Curator’s Choice: Pen Flourish Figures in a Dutch Boy’s Copybook ca. 1733

This week when I was retrieving some manuscripts, I got distracted and made a discovery.   I didn’t remember ever having looked at the materials on the shelf where the one manuscript lived and stopped to see what a few of the archive boxes near it contained.

One of the treasures was a eighteenth-century copybook that had been filled in between January and August 1733 by Jan Haverman, who lived in Amersfoort, a Dutch city on the river Een in Utrecht.

Jan Haverman’s signature on the leaf pasted down on the front marbled paper cover. Cotsen 91631.

Cotsen has quite a few American and British copybooks, but I wasn’t aware there were Dutch examples too, so I was eager to peek inside the marbled paper wrappers.  The pages are not ruled with carefully spaced lines that make it easy for the student to write the practice text across the page.  The margins of the odd numbered pages are decorated with highly stylized decorations composed of swirling lines and whoever calligraphed these beautiful figures was something of  an artist.

The woman with a cap and curls down her back on leaf 1. Cotsen 91631.

Jan Haverman signed the bottom of every page he copied out, but did he have the control of the pen to have drawn the figures in the margins as well?

The man in the feathered hat on page 3. Cotsen 91631.

The hissing snake on page 5. Cotsen 91631.

The dancing dog on page 19. Cotsen 91631.

The sly fox on page 21. Cotsen 91631.

The clever ape on page 67. Cotsen 91631.

The bird eating cherries on page 35. Cotsen 91631.

Maybe the fantastic people and creatures be the work of Jan’s writing teacher.  Scholars who study the history of writing instruction often call attention to the parts in an exercise that the student executed and the parts his instructor corrected.  Could the writing master done the drawings as Jan’s reward for having finished his lesson?

A sprig of flowers on page 27. Cotsen 91631.

There ARE some blots, misformed letters, and wobbly lines on this page, so perhaps the figure in the margin here was intended as an incentive to do better at the next lesson!


Curator’s Choice: Two Picture Bibles for Children from the 1760s

Everyone has heard of John Newbery, the first publisher of the modern children’s book and namesake of the American Library Association’s annual award for the most distinguished contribution to American children’s literature.  It is more or less taken for granted that he set the gold standard for children’s books of his own times because of his success in associating his name with quality.

There was someone who made more elegant and expensive books for young readers than John Newbery,  but his career is not discussed in the standard histories of English children’s books.  Only a few collectors know the name of engraver Edward Ryland, whose shop was at No. 67 in the Old Bailey and his beautiful books are highly desirable and expensive when they come on the market.  This post will highlight his first publication for young readers: An Abridgement of Scripture History Designed for the Amusement and Improvement of Children: wherein the most Striking Actions in the Old Testament are Made Plain to the Youngest Capabilities (1765).  Cotsen is lucky enough to have two copies: a rebound one with plain engravings and another one with hand-colored engravings bound with its companion volume on the New Testament in an edition binding of gold tooled red leather.

The front board of Cotsen 1907. The volume with both titles illustrated with a total of 124 engravings was available for 5 shillings. Newbery’s little Bible abridgment had sixty-four relief metal cuts, was half as tall and cost six pence.

Each of the Ryland Bible abridgments also boasted a handsome “book plate”  for a young owner to proudly inscribe her name, as Miss Elizabeth Bentham did.

Here is the title page spread, with an allegorical frontispiece designed by the well-known artist Samuel Wale and engraved by the equally famous Charles Grignion.  The description below the picture explains that Science, the lady in the cloak, is leading the young Bishop of Osnaburg to Wisdom seated on the dias.  The toddler bishop was the second son of George III, Prince Frederick, Duke of Albany and York.  The book’s dedicatee, he was twoish when it was published.  He was intended for a career in the military…

Wale and Grignion’s engravings measure 75 x 88 mm or 3 x 3.5 inches and there is one on every page.

Plate II “The History of the Fall.” This and the following image are more or less actual size. Cotsen 1907.

Plate VII “The burning of Sodom and Gomorrah.” Cotsen 1907.

For purposes of comparison, here are two additional plates from Cotsen’s other copy, whose engraved plates are not hand-colored.

Plate IV “The History of the Flood, or General Deluge.” Cotsen 357.

Plate V “The Confusion of Tongues” (aka the tower of Babel). Cotsen 357.

Put John Newbery’s History of the Holy Bible Abridged (1764) next to Ryland’s and the differences in production values are immediately obvious.  Newbery’s volume measures just 10 x 7 centimeters as opposed to the 18  of Ryland’s.  Newbery’s History has 61 soft metal relief cuts, but they are tiny.  At just 45 x 35 mm, the quality of the cutting is workmanlike.   Reproduced larger than actual size here, their shortcomings are cruelly exposed.

The Fall of Man from The History of the Holy Bible Abridged (London: John Newbery, 1764) Cotsen 34087).

The burning of Sodom and Gomorrah. Cotsen 34087.

Then as now, consumers got what they paid for.  But far more people in the 1760s could afford six pence for a Newbery Bible abridgment that would fit in a pocket.  The Newbery was cheap enough that some families could put down the money for a copy for each of their children (subscribers’ lists often reveal several children with the same last name at the same address).   Far fewer could invest in a children’s Bible designed to flatter a little prince.  And that may go a long way to explain why Edward Ryland’s children’s books survive in so few copies that almost no one knows how splendid they were…