Books and “Fancy Articles” for Sale at Richard Miller’s in Old Fish Street, London

An engraver by trade, Richard Miller was also a publisher and the proprietor of a “juvenile library” (aka a children’s book store) at 24 Old Fish Street in early nineteenth century London.   His shop was quite close to the church of St. Mary Magdalen, shown in the engraving to the left, and south and east of Paul’s Church Yard, long a center of book trade activity. Miller was pretty small fry compared to John Harris, successor to the Newberys and a major publisher in his own right, or the Darton firm, with two bustling businesses at two locations in the city.   By the 1820s, the children’s book market had grown so large that there was plenty of room for miultiple shops catering to customers with different tastes and values.

Miller engraved attractive sets of illustrated cards  that were sold for school and Sunday school rewards.  The same sets of sheets were also sold bound as neat little volumes in marbled paper with colored roan spines.  The bound volumes seem to have survived at a higher rate than the cards and certain titles still turn up fairly often on the antiquarian book market.

Cotsen has seven Miller publications and they were probably published in the 1820s (he did not date his title pages as a rule).  There are four little books of engraved plates: The History of Birds, The History of Goody Two Shoes, Pastimes or Amusements for a Girl, and Twenty-Six Poetical Extracts. In the collection of educational cards there’s the Miller Pence Table in forty-eight hand-colored engraved illustrated cards.  The 126-page The Panorama of the World, or An Enquiry into the Manners and Customs of the Principal Foreign Inhabitants of the Globe, illustrated with nine hand-colored engraved plates, is the only proper book in the group.

That leaves Military Heroes That Have Distinguished Themselves During the Late Wars (that is, the Napoleonic wars)  I like it less for the fourteen hand-colored engraved equestrian portraits of great generals like Alexander the Great, Prince Blucher, and the Duke of Wellington, than for the twelve-page catalog of “Books and Fancy Articles” at the end.  In the catalog this book listed under the title “Memoirs of Military Heroes.”  With plain engravings, Military Heroes  cost a shilling and with colored plates (which Cotsen’s copy has) two shillings.  The portraits could also be purchased individually on superfine paper for two pence  or as a set for two shillings.  It was a fair price for such a things then, but not cheap.

Cotsen 35443.

Cotsen 35443.

Overall there are plenty of indications in the catalog that Miller was more than a very clever packager of his own content.  The opening below offers a delicious selection of novelty parlor games and educational flash cards.  The packs of conversation cards include one called “Pop the Question,” which probably had nothing to do with the conclusion of a courtship.  But maybe not, given the close proxmity to The Ladder of Matrimony  and The Map of Matrimony.  Obviously The Map  represents an imaginary place, like the “country of sighs.”   Still it was available as well as a jigsaw puzzle in a neat box as if it were something for teaching the geography of South America.  Prints had been sold for centuries for sticking on walls as decorations and Miller obliged with the series “Cottage Ornaments” or hand-colored prints for two pence on such edifying subjects as the drunken man or the death of the Earl of Rochester.  Certainly good enough for the parlour   The best of the “Fancy Articles” Miller sold has to be the “Satin Medallion Pincushions” for a shilling that feature  the portraits of the royal family and other famous people from Lord Nelson to worthy divines copied from the subjects on the preceding list of prints.  Do any survive in textile collections?This double-page spread offers more evidence that Miller didn’t rely completely on his own wares to stock his shelves.  He must have sold books by his competitors.  W. F. Sullivan was a school master who wrote many early examples of what would now be considered young adult novels.  He published with a variety of firms over the years, but none by Miller, as far as I can tell.  The roster of eighteenth-century classics like Gay’s Fables and Chesterfield’s Advice to His Son were probably also not Miller publications.  Tthe last title in that list is an edition of James Janeway’s Token for Children, one of the most famous and enduring of all seventeenth century juveniles.  It is not out of place here, because there are quite a few religious titles sprinkled throughout the catalogue.The last page in the catalogue features lots of old favorites–II see two different editions of Dick Whittington and Blue Beard, based on the George Colman dramatic remake.  What’s interesting even more interesting is the use of the term “picture book” to describe a work where the pictures dominate the words text.  It seems that the term must have been in wider use earlier than the OED entry suggests (there is appearances of the term between 1699 and 1847).

Nobody would claim that Richard Miller’s catalogue can compete with one from American Girl, Hearth Song, or any other modern company sells by mail or on the web.   Even though he lacked the technical resources to illustrate every item in his stock with color pictures, he managed with just words to make his merchandise look enticing enough for the  owner of Military Heroes to consider paying a call at the juvenile library on Old Fish Street.

Happy Valentine’s Day, Beatrix Potter!

