Here’s a Ball for Baby

Cleaning house during the Firestone Renovation led to the discovery of treasures like this one.   To be truthful, Ian and I didn’t know what it was.  But it couldn’t be described more fully until we figured it out, taking advantage of the opportunities presented by internet searching to follow leads and make connections.

Cotsen 31857

Cotsen 31857

I’ve been working on processing collections material that needs to be moved out of a space that will be demolished during the renovation. Much of this material is unprocessed, otherwise under-described, or not accessioned. It’s been tedious work, but I’ve managed to blow the dust off some great items and uncover some diamonds in the rough.

One such surprisingly delightful item has been Baby’s Ball (pictured above), which I came across the other day. It’s a stuffed textile ball which includes a nursery rhyme accompanying 6 lithographed illustrations. The initial record for the item didn’t have much information. But after some careful sleuthing, Andrea and I were able to discover a lot about this Victorian baby toy.

Each illustration is accompanied by 2 descriptive lines of verse, one above and one below the image. We started our investigation when Andrea noticed that this nursery rhyme was vaguely familiar:

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“Here’s a ball for baby, nice and soft and round / here’s the baby’s hammer, hear the baby pound / here’s the baby’s soldiers, standing in a row / here’s the baby’s trumpet, hear the baby blow / don’t take the ball away, to make baby cry / here’s the baby’s cradle, to rock baby by”

At first, we found several versions of the rhyme on the web, but no attribution or history. It was most commonly referenced as a finger play, a nursery rhyme or other simple song that one also performs with hand motions. Itsy Bitsy Spider is probably the most familiar example. Frustratingly, though the song appears so well known, we couldn’t locate it in any of our reference books on early nursery rhymes.

But then we finally hit pay dirt! Andrea found that the original version of the nursery rhyme is attributed to Emilie Poulsson in her book, Finger plays for nursery and kindergarten (Boston : Lothrop Publishing Company, c1893) under the title “All For Baby”. This book, it just so happens, is in the Cotsen collection:

finger plays cover

Front cover, 86551

page38

page 38

page39

Page 39

page40

Page 40

Though we were able to learn more about the ball’s verse by locating a related item from Cotsen’s own collection; this didn’t help use discover any information about the toy’s manufacture. That information came from a much less likely source: eBay.

While looking for information on our Baby’s Ball, I stumbled across an auction listing for: Antique Dated 1900 Art Fabric Mills Cloth Rag Doll BABY’S BALL Rare Uncut NR yqz. At first it didn’t look pertinent. But after scrolling down the page I realized that the item for sale was an original uncut cloth pattern sheet for the very same ball now in our collection. From this eBay listing, we were not only able to learn about the manufacturer and dates of the item, but that it was probably stitched together and stuffed at home, after the purchase of the uncut sheet.

Below, I’ve Included 2 pictures from that eBay listing for reference. But you can click on the link above to see the original listing which includes more pictures of the uncut sheet.

Uncut sheet for Baby's Ball

Uncut sheet for Baby’s Ball

Patent and manufacturer

Patent and manufacturer

We started with no information on a cute Victorian cloth ball and a vaguely familiar nursery rhyme. We ended up with a fully described Baby’s Ball (New York : Art Fabric Mills, 1900) which borrows (liberally) from a well-known finger play originally written by Emilie Poulsson in her book Finger plays for nursery and kindergarten, just 7 years before the pattern for the ball was patented. In short, it was a fun day at Cotsen doing research on collections material.

Purely for your edification, I’ve embedded a video performance of the finger play as well:

This video comes from the YouTube channel WCCLS Birth2Six, where a few more finger plays have also been acted out.

 

Boys at Play: New Evidence in Francis Willughby’s Book of Games

Francis Willughby (1635-1672), the gentleman naturalist and member of the Royal Society, left a manuscript about games, sports, and pastimes among his papers when he died at age 36 (University of Nottingham NUL Mi LM 14).  The unfinished work was intended for his fellow scientists rather than gamblers, even though much of the contents were devoted to games of chance.   Possibly the first taxonomy of its kind, the Book of Games lay largely neglected until the modern edition prepared by David Cram, Jeffrey L. Forgeng and Dorothy Johnston was published by Ashgate in 2003.

