The rather prim illustrated masthead for the French children’s periodical, Le bon genie, gives little indication that nearly every number contained a luminous lithographic plate by Jean-Henri Marlet (1774-1847 during its run between 1824 and 1829. In 1824, Marlet was famous for having demonstrated the artistic potential of lithography in an ambitious suite of seventy-two hand-colored plates about all aspects of life in Paris. He likewise documented French childhood high and low of the late 1820s as the house artist for Le bon genie.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.