Marks in Books 16: A Valentine’s Day Gift from Husband to Wife

Fancy chocolates, a dozen red roses, and cards expressing seasonal sentiments are the perfect traditional gifts for Valentine’s Day, having replaced the true lover’s knots of ribbon that used to be exchanged decades and decades ago.

Books have been promoted as more useful than sweets and frippery long before Sir Henry Cole put the first commercial printed valentine on the market.  Pioneering children’s book publisher John Newbery tried to reform the observance of Valentine’s Day in the 1760s by urging the purchase of two: The Valentine’s Gift, which recommended that valentines should monitor each other’s behavior for a year by taking notes in the moral ledger conveniently provided in The Important Pocket-Book.  Stories in The Valentine’s Gift showed children and adults just how this could be done to reform the proud, the lazy, and habitual liars.  Copies of both Newbery books are very rare, but it’s unclear if the small number of surviving copies reflect  sales less robust than the publisher anticipated or the rate at which they were discarded after being filled up.Long before the donor Mr. Cotsen acquired editions of Newbery’s Valentine’s Gift and Important Pocket-Book, he gave his wife JoAnn a Valentine’s present of children’s books in 1968.  JoAnn recorded that  title and title were his’ gift to her on the occasion on copies of the blue family bookplate pasted into each book. The couple had been collecting children’s books for several years and his selection reflects two of their long-standing interests.The rhymes with the sweet illustrations by Ruth Hamlin in Baby’s Plays and Journeys (Garden City: Doubleday, Page, & Co, 1923; Cotsen 15334) probably caught Mr. Cotsen’s eye.  It is one of several volumes compiled by Kate Douglas Wiggin, the author of Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, and Nora Archibald Smith for the family library.  The “journeys” in the title refer to toys or constructions made for riding off in the imagination.The other book Mr. Cotsen gave his wife was a nineteenth-century primer of graded reading lessons, John Epy Lovell’s Young Pupil’s Second Book   (New Haven: S. Babcock, 1841; Cotsen 11057).  While nowhere as whimsical as Baby’s Plays and Journeys, the sturdy black and white cuts illustrating a good number of the selections are more than competent.   The ones of the sagacious elephant and ferocious tiger are especially appealing.For real book collectors like the Cotsens, these two little books are true love’s tokens…

What do you think about this post?

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.