The section on “Children’s Plays” shows what a comprehensive view of the subject Willughby had at a time when children’s culture and folklore was beneath the contempt of a gentleman scientist.  The description of the game “Hide & Seeke” preserves a wonderful verse for  “it” to yell before rushing out to discover his playmates’ hiding places.  It is an improvement over the more prosaic modern formula, “Ready or not, here I come,” which doesn’t even rhyme.

One stands at a gaole or barre, hoodwinked [i.e. eyes covered by a piece of cloth] & is to count aloud so manie, as 100, 40 &c., all the while the rest hide themselves.  When he has done counting he saies:

                A Dish Full of Pins to Prick my Shins,

                A Loafe of Bread to Breake my Head,

                Bo Peep I come.

If they get all to the barre, he winkes againe, but if he catch one, he that is catched must wink.

This is the “running-home” variation of the game, described on page 154 of the Opies’ Lore and Language of Schoolchildren (1959) in which hiders can try dashing back to the starting place without being caught.  Neither Willughby or the Opies specify that if the successful hider makes it home, he should yell a rhyme telling the rest of the hiders that they can show themselves and signaling another round of the game.   Americans from different regions of the country are accustomed to calling out “Olly, olly, oxen, free, free, free.”

“Drolery or for the Exercising the Wit & Making Sport” is a selection of word games, which were a more important category of amusements than now.   Beyond an agile brain, they require no equipment or dedicated ground.  They are ideal for passing the time hanging out wherever.    A relatively easy game called “Riming” takes two people, who take turns calling out a word which the other must match with another that rhymes.

A: Able.  B: Stable. A: Fable. B: Cable, &c.

Apparently a rhyming couplet could be supplied, as in this example where A tries to stump B with a polysyllabic word, “porringer” or a dish for holding porridge.Mr Booker was put to rime to Porringer, who presently answered

                The King had a Daughter & hee Gave the Prince of Orange her.

The subjects were Mary II and William III of England. An excellent example of a groaner from the 1600s that has been preserved in a modern nursery rhyme siteAn unnamed juvenile informant, who wrote out five pages in the manuscript, recording the rules of this game of one-upmanship

“Selling of Bargaines” is when one askes the other a question who answers him simply and pertinently, thinking hee meant honestly.  The first replys againe & catching hold of his answer Sels him a Bargaine.  A wishes he had as manie dogs as there are stares.  B asks what hee would doe with them.  A replys, Hold up their Teales while you Kiss their Arses….

When B can sel A another bargaine, A saies, A Bargaine Bought &^ a Bargain Sold, A Turd in your Mouthe a Twelmonth old.,

When B prevents A & gets his bargaine before him, A saies, You say my Word, you may Eat a Dogs Turd,

They strive to sel one another most bargaines as they doe in aping verses who shall capt his antagonist.

A askes B if he can say, A Long Pole over a Gutter.  If B repeat the words, A saies,  A short Turd to your Supper….

A bids B repeat Oxe Ball so manie times in a breath.  B. repeating fast saies, Ballox.

The juvenile informant comments at the end that “All bargaines are either obscene or nastie.”

A good example of the “self-incrimination trap,” in which one person asks another a trick question that sets up a smutty retort, “Selling of Bargains” seems a logical addition to the chapter on “Guile” in the Opies’ Lore and Language –or somewhere else in their corpus on children’s culture and games.   The Opies may have decided that it was not an authentic children’s game because “selling bargains” was a synonym for low prurient humor in the early eighteenth century.  In Peri Bathos (1735) co-authors Dr. Arbuthnot, Jonathan Swift, and Alexander Pope averred that elegant ladies were not ashamed to sell bargains (i.e. talk dirty) in polite drawing rooms or in court.   The juvenile informant and Willughby clearly thought otherwise.

While not exactly innocent, these few survivals are precious in their way.  Willughby deserves wider credit for being ahead of his time as a collector of children’s oral culture—nearly forty years ahead of John Aubrey, whose unfinished manuscript The Remains of Gentilism and Judaism (British Museum Landsdowne MSS 231) is among the most important early antiquarian sources for beliefs, customs, and stories of the common people.