A Christmas Box, or, A Little Bibliographic Holiday Mystery…

Some Early Holiday Books for Children Published by the Baldwins

Book publishers frequently reissue a variety of new versions of books around the holidays, many in “special holiday editions” or versions meant to make them suitable as gifts. Sometimes, these are indeed new books, but often they’re just reissues of prior editions, with colorful new covers or dust-jackets, designed to catch the eye of someone looking for a entertaining but educational gift.  This is especially true of many children’s books.  What adult hasn’t spent time looking for a last-minute gift or stocking-stuffer for a child?

We tend to think of this repurposing of content as a modern phenomenon—after all, isn’t this the era of marketing and targeted sales? But—as in many cases—children’s booksellers seemed to have caught on to this idea long ago—indeed, in the eighteenth century they seem to have been one of the early innovators of this practice.

In much the same spirit of entrepreneurial innovation, bookselling was perhaps the first trade to realize that the packaging for item—that is, books’ covers or paper wrappers—could be a marketing tool for helping attract purchasers. Books, which had been offered for sale unbound or in plain bindings or paper wrappers, were sold in increasingly attractive publisher’s bindings, some illustrated, some colored, and some in eye-catching materials.  Dutch gilt paper for instance, was used by Thomas Boreman and John Newbery to bind up entertaining books for young readers as a way of distinguishing them from school books or more serious titles.

The Three Baldwin variations (arranged earliest to latest from left to right, in their appealing Dutch Paper wrappers. (Cotsen New Acquisition)

The three R. Baldwin editions (arranged from earliest to latest, left to right, in their appealing (but quite different) Dutch gilt paper wrappers.
(Cotsen New Acquisition)


Title page of a Christmas Box (R. Baldwin, [after 1754] (Cotsen new acquisition)

Engraved title page of A Christmas Box, 
(R. Baldwin, [after 1754])
(Cotsen new acquisition)

Cataloging several editions of a previously unrecorded eighteenth century children’s book brought home the idea of repurposing content to me. The first book I cataloged announced that it was a Christmas book in its title: A Christmas Box. The full title, as it appears on the title page is: A Christmass Box, or, Little Polite Tales, Fables, Riddles, Stories, Letters, Epitaphs, &c.: in Easy Prose and Verse, with Other Lessons of Morality Equally Instructive & Entertaining for Little Masters and Misses: Adorned with Sculptures.  Quite a mouthful, compared to the current practice of keeping titles to single words.  (Note: “Christmass,” which I first thought must be a typo, turns out to be an early variation on the spelling, more widely used in the sixteenth-and seventeenth-century, but clearly still in use in the mid-eighteenth century. By the way, a “Christmas box” was a small clay container with a slot like a piggy bank and at the end of the year servants went around with them collecting tips from employers.  The term could also be used in the eighteenth century as a synonym for any present given during the extended Christmas holidays).

As the subtitle suggests, the book is miscellany of fables, tales, riddles, short Bible stories, short poems, precepts, and epitaphs. This broad range of material was consistent with prevailing eighteenth-century views that an anthology ought to mix up serious and humorous materials as a way of catching and holding the interest of children, so they might learn something useful from their pleasure reading. It’s still fairly typical of gift books.

But this book posed some small mysteries for a cataloger.  When was it published? (It’s undated, as the image of the title page shows.)  Also, who was the publisher “R. Baldwin”? There several booksellers and printers using the name “R. Baldwin” at about the same time.  Cotsen Library has no other book titled Christmas Box by Baldwin, nor did I find one in the WorldCat, the world-wide combined library catalog.  With so little information and no other similarly-titled book to compare, the plot thickened…

But the long alternate title turned out to be an important clue.  And Cotsen does have another Baldwin publication—in fact two copies of one—titled Little Polite Tales, Fables Riddles, Stories, Letters, Epitaphs, &c.  Looking inside these books, I quickly realized that all three books had the same content, and the same number of pages (128, plus two leaves of engraved plates, the frontispiece illustration and the title page). Only the title pages were different—along with some other, relatively minor printing variations; take a look at the variations in the woodcut headpieces and the decorative capital letter “T” at the first selection in each book.

