Peter Parley Promoter and the Prehistory of Product Placement


Peter Parley stands center stage, holding up copies of the 1868 Annual for his eager readers. Peter Parley’s Annual: A Christmas and New Year’s Present for Young People. London: Darton and Co., 1868 (Cotsen 70617).

“Christmas Bells and Peter Parley’s Annual have been for many, many years associated in the affections of the rising generation all the world over.  But it is my earnest hope,” declared the avuncular editor, “that my young friends will find amongst the stores of entertainment I have this year provided for them something more durable than Christmas chimes–something that when the merry cadences of those bells have died away, and the pudding is gone, and the holly is taken down and cast into the fire, will serve to make them a Christmas all the year round.”   And what exactly is Peter Parley’s contribution to the promised Annual feast?   “Every variety of wholesome entertainment” larded with knowledge.

But fine words butter no parsnips and a book can’t be judged by its cover.  Does Peter Parley’s Annual for 1868 also contain “things to delight the eye” more than they “gratify the mind,” like its gold-stamped binding decorated with tops, cricket bats, kites, and butterflies?

Among the “things to delight the eye” in the 1868 Annual are  seven color-printed wood-engraved plates, neatly signed “W. Dickes” in the lower right hand corner.  The ones of marine life are particularly nice.


Plate facing p. 110 (Cotsen 70617).


Plate facing p. 174 (Cotsen 70617).

And who took out a full-page illustrated announcement in “Peter Parley’s Annual Advertiser” at the end–William Dickes.  He must have reasoned that if there were an informative advertisement for his full-service business proximate to his fine plates, some papas looking at the book with their children might be inspired to engage the “artist, engraver on wood, lithographer, and oil colour printer” for some venture.


P. 320 in Peter Parley’s Annual Advertiser (Cotsen 70617).

A similar tactic to drum up business was used by another contributor to the 1868 volume.  Eugene Rimmel wrote an article entitled, “Sweet Things at the Paris Exhibition,” but he did not set out to enumerate all the marvelous confections invented for the delight of our palates and the ruin of our teeth” that were arrayed at the World’s Fair–“the lolypops of England, the bonbons of France, the confetti of Italy, the chocolate of Spain, the Lebkuchen of Germany, the biscottes of Belgium, the rahat lakoum of Turkey, the preserved ginger of India, the guava jelly of South America.”   His subject was perfume and one of the marvels described at the Exhibition was a cottage in which “a complete collection of perfumery materials, a still at work, and models of all the implements used in the trade” were on view.


P. 167 (Cotsen 70617).

And if M. Rimmel’s readers were unable to visit the cottage in person, they could learn about the sweet olfactory art in his Book of Perfumes, which was one of Christmas novelties that could be purchased at any of three convenient locations in London.


Detail from p. 315 in Peter Parley’s Annual Advertiser (Cotsen 70617).

The enterprising Mr. John Davies surely would have imitated Dickes and Rimmel, if the contents of the Annual had featured an appropriate selection.  But perhaps it was just as well that there wasn’t…


Is the affecting poem “She never smiles” the work of John Davies, surgeon-dentist, or his brother Maurice, the inventor of Royal Balmoral Tooth Paste? We may never know. P. 342 in Peter Parley’s Annual Advertiser (Cotsen 70617).

The advertising supplements at the end of the Peter Parley Annuals are an excellent way to get an idea of what Victorians bought and to speculate what real or imagined need, the products were supposed to satisfy.  Print and digital facsimiles often exclude this kind of –another reason for collecting the old books.


devilfishThis alarming incident in St. Augustine, Florida, was reported in the 24 May 1879 issue of Frank Leslie’s Boys’ and Girls’ Weekly.  A slightly abridged transcription of the article follows.

“A Flying Monster: Miss Bigly’s Thrilling Adventure in Florida”

I arrived in this quaint old Spanish town a few weeks since in quest of quiet lodgings, which I desire for my own personal uses during the coming season.  There is but little life stirring within the crumbling walls of this old-time citadel; indeed, its architecture, its inhabitants and its customs properly belong to the seventeenth century and it is for one who has but recently emerged from amidst the stirring events constantly occuring in our Northern cities to consider that he is still, in the nineteenth century, within the borders of progressive America….

But to my intents.  My purpose in writing at this time is to furnish you with the details (in brief) of a very romantic, yet thrilling, incident, occurring recently to a young lady from the North, Miss Martha Bigly, who had been sojourning for some days at Olustee Bar, some eighteen miles south of this place.  The hectic flush, that sign of that dread disease, consumption, had supplanted the roseate hue of health upon her fair cheeks, and she had sought this balmy, sun-girdled clime in the hope of regaining that priceless boon–good health.

One bright sunny afternoon, while engaged in strolling along the pebbled beach, picking up fantastically-carved shells that had been washed up from the great mysterious laboratory of the sea, and listening to the waves rolling quietly upon the shore, producing sweet cadences of contentment and peace, she espied what at first appeared to her to be a beautifully-colored shell floating upon the surface of the sea.  Being protected at the feet by a pair of rubber boots, she boldly advanced into the surf and reached out her sun umbrella to aid her in securing the coveted prize, when to her utter horror, this seeming inert object suddenly became a thing of life; the shell-like appearance changed in an instant to that of a monster; long slimy claws were thrown around about a pulpy sac-like body, and with a bound it ascended into the air and hovered around the head of its intended victim.

Being momentarily stunned by the sudden transformation, and horrified by the revolting aspect of this hideous object, she did but parry its onslaughts with her umbrella, and that inconspicuously, retreating to a rock where she stood at bay until the baffled monster returned to the sea and disappeared.  So unexpected was the attack and so revolting the sight of the fish to one of her delicate frame and extreme nervous sensibilities, that it was some days afterward before she regained her wonted composure.

The fish that caused this consternation is known among scientists as the argonauta, a species of the devil-fish indigenous to the waters of the tropics, and ’tis of rare occurrence that it strays away from that latitude, at least so far north as off the coast of Florida.  The power of the propulsion through the air is a rare one with the argonauta, but it undoubtedly exists in some species.  I sent you a sketch of the thrilling incident.—Yours, Invalid.