Marks in Books 7: Owners Repair Books Nearly Read to Death

Cotsen 5610, copy 2.

This copy of The Toy-Shop is a good example of a book that has almost been read to death.  Who was responsible?  It’s natural to pin the blame for the book’s poor condition on the owners who wrote their names in it.  But H. and John Beague were probably just two in a succession of owners.  It’s possible that the damage was done by one of the owners who didn’t identify him or herself or whoever scribbled in pencil throughout the book–possibly as late as the nineteenth century.  Maybe it was more than one bad actor.The binding of the The Toy Shop should be a wreck, but the Dutch gilt paper over boards is in better shape than the text. Really well read copies of eighteenth-century juveniles bound this way often have naked spines, exposing the stitched signatures below.  Where the paper covering the spine is torn away, you can see how thin it is..

Front board and oversewn spine of Cotsen 5505.

Some young readers actually cared enough about their books to reinforce the bindings, but there’s no way of knowing whether it was the owner or a kind sister or mother who stopped what they were doing and repaired the book.  This binding is so worn that it’s impossible to tell what the original color of the paper covering the boards was.  The spine is completely gone, although some of the original stitching holding the two boards together is still intact.  Someone did a rough-and-ready job of securing them so they wouldn’t fall off.  The repair is not neat or precise, but the collection of then popular fairy tales by Mme. D’Aulnoy and others can still be opened and read.

The book is a 1790 reprint of a title issued nearly twenty years before.  The engraver’s signature is long gone and the images are so worn that they have been touched up in places. On the inside there have been additional repairs to keep the pages from falling out.

Cotsen 5505.

Cotsen 5505.

The first owners of Cotsen 5505 that can be traced lived in the middle of the nineteenth century.  In 1854 this copy of Mother Bunch’s Tales was signed by  G. M. Richmond  (George Martin Richmond, a businessman in Providence, Rhode Island) and he gave it to his adult daughter Ellen in 1857.  Nearly twenty years later Ellen presented it to her married daughter Alice.   Did one of them sew the boards back on or had that been done long before it came into the family?  There must be a story about this book, but it is impossible to tell from the information Jill Shefrin discovered in the course of researching the people who owned Cotsen’s collection of Newbery juveniles.The third example below must have been read until the boards had fallen off, but someone cared enough about it to oversew the binding with stout thread with an interlocking stitch.   Other eighteenth-century children’s books in the collection have been repaired the same way, although I don’t have a list of them.

Front board and spine of Cotsen 25150.

.You can get a glimpse of the stitching on the inside as well.

Cotsen 25150.

This Mother Goose’s Tales belonged at one time to a Mary Barrett and we know from the number of books surviving with her signature that she must have had a pretty large nursery library.  You can see that the pages are in danger of coming detached from the text block and that someone has neatly pinned them together near the gutter. Other groups of pages have been treated the same way.  Pinning pages is another homemade repair I’ve seen more than once, but I have no idea how to date or localize the pins.  I assume they are too short to have been the kind of pins women used to attach pieces of their clothing together.  If only I could find a passage in some eighteenth-century children’s book that describes an eager little reader using her needle to fix up an old favorite…

Good Job! English Reward Bookplates and Labels

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!