Good Job! English Reward of Merit Book Labels and Plates

If you know your Tom Sawyer, you probably remember the chapter where the hero swops the detritus in his pockets for any reward of merit tickets his mates have in theirs.  Tom reports to Sunday School, where he proudly presents his stash of tickets–nine yellow, nine red, and ten blue for a total of ten–to Mr. Walters and claims his prize, a Bible illustrated by Gustave Dore.

Did the Dore Bible also have a reward of merit bookplate pasted inside with a neat inscription noting that it was presented to Thomas Sawyer on the occasion of his having “warehoused two thousand sheaves of Scriptural wisdom?”  That detail isn’t mentioned by Twain, unfortunately.  Imagine the price that copy would sell for at auction!

No famous children owned any of Cotsen’s nineteenth-century British books with reward of merit plates . The British labels I’ll highlight here are not as heavily illustrated or color-printed like the better known American reward of merit tickets and bookplates.  The examples in Cotsen may be more modest, but are interesting as relics from particular schools.

A master at Mr. Clarke’s Academy at Enfield for dissenters presented one of Mrs. Wakefield’s tours to different parts of the globe to a pupil.  The names of the recipient and the teacher are written on the blue engraved label, but they are now so faded as to be very difficult to make out.  The signature at the head of the title page may be that of another owner.   Incidentally the poet John Keats was a schoolboy at Clarke’s Academy.

Cotsen 52847.

Cotsen 52847.

This neat little abridgment of Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe was given to a Master Trafford for excellent marks on his final Greek exam by his two clergyman teachers, who may have been private tutors like Fielding’s Thwackum and Square. The little manuscript plate has been carefully designed and elegantly calligraphed, perhaps in imitation of the engraved ones.

Cotsen 20588.

Cotsen 20588.

A full-length biography of Dick Whittington for young readers was thought suitable for presentation to Master Wilkinson of J. H. Abraham’s Milk Street Academy in Sheffield  late June 1816.  Milk Street was another dissenting academy with a good reputation. The master J. H. Abraham (1777-1846) was a Quaker. A member of Sheffield’s scientific community, he was among the first teachers in England to integrate modern science instruction into the curriculum.

School masters might paste printed or engraved labels in the books they presented to good students, but some teachers personally inscribed copies.  A teacher noted that Miss Caroline Weston was receiving The Picture Gallery Explored, with the awe-inspiring frontispiece of a father and his three daughters taking in the canvases hung floor to ceiling, for “good behavior and attention to her studies in school.”   There’s not enough evidence in the book to even hazard a guess as to the location of the school, there having been several schools named “Albion House” in Victorian England later in the century.

Cotsen 83475.

Cotsen 83475.

A recently acquired prize book from the 1890s bound in red calf stamped with the school’s arms shows that the practice of giving books to outstanding students had been reduced to a fine art.  The large printed reward plate states that Annie Rawbone of the upper third form received this adaptation of Josephus for getting first place in arithmetic with a mark of  93.  Annie’s school, which was founded in 1873, still exists today in a different location.

Cotsen in process 6347780.

You can see more examples of rewards of merit in a post by my colleague Julie Mellby on her Graphic Arts blog!

A Field Guide to Fairies

Lucy Crane, The Baby’s Bouquet: A Fresh Bunch of Old Rhymes and Tunes. Illustrated by Walter Crane. London: George Routledge & Sons 1878 (Cotsen 21153).

Identifying the fairy in this famous illustration isn’t hard.   This next example isn’t difficult  either…

The fairy Cri-Cri. Fairy Tales, Consisting of Seven Delightful Stories. London: T. Hughes, 1829. (Cotsen 33142).

Don’t be too quick to say there aren’t any fairies in this lovely drawing by William Blake….

Oberon, Titania and Puck with Fairies Dancing c.1786 William Blake 1757-1827 Presented by Alfred A. de Pass in memory of his wife Ethel 1910

Did Blake forget to draw the wings on the dancing fairies????   That’s a good question to which I don’t have a definitive answer.  But I think probably not, because eighteenth-century illustrations of fairies rarely have them (I confess I have not done a survey of illustrated editions of Pope’s Rape of the Lock).

Here is the plate illustrating “Peau d’ane” in an edition of Perrault’s Contes from 1798.  The girl with the donkey’s skin thrown over the blue dress must be the heroine, so the fairy has to be the lady in the rose gown with the billowing yellow scarf sitting in a cloud.  When goddesses appear to mortals, they frequently descend in clouds–but fairies?  Yes, they can, to quote Rose Fyleman..

“Peau d’ane,” in Charles Perrault, Contes des fees. Paris: Chez Devaux, 1798 (Cotsen 60006).

Of course fairies can disguise themselves to test mortals.  In Perrault’s “La fee,”  the girl  sent to the well by her cruel stepmother to draw water for the family pauses to give the poor old woman a drink, when she ought to hurry back home with the full pitcher. The reader can’t tell from this picture what the fairy looks like when she is not undercover as an old woman.  Nor does she reveal her true self later in the tale.

“The Fairy,” Charles Perrault, Histories, or Tales of Passed Times. Third edition, corrected. London: R. Montagu, and J. Pote at Eton, 1742 (Cotsen 25143).

Incidentally, this copy was owned by a Mary Fearman in the 1740s.  She tried to protect her property from the light-fingered by writing a book curse on the rear endpaper…

Cotsen 25143

The last item in this identification guide is one of my favorite books in Cotsen.  The frontispiece seems to be a very early picture of tiny wingless fairies dancing in a ring before their king and queen, who are the size of human beings.  The fairies are all wearing brimmed hats with steeple crowns–the kind of hat that witches wear.  Or Mother Goose…

d’Aulnoy, Mme. History of the Tales of the Fairies, newly done from the French. London: Eben. Tracy, 1716 (Cotsen 25203).

This translation of a selection of Mme d’Aulnoy’s fairy tales seems to have been someone’s prize possession, perhaps the George Jones who wrote his name in the back of the book.  George (or someone else) tried to copy a portion of the frontispiece on its blank side.

Cotsen 25203.

He also left traces at the very end of the  book.   The drawing on the top might be his take on a scene in Mme d’ Aulnoy”s “The Blue Bird.”

Cotsen 25203

Why did the appearance of fairies change so drastically over time?   Was it the influence of Victorian ballet and theatre productions, where fairies had gauzy wings attached to the shoulders of their costumes?  Perhaps some enterprising fairy tale scholar will concentrate on exploring the history of fairy wings…