Books — especially children’s books — tell stories. The “stories” they tell can be in a wide variety of formats: short stories, verse tales, moral tales, narratives in the form of dialogues, or novels, to name just a few. Books tell stories? This statement may seem so obvious it doesn’t need saying. But bear with me…
A children’s book, such as Cotsen Library’s 1745 third edition of The Child’s New Play-Thing… (Cotsen 26950), printed for Mary Cooper (“M. Cooper” on the title page), makes its multiple story-telling role explicit at the end of its (long!) title: “consisting of scripture-histories, fable, stories, moral and religious precepts, proverbs, song, riddles, dialogues.”
The Child’s New Play-Thing: Title page and frontispiece portrait of “Prince George” from the 1745 third edition printed for Mary Cooper (Cotsen 26950).
The book’s full title, as printed on the title page, is:
The Child’s New Play-thing: being a Spelling-book Intended to Make the Learning to Read, a Diversion instead of a Task: Consisting of Scripture-Histories, Fables, Stories, Moral and Religious Precepts, Proverbs, Songs, Riddles, Dialogues, &c.: The Whole adapted to the Capacities of Children, and Divided into Lessons of One, Two, Three, and Four Syllables; with Entertaining Pictures to each Story and Fable, and a New-invented Alphabet for Children to Play with, and a Preface Shewing the Use of it.
The Child’s New Play-Thing: Detail of 1745 title page showing the full (long!) title and added detail in edition statement.
That’s a mouthful, isn’t it? But eighteenth-century booksellers, publishers, and printers had a very different idea of “catchy” titles than we do now. They liked to be complete and comprehensive, to the extent that a title page on a book like The Child’s New Play-Thing is virtually a table of contents and summary of what will be found in the book itself. It’s a potential form of advertising too. A potential buyer — possibly looking at unbound copies with the title page on display at a bookseller’s store or stall — could see what the book contained without turning the pages. (Some eighteenth-century books have extremely detailed, multi-page “Contents” listings at the front too, which provide precis of the following material, perhaps for the same reason.)
“The Child’s New Play-Thing”: Stories & Poems…
“The Story of Guy, Earl of Warwick,” from the 1745 edition of The Child’s New Play-Thing
The Child’s New Play-Thing does indeed deliver on its title-page promise, presenting quite a variety of stories: the heroic story of St. George and the Dragon, a children’s version of the old chapbook favorite about the noble knight Sir Guy of Warwick, a shortened version of story of the wily Reynard the Fox, moral stories and dialogues with moral lessons, as well as poems and songs that are generally narrative (“Sir Eglamore, &c.”, “The Old Woman and her Son”) The Child’s New Play-Thing also presents alphabets, syllabaries, and short lessons about words at the beginning of the book — it’s meant to be something of a one-stop reader for children!
But Cotsen’s third edition of The Child’s New Play-Thing tells us other stories too if we look for them — the story about how the book was produced and distributed and also an interesting story about how the book was actually used, post-publication, by a child reader. So “reading” a book bibliographically tells us a story about an aspect of the book that goes beyond the text on the page with content aimed at young readers. The story of who “published” the book — Mary Cooper, in this case — led me to wonder who Mary Cooper was and what her role was in publishing. (“Publisher” is a somewhat anachronistic term in the eighteenth century, when the role of publisher as we now think of it — as opposed to printer and bookseller — hadn’t really emerged. People in the book trade with any sort of a “publishing” role in print production were commonly referred to as “booksellers.” For the sake of consistency and clarity, I’ll use the term publisher” here, advisedly, to indicate someone whose role went beyond merely selling a book and involved some aspects of book production, sometimes also including copyright-related permissions and perhaps editorial control over what was produced.) What can we learn about the back-story of how the book was made and distributed before it ever found the hands of a reader?
