Cotsen Occasional Press edition of Tommy Thumb’s Pretty Song-book wins BSA’s Schiller Prize

At the January, 2016 meeting of the Bibliographical Society of America (BSA) in New York City, the winner of BSA’s tri-annual Justin G. Schiller Prize for Bibliographical Work on Pre-20th-Century Children’s Books was announced…

Tommy Thumb’s pretty song-book : the first collection of English nursery rhymes

“Tommy Thumb’s Pretty Song-book : the First Collection of English Nursery Rhymes” (Cotsen Occasional Pres, 2013) – Rare Books (Ex) Oversize Item 6573272q

And the envelope please…

The winner was the Cotsen Occasional Press publication, Tommy Thumb’s Pretty Song-Book: The First Collection of English Nursery Rhymes, by Andrea Immel, Curator of the Cotsen Children’s Library, and Brian Alderson, children’s book historian, critic, author, and editor.  The publication includes an illustrated, book-length essay (Nurse Lovechild’s Legacy) by Immel and Alderson and three facsimiles of eighteenth-century children’s miniature-book-sized publications: Tommy Thumb’s Pretty Song-Book, vol. 2 (London: Mary Cooper, ca. 1744); Tommy Thumb’s Song Book (Worcester, Mass.: Isaiah Thomas, 1788); and The Pretty-Book (London: George Bickham, ca. 1750).

The originals of these three early children’s books are rare books, indeed: only one copy of The Pretty-Book and only two copies of Tommy Thumb’s Pretty Song Book are now known to exist.

In making the award, BSA termed the 2016 prize-winning publication a “valuable contribution to the ongoing revision of children’s book history” and noted how Immel and Alderson:

contextualize Tommy Thumb’s Pretty Song-Book within the histories of nursery rhymes, oral lore and earlier children’s books [and] also locate publishing for children as a mainstream activity, challenging longstanding assumptions about who was publishing for children at this time. Reconstructing the social geography of London, they demonstrate links between Tommy Thumb’s Pretty Song-Book and adult literature, antiquarianism, music, theater, politics, and numerous other aspects of mid-eighteenth century society.

Nurse Lovechild’s authors also argue for the foundational importance of Cooper’s “revolutionary” Tommy Thumb’s Pretty Song-Book in the history of children’s literature, rather than John Newbery’s more well-known book, The Little Pretty Pocketbook, which has traditionally been accorded pride of place in terms of being the “first” book created specifically for children.

"Tommy Thumb’s Pretty Song-book":

“Tommy Thumb’s Pretty Song-book”: Detail of the three miniature facsimiles, with “Tommy Thumb’s Song Book” opened to show its title page and frontispiece.

Cotsen Library — and the Princeton University Library — would like to congratulate the prize-winning authors!

The set is available from Brill.


A Nigerian Thorn Carving of a School Room

Cotsen 36485, 7.3 x 14 x 18.7 cm.

Cotsen 36485, 7.3 x 14 x 18.7 cm.

Above is a classic example of a modern Nigerian thorn carving from the early 1990’s. Made principally by the Yoruba people since the 30’s, these miniature folk art pieces (sometimes more appropriately referred to as “tourist art” depending on their intended market) usually feature scenes and aspects of everyday Nigerian life. This particular carving depicts a classroom scene where diligent pupils are learning their ABC’s.


The thorns used for these carvings come from 2 varieties of trees: the ata tree and the egungun tree. The thorns grow up to 5 inches in length and their relative suppleness makes for easier carving. They come in three colors: cream, rose, and brown; all three of which are exhibited in our little classroom scene. Though the carving above is mostly composed of recycled wood, the thorn wood provides the color and life of the piece.



Classroom scenes of all sorts are a collection interest of our benefactor Lloyd E. Cotsen. We find them all over the collection, in all sorts of mediums. For the occasion of Mr. Cotsen’s 75th birthday we published Readers in the Cotsen Children’s Library (Princeton : Cotsen Children’s Library, 2005). This accordion style pamphlet (available here in the gallery) included one such memorable classroom scene from our collection:

page 22, reproduction of Oranges and lemons : a book of pictures and stories for children (Cotsen 22656, page 18)

page 22, reproduction of Oranges and lemons : a book of pictures and stories for children (Cotsen 22656, page 18)

If your thirst for classroom-related material is still unsatiated, I’d recommend Jeff Barton’s blog post: School Days in Children’s Books about depictions of school scenes from 18th- and 19th-century children’s books.