a Blue-Coat Boy, or A View of Christ’s Hospital (1829). It is usually designated as a novel, but is actually a non-fiction dialogue between a father, an alumnus of Christ’s Hospital in London, and his two sons.  Based partly on Scargill’s memories of his time as a pupil at Christ’s Hospital between 1794 and 1802, he offers information of interest to children about the games the Blue-coat boys played, how strict the rules were and which ones were flouted, what was served at meals, who were the meanest teachers,   etc.

One passage, which historians of children’s print culture seem to have been overlooked describes a pastime Scargil believes no longer absorbs the boys: making books of images cut out of cheap half-penny prints they collected.  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.

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).