The “Story” of Reading and Using the Book: Physical Evidence
Cotsen’s copy of the 1745 third edition of The Child’s New Play-Thing has additional evidence in the physical artifact itself, which may tell us another “story”: about how the book was received, read, and used by a child-reader — the target audience of the intellectual content of the stories and tales. Cotsen’s copy of this is full of metatextual writing, markings, doodling, and even some child-artwork. What can these tell us about the “story” of how a child reader actually interacted with the book containing the various stories and poems that Cooper sold? “Reading” a book using these unique, copy-specific aspects this may help is know a little about the general story of book use, reader reception, and perhaps readership in general by children.
Front free endpapers of Cotsen’s copy of the 1745 Play-Thing, with doodles, markings, and a traced copy of the Prince George frontispiece (which displays some “artistic license” on the part of the doodler, presumably a child reader).
So there are at least three different general “story lines” connected with Child’s New Play-Thing that I’m hoping to explore: the actual content and how it may have changed over time in different editions, the books’ creation, production, and sale, and, finally, their post-production use by a reader. The “story” of Cotsen’s Child’s New Play-Thing is really multifaceted–several separate but related stories. And this general story will, I hope, be fleshed out by looking at some other editions of this title, as well as a couple of other books with which Mary Cooper was involved: the 1743 History of Greece. (Cotsen 17219) and the 1752 Court of Queen Mab (Cotsen 33535).
Editions of “The Child’s New Play-Thing” by the Coopers (1742, 1743, 1745, 1760)
The first edition of The Child’s New Play-Thing (Cotsen 34058) was issued in 1742, its title page stating that it was “Printed for T. Cooper,” (Thomas, Mary’s husband) “at the Globe in Pater-noster Row,” a location right in the middle of a significant aggregation of London trade publishers.
The Child’s New Play-Thing: Title page and frontispiece from the 1742 first edition by Thomas Cooper — again displaying some doodles added by a child-reader (Cotsen 34058)
After Thomas died in 1742, Mary continued the family printing and publishing business under her own imprint, and she issued a second edition of The Child’s New Play-Thing very soon thereafter in 1743; the imprint reads “Printed for M. Cooper at the Globe in Pater Noster Row” (info from the English Short Title Catalogue for item T81481 since Cotsen doesn’t have this edition in its collection). A third edition followed in 1745, whose title page notes that it was “Printed for M. Cooper.” The Cotsen Library holds copies of the 1742, 1745, and 1760 editions of The Child’s New Play-Thing, all of which list a Cooper on the title page, as well as the 1763 eighth edition, which post-dates Mary Cooper, but lists John Hinxman among the edition’s eight booksellers. Hinxman, a former Dodsley shopman, took over Cooper’s business after she died, so the Cooper connection continues even after Mary’s death.
Title page and frontispiece from the 1760 seventh edition of the Child’s New Play-Thing, the last edition with Mary Cooper’s name on the title page. (Note the “1740” date added to the reworked portrait of Prince George, who became King George in 1760.) Cotsen 3372
Title page and frontispiece from the 1763 eighth edition of the Child’s New Play-Thing issued by Ware, Dodsley, Hinxman, and others (Cotsen 384)
Not only did were the 1743 and 1745 new editions issued under Mary Cooper’s sole imprint — no other bookseller is mentioned on the title pages — but not insignificant changes and additions were made to the content of these new editions, suggesting that her role may have been more significant than a caretaker merely keeping the family enterprise afloat after the death of her husband by reprinting identical editions and/or selling them. (While the printing and publishing business was still largely a male preserve in the early- and mid-1700s, there were also a number of husband-widow successions apart from the Coopers, including Richard and Ann Baldwin, John and Elizabth Nutt [LTP 101-6], and, later in the 1700s, John and Elizabeth Newbery, whose books for children are probably the most widely known today.)
Lottery letters from Cotsen’s 1742 first edition.
