Marks in Books 9: Daydreaming Boys Draw in Their Schoolbooks

Cotsen 1638.

Many copybooks do not look especially interesting, until you go through them carefully page by page.  This one is tacked into a raggedly limp leather wrapper is a case in point.   It was made by a David Kingsley of Rehoboth, Bristol County, Massachusetts between 1797 and 1799.  Much of the contents consist of proverbs, precepts, and sets of words copied out doggedly line after line after line after line.  David signed every single page, one, two, three, or four times, usually in different places, perhaps at his teacher’s bidding.  An undated signature “Mary S.” was written in a different hand was  in the upper right hand corner.  Perhaps she was responsible for the great looping scribbles on top of David’s writing…

Cotsen 1638.

David’s copy book looks like a textbook demonstration of how rote instruction deadens children’s souls and stifles their curiosity except for the page he filled with an illustration of a two-story building with two doors and six windows.  Snaking down the left-hand margin is “David Kingsley made this house.”  David’s source of inspiration came from somewhere other than the facing text on the  comparisons of measures and a practice word problem.  Nor does the copy below it have anything about houses: “Wonce more the year is now begun David Kingsley This Second day of January 1799 the Shool Book of David Kinglsey of Rehoboth February 11 day 1799.” . Perhaps it was supposed to be the home of the “gallant female sailor” the subject of the ballad written on the back of the leaf…    David’s drawing is undated so we cannot know when or where he drew it. At school, when he should have been concentrating on finishing his lesson?   Or somewhere else when he was free to design a house in which he would like to live when a man grown.

Cotsen 52980.

Cotsen 52980.

Cotsen 52980.

Seventeenth-century school master Edward Young’s The Compleat English Scholar in Spelling, Reading, and Writing (1726) was in  a fifty-second edition by 1752.  Cotsen has the only copy of the twenty-seventh edition of 1726 and it belonged to a Lumley Tannat, who may be the child baptized on the eleventh of July 1726 in Saint Dunstan’s in Stepney, London.  He wrote his name multiple times on the book’s preliminary pages but without a date, a  common but annoying habit of children centuries ago.   Of course they had no idea that people nearly three hundred years later would want to be able to calculate their age when they used the book.   On the final blank page Lumley put his name and doodles.

The sketches of boats seem to be preparatory drawings for his masterpiece on the rear board, which even with the book in hand is quite difficult to see unless the light is just right.  Lumley’s ship has one mast, carved figurehead on the bow, gunports for the artillery, two flags.  Was he intensely bored by the lessons, which were mostly drawn from Scripture?  Would he have rather been reading Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe (1719)?Was he dreaming of going to sea in defiance of his father’s wishes to find his a place with a merchant?

Not all of the marks pupils put on bindings are legible, by the way, and they are far more common than drawings of ships of the line or houses. The front board on this book appears to have been poked decoratively with a pen knife, an essential part of a pupil’s academic tool kit in the days of quill pens. How exactly this binding got in this state I cannot guess, but scenarios with small boys, a handy sharp object, and a book bound in leather are easy to dream up.  But then again maybe this is a girl’s handiwork.

Cotsen 362.

Cotsen 362.

Children should not always be blamed for the marks on bindings. Booksellers’ marks can be distinguished easily enough from those children make.  It’s not at all unusual for prices to be written at the head of the paper wrappers on pamphlets.  It’s less common to find such marks on books bound in boards.  The back board of Cotsen’s copy of the 1791 twentieth edition of James Greenwood’s London Vocabulary  has both a paper label identifying it as a copy of the “London Vocabulary with Pictures” and note in ink on the canvas  that it is in two languages.

The Phantom Tollbooth’s Classic Cover Morphs

Norton Juster’s 1961 fantasy The Phantom Tollbooth is that rare classic in which the text and original illustrations are inseparable, rather like Lewis Carroll’s Alice In Wonderland.  Mention Alice and some illustration of her drawn by  John Tenniel probably pops into the mind.  Is Milo ever anyone but the skinny boy in a black sweater Jules Feiffer drew?   And there’s only one cover design for the book.  This one.

But when a work becomes so famous that translations in other languages are called for, covers and dust jackets have a way of changing publisher to publisher, country to country..

Here’s the front board of the Korean-language version.  The right illustration is on the turquoise background, but the shade of turquoise is not quite the same as in the original.  Look carefully and you can see that the figures of Milo and Tock are shiny.  They were printed on a material other than paper and applied to the dust jacket.  American books almost never have a colored band that wraps around the boards, but it’s common in the packaging of Japanese books–and I assume elsewhere in Asia.  And the raised white characters below the banner with the English title are interesting typographically whether they are legible or not.

The selection of typefaces are the most noticeable change in the design for the Lithuanian-language.  The slate blue background is handsome, but perhaps a little dark, compared to the turquoise original.  The color did not photograph true, so you’ll have to take my word that it’s quite dark..The cover artist for the Romanian-language edition substituted another illustration for the original one of Milo and Toc and colorized it. Some of the figures  were also printed on the same shiny material and laminated to the cover just as in the Korean translation.  Should Milo’s car be orange?  Why does he have blue hair?  By the way, the sea in the middle distance is actually turquoise and the sky slate blue.

Now for the covers that are completely different from Feiffer’s.  All the familiar characters are there, but without making any reference to the original illustrator.  The  Hebrew and German covers are in a surrealistic style, which underscores the possibility that the journey was all in Milo’s mind.  The German translation has no text illustrations except for road signs, a concept that works very well.

The brightly colored cartoony covers for the Japanese- and Serbo-Croatian-language editions impose themselves on Juster’s world, rather than bringing out different dimensions of it.   It’s unclear why Tock was given the teeth of a human being instead of a dog, unless the change was to make him look more friendly.

The French Livre de Poche paperback is unique in placing Tock and the Humbug center stage, with Milo and his car floating in the background along with the author’s name in an extremely small sans serif type.  The French translation is, incidently, completely unillustrated except for Juster’s map. Last but not least is the Polish translation with a cover design by Grzegorz Kierzkowski.  The title set in a wild mixture of different typefaces hints that what is to come may violate rhyme and reason!   Kierzkowski deserves credit for having the confidence to reimagine Juster’s story without reference to Feiffer.  

Norton Juster himself presented to Cotsen this delightful tasting menu of modern cover design on the translations of his celebrated fantasy.  Thanks, Norton, for this very welcome and unexpected addition to the collection!  You can hear Cotsen’s Outreach Coordinator Dana Sheridan’s interview with Norton on the Bibliofiles.