Cotsen 33205

From the collection of Doris Frohnsdorff. Cotsen 33205

Contained within the unassuming binding above lies a secret treasure trove of Victorian ephemera. Compiled between 1872 and 1878 by none other than Helen Leech Potter, Beatrix Potter’s mother, this quarto volume is an album of cards for Valentine’s Day and Christmas given to young Beatrix, beginning when she was six years old.  The cards are mostly from family (especially “Mama” and “Papa” and “Grandmama Leech”) and family friends like the Gaskells, Nurse MacKenzie, Dora Hollins, and a certain Mr Goul. Perhaps few artifacts remain that can rival the perfection with which this album documents the ornate and frilly taste of the late 19th century English middle class.


Located at the head of the front free endpaper, this inscription indicates that the album itself was an 1872 Valentine’s gift for Beatrix (full name Helen Beatrix Potter) from her affectionate mother.


Card at top of leaf [3]

Interestingly, the cards contain no hand written messages or signatures. Either notes accompanying the cards were discarded when the cards were pasted into the album or the sentiments printed on the cards themselves (which as you will see, can sometimes be quite lengthy) were deemed sufficient. Helen Potter diligently recorded the name of the gifter and the year the card was given, either inside the card or immediately below it.

Helen Potter's inscription inside the card shown above.

“From MacKenzie 1872”, Helen Potter’s inscription inside the card shown above. “Mackenzie” was Beatrix’s nurse.

Bottom of leaf [3]

Card at bottom of leaf [3], “From Mama 1872”

Leaf [4], "Grandmama Leech 1872", perhaps the biggest fan of paper lace.

Card on leaf [4], “Grandmama Leech 1872,” perhaps the biggest fan of embossed paper lace.

Inside of the card on leaf [4], perhaps a later original drawing by Beatrix Potter?

Inside of the card on leaf [4].

Leaf [6]. This leaf is one of many with sections or cards cut away, perhaps by Beatrix for a later project.

Leaf [6]. This leaf is one of many with sections or cards cut away, perhaps by Beatrix for a later project.

Card at top of leaf [6], unfortunately, we might never know "What makes a husband like a little dog".

Card at top of leaf [6] from “Aunt Mary 1873.”. Unfortunately, we won’t ever know “Why is a husband like a little dog?”

Leaf [7], "Mama 1873" at top and "MacKenzie 1873" at bottom

Leaf [7], “Mama 1873” at top and “MacKenzie 1873” at bottom.

The cards were printed by various English, German, and French sources, many unidentified. The majority, however, bear the recognizable imprint of the publisher Marcus Ward, a British company known for publishing illustrated books and mass producing greeting cards since the 1860’s. Marcus Ward’s Art Director, Thomas Crane, employed popular artists like Kate Greenaway and his son Walter Crane to design and illustrate the company’s greeting cards.


Card on leaf [8], unattributed.

Card on Leaf [11], "Grandmama Leech 1874", perhaps in a bid to win Beatrix's affections. . .

Card on leaf [11], “Grandmama Leech 1874,” perhaps in a bid to win Beatrix’s affections? This is by far the largest card. . .

Card at top of leaf [13]

Card at top of leaf [13], “Papa 1874”.

Card at bottom of leaf [13], "Mr. Goul 1874".

Card at bottom of leaf [13], “Mr. Goul 1874”.

Card on leaf [14], "MacKenzie 1874", including a

Card on leaf [14], “MacKenzie 1874”, includes altered lines from William Wordsworth’s To the Daisy (1807) reading: “When smitten by the morning ray,/ I see thee rise, alert and gay;/ Then, cheerful flower, my spirits play/ With kindred gladness.”

Card on leaf [26], "Mr. McLaren 1876"

Card on leaf [26], “Mr. McLaren 1876”.

Card at top of leaf [28], "Dora Hollins 1878".

Card at top of leaf [28], “Dora Hollins 1878.”

Card at bottom of leaf [28], "Papa 1878"

Card at bottom of leaf [28], “Papa 1878”.

Card at top of leaf [29], "Bertram 1878", Walter Bertram Potter's first card to his older sister Beatrix., when he was 4 years old.

Card at top of leaf [29], “Bertram 1878”, Walter Bertram Potter’s first card to his older sister Beatrix, when he was 4 years old.

Card at bottom of leaf [29], "Papa".

Card at bottom of leaf [29], “Papa”.

Card on leaf [30], "From Mama 1878".

Card on leaf [30], “From Mama 1878”.

The last Valentine’s Day card in the album is the real coup de grâce. This unattributed card has it all: bright colors, frills, real lace ties, printed flowers, an intricate daisy border, and inside, a sickeningly sentimental segment of poetry taken from Thomas Hood’s I love Thee! (also unattributed):


Card at top of leaf [40]


Though Valentine’s Day cards have changed a lot in style since the Victorians shared them with friends and family, we have them to thank for the perfecting the mass production of cards and promoting their distribution.

If you still haven’t gotten a card for your sweetie, I hope you can draw some inspiration here for a last-minute tribute.

Happy Valentine’s Day from Cotsen and Beatrix Potter!