In terms of resided content, while Thomas Cooper’s 1742 printing has 106 pages, Mary Cooper’s 1743 second edition has 120 pages, and her 1745 third edition has 144 pages (Cotsen 26950). All the editions that I looked at begin with alphabet letters meant, meant to “be cut into single squares for children to play with,” as a later 1760 edition explicitly directs on its title page — an innovative toy-like feature for a book at this time. The lottery letters in Cotsen’s copy of the 1742 first edition, which have been partially cut but not fully cut into squares, removed from the book, and “played with,” as intended.
The initial content of alphabet letters, syllabaries, short reading “lessons,” and a table of Arabic and Roman numerals is essentially the same. But following that material, the 1745 third edition adds the three dialogues for boys: “How a little boy can make everybody love him,” “How a little boy shall grow wiser than the rest of his school-fellows,” and How a little boy shall become a great man.” (These additions are all touted on the title page as new additions to the third edition.)
Upper covers of Cotsen’s copies of the 1742, 1745, and 1760 editions of the Child’s New Play-Thing, all bound in relatively cheap dark brown full sheep which was commonly found on children’s books of the era.
Following the dialogues is “A Love Alphabet for Boys” (beginning “I love my love with an A because she’s amiable; I hate her because she’s Artful…”) and a corresponding “A Love Alphabet for Girls” (“I love my love with an A because he’s agreeable; I hate him because he’s Avaricious…”). A series of seven riddles follows, for which a reader has inked two of the answers. At the end of the book, the selection of Songs has been rearranged and expanded in the 1745 third edition: from three and a half pages to seven. While these additions and changes may not be profound, they do suggest that that ongoing changes were made in the interests of adding content to attract new buyers and that Mary Cooper’s role may have been more significant, for at least some editions, than selling copies of books whose content was otherwise determined. Her name is the only one indicated on the title page of the 1743 and 1745 editions, but her name is the last of five printed on the title page of the 1760 seventh edition: “Printed for Messrs. Ware, Hitch, Corbett, Dodsley, and M. Cooper” (Cotsen 3372), suggesting that Cooper’s role in The Child’s New Play-Thing may have been broader and more significant at first but then diminished near the end of her active years as a bookseller. (She died in 1761.)
It’s also possible, of course, that Cooper’s name appears last simply because of syntax — the first four names are men (“Messrs.”). Seldom, if ever, does the title “Miss” or “Mrs.” appear in a bookseller’s name on a title page, and the frequent use of initials, rather than first names, for booksellers tends to obscure the role of women booksellers and publishers. (I only realized that “M. Cooper” was a woman when cataloging Cotsen’s copies of 1745 and 1760 editions of The Child’s New Play-Thing and looking for an “authorized” form of the name of “M. Cooper.” Her gender was buried in the LC Name Authority Record, VIAF, and English Short Title Catalogue records for books she published or sold.) But I tend to think that the placement of Cooper’s name at the end of the list indicates a lesser role for her in the 1760 edition — that seems to be the norm with eighteenth-century title pages and imprints.
The 1760 seventh edition of The Child’s New Play-Thing bulks up to 168 pages — due in large part to the addition of “forty eight new cuts, with moral and instructive verses to each,” as the title page announces The last, unnumbered page is a publisher’s advertisement for “Book Printed by R. and J. Dodsley, suggesting that Dodsley was the “publisher” of this later version, with Mary Cooper’s role having diminished to that of a minor member of a risk-sharing consortium of booksellers led by Dodsley, or perhaps just a bookseller.) These multiple editions with which Cooper was connected suggest a reasonably popular, good-selling title — publishers didn’t bring out successive editions of titles that didn’t sell well. Indeed, at least thirteen editions of The Child’s New Play-Thing were issued by 1800, the last bearing a Dublin imprint.
