Marks in Books #5: A Danish Alphabet Decorated with Stick Figures

According to the 6th edition of John Carter’s essential ABC for Book Collectors (1980),  “condition” in book collector’s mind “means a good deal more than the volume’s superficial, physical appearance; for the term covers the completeness and integrity of the contents, a proper degree of margin, etc., as well as the beauty or appropriateness or originality, and the state of preservation of the covering.”

Children’s books obviously weren’t on Carter’s radar screen, because if you want to collect historical children’s books, almost nothing comes up to the gold standard.

"Nye Billed=A,B,C for Børn," page 1 with 'annotations'

“Nye Billed=A,B,C for Børn,” page 1 with ‘annotation’

Take the Danish alphabet book, Nye Billed=A,B,C for Børn [New Illustrated ABC for Children] (Alborg, 1778), in the Cotsen Children’s Library. It is one of the earliest alphabets of proper names I’ve ever seen and unusual for having been designed as a set of little picture cards, which were probably supposed to be cut apart for teaching reading.  This alphabet passes the rarity test: when I couldn’t find a description of it, I wrote to a Danish colleague for help.  She was absolutely thrilled, because she had never heard of it either.

Many collectors would never consider giving shelf space to a scruffy pamphlet bound in wrappers of a thickish paper the color of burned oatmeal.  To add injury to insult, most of the pages have been scrawled upon.  None of it could be dignified  with the term “marginalia.”  But look closely at the “annotations” and you will find some absolutely delightful stick figures interacting with the illustrations.  If given a choice between a pristine copy and this one covered with doodles, there’s no question in my mind which one is in superior condition…

Page 3: The letter J, as annotated.

Page 3: The letter J, as ‘annotated.’

Page 3: More 'annotations'

Page 3: More ‘annotations.’

Page 4: Even more 'annotations'

Page 4: Even more ‘annotations.’


Detail of 'annotation' for the Letter N

Page 4: The Letter N, as ‘annotated.’