First page of text in all three books: actual text is the same but all three have different woodcut headpieces and decorative capital initial "T," among other smaller changes--suggesting different editions of similar content.

First page of text in all three books: actual text is the same, but note how all three have different headpieces of type ornaments and frames of different type ornaments around the initial “T,” among other smaller changes that indicate they are different editions.


Little Polite Tales, R. Baldwin, Jr, (1751) (Cotsen new acquisition)

Engraved title page of Little Polite Tales,
R. Baldwin, Jr,  (1751)
(Cotsen new acquisition)

Only one book was dated, the 1751 edition of Little Polite Tales. Was it the first one printed, or was one of the other books printed first?  How to tell?  One potential clue—or point of confusion—seemed to be in the variation in the publisher’s name, “R. Baldwin, Jr.” (on both Cotsen copies of Little Polite Tales), as opposed to “R. Baldwin” (on the Christmas Box).  But was this the same person or two different people, perhaps a father and son?  (Publishing in this era was often a family affair.)  To make things more confusing, there were at least five R. Baldwins issuing books in London at this time, three Richards and two Roberts, two brothers and their three sons!

To make a long story short, it seems that “R. Baldwin, Jr” was Richard Baldwin, 1724-1770, son of Richard, brother of Robert, and both nephew and cousin of two Roberts. He first issued books under the name “R. Baldwin, Jr.” to distinguish himself from his father, but gradually dropped the “Jr.” once he became more established himself; the last book he issued as “R. Baldwin, Jr.” was in 1754.¹

Title page of Little Polite Tales, R. Baldwin, Jr, ([between 1751 & 1754?]) (Cotsen new acquisition)

Title page of Little Polite Tales,
R. Baldwin, Jr,  ([between 1751 & 1754?]) 
(Cotsen new acquisition)

What does all this mean in terms of dating our books? Remember, one copy of Little Polite Tales was dated 1751. So the other copy of Little Polite Tales, the one with no date, seems likely to have been issued sometime between 1751 and 1754—that is, between the date of the first (dated) edition and the date when Richard Baldwin dropped the “Jr.” from his imprint.  This conclusion seems supported by an interesting change to the title page of this undated edition, the addition of the text: “A Pretty Present as a Christmas Box, or New Year’s Gift.”  This suggests the original Little Polite Tales was reissued as a holiday gift book. (Perhaps the printing of the frontispiece and title page in red ink was meant as a festive touch?)

The book titled Christmas Box, then, must date from sometime after 1754, since Baldwin identified himself just as “R. Baldwin.”  Cotsen’s copy of this book also has an inscription dated “1774,” so we can use 1774 as the last possible date the book could have been issued. So the Christmas Box seems to date from between 1754 and 1774 and it is apparently the last of the three books to be published.

Inscription, dated Jan1774, in Christmas box, which suggests a 1774 terminal date

Inscription, dated Jan, 7, 1774, in A Christmas Box, which suggests 1774 as a terminal date for publication: thus a date of [between 1754 & 1774].  The January 7 inscription also suggests that this book was indeed given to Jos. Phillips as a Christmas or New Year’s holiday book.

This sequence of publication also makes sense, I think, in terms of how the title of the book seems to have evolved: 1) Little Polite Tales; 2: Little Polite Tales…A Christmas Box…; 3) A Christmas Box. The idea that Baldwin took a “regular” book and reissued it at least twice seems to make sense too, in terms of the general publishing “model” I talked about at the beginning of this piece—it seems unlikely that Baldwin took a Christmas book and reissued it as a non-seasonal piece (but technically, that remains a possibility).