The title pages of the 1742, 1745, and 1760 editions of The Child’s New Play-Thing vary, reflecting new contents, additional details, and varying imprints, but all three editions include the engraved frontispiece portrait of the child Prince George, to whom the book is dedicated. The 1760 edition adds the date of “1740” to the caption, “His Highness, Prince George,” probably because George was no longer “Prince George,” but rather King George as of 1760. Adding the date at the foot of the frontispiece engraving was probably the simplest and cheapest way to update the 1760 edition to indicate that George was no longer “Prince George,” while also preserving the original dedicatory material and connection to George, who had just become king. With George’s accession to the 1760 crown, a twenty-year-old portrait of him as a child was topical again for its historical interest. (The 1760 printing of the portrait also appears to have been reworked a bit to add some detail.)
Mary Cooper’s Role
The Coopers had a role in the publishing, printing, or selling of at least four editions of The Child’s New Play-Thing, as we’ve seen. Thomas Cooper is listed as the sole seller of the 1742 first edition, and Mary Cooper had some role in the 1743, 1745, and 1760 editions (the second, third, and seventh, respectively). Four editions by a bookselling family business suggests a fair level of involvement with a popular title. But what was Mary Cooper’s role in the broader context of London publishing and bookselling of the era?
Thomas Cooper is often referred to as a “trade publisher,” a term indicating a book issuer whose “principal function was to publish on behalf of other members of the book trade.”1 A trade publisher might issue a book for a self-financing author or for a copyright-holding publisher who didn’t necessarily want to be associated with a controversial or cheap, pamphlet-style publication — or possibly a highly-regarded issuer of “serious literature” who might not want to be associated with potentially less highly-regarded publications, such as children’s publications in the early 1740s. A publisher who owned copyrights and sometimes exercised a measure of editorial control over what was issues is sometimes termed a “topping publisher.” Trade publishers have sometimes been held in relatively low regard, compared with topping publishers, who were generally were generally wealthier and associated with higher-quality publications.
Thomas Cooper may well have functioned as a trade publisher in many cases, but the title page of his 1742 edition of The Child’s New Play-Thing states that the book is “printed for T. Cooper.” The wording seems to matter. Phrases like “printed for…” or “printed for, and sold by…” (which are often found on eighteenth-century title pages) can be taken to mean that the following name — in this case, Thomas Cooper — was the originating publisher, not a mere bookseller, as usually indicated by the phrase “sold by….” Sometimes, the list of “sold by” booksellers can run five names, or more — one book that I cataloged recently listed no fewer than twelve booksellers on its title page. So the wording of the title imprint of Thomas Cooper’s Child’s New Play-Thing seems to indicate that he was the effectively the publisher of the first edition of this ground-breaking children’s book.
Likewise, the title page of Mary Cooper’s 1743 second edition of The Child’s New Play-Thing reads “printed for M. Cooper…”, as does the title page of her 1745 third edition. This suggests that Mary Cooper was the originating publisher and owner of the intellectual content, not merely the seller of the books.
Title page and frontispiece from Mary Cooper’s 1752 The Court of Queen Mab, a collection of fairy tales taken from Madame d’Aulnoy. (Cotsen 33535) The frontispiece presents a distinctly upscale version of the traditional scene of an old woman telling tales to children in front of a fireplace.
