A Family Portrait Drawn in Aunt Mary’s Stories for Children

Aunt Mary’s Stories for Children (London: William Darton and Son, between 1830 and 1835) Cotsen 44687.

The illustrated inscription in this little volume of stories will make you laugh out loud.   Miss Cha (short for Charlotte) Osborn gave it as a gift to Helen McDonnell in 1842.  It looks as if someone who was not Cha drew in pencil a kite with its string fastened to the number 2 in 1842.  That same person may have drawn the balloon below (if that’s what it is).

That’s just a lagniappe before the main course, the group portrait of Cha and her three siblings.  Big sister Cha seems to be presenting a book (possibly this copy of Aunt Mary’s Stories) to someone.   Next comes little sister Laura in a matching dress, holding a doll in one hand.  Then comes Osborn number three, brother Harry in skirts and waving a whip.  Last and very definitely least is the tightly swaddled baby Frank lying on the ground with a  “V” growing out of his chest.  I haven’t figured out yet what Cha intended the “V” to represent.

I’m sure the four children were always as good as they were in Cha’s picture!

Curator’s Choice: Pen Flourish Figures in a Dutch Boy’s Copybook ca. 1733

This week when I was retrieving some manuscripts, I got distracted and made a discovery.   I didn’t remember ever having looked at the materials on the shelf where the one manuscript lived and stopped to see what a few of the archive boxes near it contained.

One of the treasures was a eighteenth-century copybook that had been filled in between January and August 1733 by Jan Haverman, who lived in Amersfoort, a Dutch city on the river Een in Utrecht.

Jan Haverman’s signature on the leaf pasted down on the front marbled paper cover. Cotsen 91631.

Cotsen has quite a few American and British copybooks, but I wasn’t aware there were Dutch examples too, so I was eager to peek inside the marbled paper wrappers.  The pages are not ruled with carefully spaced lines that make it easy for the student to write the practice text across the page.  The margins of the odd numbered pages are decorated with highly stylized decorations composed of swirling lines and whoever calligraphed these beautiful figures was something of  an artist.

The woman with a cap and curls down her back on leaf 1. Cotsen 91631.

Jan Haverman signed the bottom of every page he copied out, but did he have the control of the pen to have drawn the figures in the margins as well?

The man in the feathered hat on page 3. Cotsen 91631.

The hissing snake on page 5. Cotsen 91631.

The dancing dog on page 19. Cotsen 91631.

The sly fox on page 21. Cotsen 91631.

The clever ape on page 67. Cotsen 91631.

The bird eating cherries on page 35. Cotsen 91631.

Maybe the fantastic people and creatures be the work of Jan’s writing teacher.  Scholars who study the history of writing instruction often call attention to the parts in an exercise that the student executed and the parts his instructor corrected.  Could the writing master done the drawings as Jan’s reward for having finished his lesson?

A sprig of flowers on page 27. Cotsen 91631.

There ARE some blots, misformed letters, and wobbly lines on this page, so perhaps the figure in the margin here was intended as an incentive to do better at the next lesson!