Who Filled in William Cole’s Poetry-Drawing Book? Feiffer, Stamaty, Gorey…


The Poetry-Drawing Book (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1960) was supposed to provide children with a substitute for coloring books, which co-editors William Cole and Julia Colmore believed were “insulting to their imagination and intelligence” with “the banal and badly drawn” pictures.  Their volume was designed with a blank page facing each poem, space for a boy or girl to draw whatever ideas the reading of the poem prompted.  To facilitate self-expression with pencil, crayons, or watercolors, the book was spiral-bound so that it would lay flat on a table (or the floor).  Cole and Colmore argued that this concept would encourage “a child’s innate sense of color and design, and to give free rein to his imagination.  At the same time our book functions as an introduction to the magical world of poetry.”

Bill Cole was not an educator, but a journalist, publicity director, publisher, board member of the  Poetry Society of America and Poets and Writers, and connoisseur of light verse and knock-knock jokes.  The Poetry-Drawing Book was just one of many anthologies he produced for children over his long career.

cole_ungererCotsen’s collection of manuscripts includes a very special copy of The Poetry-Drawing Book, whose purchase was underwritten several years ago by the Friends of the Princeton University Library.  It belonged to Cole  and his penciled initials are in the upper-left-hand corner just above the plates the clown is juggling.  Cole and Colmore claimed that the book had been “tried out on hundreds of children” and perhaps a few of the “enriching, enlightening, and often hilarious” results were selected to go on the cover.ctsn_ms_unproc_item_4347646_cover

Cole’s son Rossa grew up to be a professional photographer, but the Cotsen copy of The Poetry-Activity Book does not happen to be filled with the little boy’s drawings.   Cole intended it to be a showcase for somewhat older aspiring artists.

There is a drawing by the thirty-one-year old Jules Feiffer, political satirist and illustrator of Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth.

To deliver a message of good cheer satirist Jules Feiffer, photographed in New York City, March 3, 1976, has chosen theater rather than cartoons. The result is "Knock Knock," his hit Broadway farce. (AP Photo/Jerry Mosey)

Jules Feiffer in 1976 (AP Photo/Jerry Mosey).


Feiffer was born in 1929. If he was thirty-one when he painted this rather ominous feline, then he must have done it in 1960.

And another by twenty-eight-year old cartoonist Mark Alan Stamaty, author/illustrator of Who Needs Doughnuts (1973) and Alia’s Mission: Saving the Books of Iraq (2004).



If Stamaty was born in 1947 and he drew the rootin’ tootin’ shootin’ television when he was twenty-eight, then his page was completed in 1975.

Another surprise is this elaborate color drawing by a master of the macabre in black and white, Edward Gorey, then thirty six.edward-gorey-3


This enchanting vision of the snake in the garden would have been executed in 1961 by the thirty-six-year-old Gorey, who was born in 1929.

And that’s what happens when you give an artist a blank page…

Cotsen’s Covert Collections: An 18th-century Illuminated Manuscript from Rajasthan


Full page spread, Cotsen 46721

Full page spread (second text), Cotsen 46721

For this edition of “Cotsen’s Covert Collections” I’d like to post about another item I know very little about: an 18th-century manuscript from Rajasthan, India. But the manuscript is such an unusual item that I thought it was definitely worth advertising!

Here’s what we do know: The manuscript was written in the Braj Bhasa language in Devanagari script probably around 1780 in the Mewar region of the Indian state of Rajasthan. It contains 3 distinct works: the text Avatara-carinthr, which describes the different reincarnations of the Hindu god Vishnu; the text Shri Ramcandra-carinthr manas, which describes the life of Rama and Sita (from the Ramayana epic); and the tenth book of Bhagavata Purana, which is the holiest book for worshipers of the Hindu god Vishnu. Though the middle text appears to be the bulk of the manuscript, it’s hard to designate the sections (for me anyway) because the manuscript is unpaginated.

Physically, the manuscript is really beautiful and honestly kind of daunting. The folio-sized manuscript, which measures about 16 inches high, is massive! It’s over 500 pages long and contains around 1600 illuminated and hand-painted miniatures. When talking about Western medieval manuscripts, “illuminated” means that gold (or silver) foil is used in the decoration of the artwork; and  “miniatures” are not necessarily minute in size, but is a specialized meaning of the term to denote those paintings within a manuscript.


A page from the first text, the Avatara-carinthir.


A spread from the second text, Shri Ramacandra-carinthir.


Miniatures from the last text, the Bhavata Purana, Book 10.

Another fascinating feature of this manuscript is the folded binding–a one-of-a-kind example in our collection.

Bottom edge of the book

Bottom edge of the book

This means that 24-inch-long sheets, painted and calligraphed on both sides, were pierced and folded over each other and then tied to the outer housing through the center of the fold (though our current housing is definitely later than the book). Since all the sheets were folded together we are left with a distinct peak in the center of the manuscript which recedes in a teardrop shape as the folded sheets increase in number. This is very different from familiar Western style binding where small groups or quires of sheets are folded together and then the ends of the full book block are cut for uniform edges.

The marroon folded housing

The maroon folded housing

Decorative centerfold with ties

Decorative centerfold with ties

As you can see above, while perusing the manuscript for interesting images, I came across another very surprising feature of the book. Many of the illuminated miniatures in the second section are unfinished.

proof proof2The incompleteness of the images affords us insight into the process of this manuscript’s creation.

I hope that showcasing this beautiful object will bring it to the attention of someone more knowledgeable than I, who can help us discover more about this wonderful (and under-described) manuscript.  Cotsen has such a diverse range of unusual or unexpected artifacts, books, and objects. As always, this blog series is supposed to inspire researchers to see what else they can find in our collection.

Tiger tailpiece!

Tiger tailpiece!