Title page of Dodsley’s 1743 edition of The History of Greece, “sold by Mary Cooper” (Cotsen 17219)
And the title page of the 1752 edition of The Court of Queen Mab (Cotsen 33535) reads, “printed and sold by M. Cooper,” again suggesting Cooper’s role as publisher. But the title page of the 1760 seventh edition of The Child’s New Play-Thing reads, “printed for Messrs. Ware, Hitch, Clark, Corbett, Dodsley, and M. Cooper” (Cotsen 3372), indicating a revised, less significant role for Cooper with a signature publication not long before her death. And the title page of the 1743 History of Greece by Way of Question and Answer (Cotsen 17219) reads “printed for R. Dodsley… and sold by M. Cooper… .” So Mary Cooper seems to have operated as a trade publisher, an originating publisher and a “mere” bookseller, her role varying from publication to publication. Her name frequently appears with Dodsley’s on title pages — collaborating on 167 of his publications2 — suggesting an ongoing collaboration with one of the most prominent eighteenth-century London publishing houses. Among publications bearing Cooper’s name were the first editions of Alexander Pope’s Dunciad (1743) and Thomas Sterne’s Tristram Shandy (1759)
Overall, Mary Cooper’s role in London publisher and bookselling is significant. She seems to have played a major role in several early editions of The Child’s New Play-Thing, a book apparently of great popularity, as indicated by repeated editions. She is the sole name listed on the title page of Tommy Thumb’s Pretty Song-Book, vol. II (Cotsen 63736) — “Sold by M. Cooper, according to Act of Parliament” — and may have been the owner, and perhaps the actual compiler, of this landmark children’s book.3
Cover of facsimile reprint of Mary Cooper’s  Tommy Thumb’s Pretty Song Book, vol II. from Tommy Thumb’s Pretty Song-Book … a Facsimile Edition with a History and Annotations (Cotsen 6573272q)
Publisher’s advertisement on the last page of Tommy Thumb’s Pretty Song Book for Mary Cooper’s edition of The Child’s New Play-Thing. Presumably, this  advertisement is for Cooper’s 1745 third edition.
Further evidence of Cooper’s important role appears on the last page of the 1744 Pretty Song-Book is a publisher’s advertisement for The Childs Plaything [sic], “Sold by M. Cooper, Price one Shilling.” The advertisement features a woodcut closely resembling the Prince George frontispiece repeatedly used in the various editions of The Child’s New Play-Thing issued by the Coopers and others from 1742 to at least 1763. This woodcut shows (a here unnamed) Prince George holding an open book with the text “The Child’s Plaything, 1744” visible. The similarities between this advertisement illustration and the frontispieces are suggestive. Mary Cooper was the publisher of several editions of The Child’s New Play-Thing, as we’ve seen. This advertisement and the clear similarities in the illustrations provide further support for the idea that Mary Cooper was also the publisher of The Pretty Song-Book. She may well have owned the content, just as she seems to have owned the content of The Child’s Plaything.
She stands as one of the more significant issuers of London children’s books during the first flourishing of this new genre in the early 1740s. Publications bearing Mary Cooper’s name help define the “miscellany” format of children’s books that Newbery would perfect. In addition, she published or sold books ranging across a remarkable range of subjects, including children’s books, history, politics, religion, pamphlets, and newspapers. Mary Cooper’s name appears as publisher or bookseller on over 2,000 works, indicating that she “may have been the most prolific female publisher in British history.”5
To be continued… The “Story” of Reading and Using the Book: Physical Evidence
Having gone into such detail about the “stories” of the changing content of Cooper editions of The Child’s New Play-Thing and Mary Cooper’s role as bookseller and publisher of several editions, I’ll discus the story of the physical evidence of book use and readership — “marks in books” — in the various editions next week and try to draw some conclusions about how the books were used by child readers.
- Michael Treadwell, “London Trade Publishers, 1675-1750,” The Library, Vol. IV, No. 2 (1982), p. 100.
- Isobel Goodman, “Rogue or respected businesswoman? Mary Cooper and the role of 18th-century trade publishers,” (March 18, 2020), https://www.blogs.hss.ed.ac.uk/history-of-the-book/rogue-or-respected-businesswoman-mary-cooper-and-the-role-of-18th-century-trade-publishers/ .
- Andrea Immel & Brian Alderson, Tommy Thumb’s Pretty Song-book: the First Collection of English Nursery Rhymes: a Facsimile Edition with a History and Annotations, Cotsen Occasional Press, 2013, pp. 13-15.
- Laura Sue Fuderer, Eighteenth-Century British Women in Print: Catalog of An Exhibition, University of Notre Dame, 1995, p. 12.