And what sort of Christmas delights could be expected by the “masters and misses” to whom Baldwin dedicated each version of his book?  “A Short Essay on the Nature and Beauty of Fable,” and “An Alphabet in Verse, containing Rules of Life,” lead off the book, followed by fables each followed by an explicitly didactic moral “application.”  Next come the riddles, and after them, the Bible stories, such as “A History of the Creation of the World, and the Fall of Man,” “The History of Cain and Abel” (accompanied by a woodcut of Cain braining Abel with a huge club), and “ The History of Daniel in the Lion’s Den.” Following these Bible stories, comes the seven-page “Filial Ingratitude: the Ancient History of King Lear and his Three Daughters,” which at least follows the eighteenth-century editors’ practice of having Lear and Cordelia survive “for some years afterwards,” instead of meeting the tragic ends Shakespeare provided.  (Dr. Johnson, for one, thought the original ending of King Lear was just too horrific for adults, not to mention for children.)

Concluding all three of the “Christmas Box” books and its kin are “serious” and “humorous” epitaphs, the last reading:

An Humorous Epitaph

On Little Stephen, a noted fiddler, in the Country of Suffolk.
Stephen and Time
Are how both even;
Stephen beat Time,
And Time beat Stephen.

So, while these eighteenth-century books are quite different from earlier religious instruction, primers, and alphabet catechisms aimed at “miniature adults,” as they’re sometimes termed, publishers clearly had quite a different idea of what an “instructive and entertaining book for little masters and misses” was than we have now.

And on that note, Cotsen Library wishes all of you–children and grown-ups alike–a very Merry Christmas!

 Note:  1) C.Y. Ferdinand, “Richard Baldwin Junior, Bookseller,” in Studies in Bibliography, Vol 42 (1989), p. 259.

A Child Draws a Murder most Foul

One of our newest acquisitions here at Cotsen is a really unique item.  It’s one of our favorite types of materials to have in the collection: juvenilia, an instance of literary, musical, or visual art created by a child artist.  This particular piece is a cleverly illustrated French language poster presumably created and inscribed by J. M. Legeay (Jean-Marc?) in September of 1896 (see final panel). The poster tells a story in pictures about a reprehensible killing and the events that ensue after the despicable act, complete with a sobering moral.

Although this murder story is resolved and justice is meted out, there remain, for us, many mysteries surrounding the piece itself.  Where was it made?  Who made it? Why was it made?  I will explore these questions about this intriguing historical object while we simultaneously explore the scandalous pictorial story it presents us with.

Without further ado: Un Crime Effroyable (a terrible crime)

Un Crime Effroyable

This handmade poster is illustrated in crayon, ink, watercolor, and pencil.  The piece features 10 pictorial paper panels and a foldable cardboard border.  All the individual segments are backed on black linen cloth in order to join the work as a whole. The poster is designed to be easily hung on the wall, or neatly folded up along the panels’ divisions.

The top 2 panels serve as our decorative title:

(Notice the string for hanging and the torn hanging hole on the left.)

(Notice the string for hanging and the torn hanging hole on the left.)

From these purely physical facts we might infer that this item was diligently worked on.  It also demonstrates a good degree of artistic skill (for a young and presumably amateur artist) and craft ability that would have taken young Legeay many hours to illustrate, cut, arrange, and paste together.  But we don’t get a clear indication of why he spent so much time creating it.  What was this young man’s motivation? Legeay probably didn’t create a moral tale about wrongdoing and lawful retribution just for his own amusement. Rather, it seems reasonable to conclude that the impetus for this kind of project was probably a school assignment, an exercise in moral education.  Let’s see what the young man learned…

Un Crime Effroyable, first panel

In this first scene we are introduced to two characters: a middle class fop in his bright yellow pants, and a small green blob (who we soon learn is our murderer). The dandy seems quite dandy, and why not? It seems he, and at least the character behind him, has just left the wine and liquor store in the background.

Un Crime Effroyable, second panelHere, with seemingly no explanation and for no reason, our good-natured friend with the cherubic face is stabbed by a mustachioed assailant.  But notice the juxtaposition of clothing style and appearance between victim and killer.  Stylized against our top hatted and parasol wielding picture of happiness and innocence that is our middle class man, we have our murderer.  He appears working class, with his plain green coat and matching kepi; no frills in his dress.

At this point we might venture to say that this depiction of a terrible crime is an illustration of class conflict; an instance of a working class man preying on a defenseless (and seemingly blameless) middle class man.  I don’t think it would be unfair to assert that Legeay is probably middle class himself.  Not only does he seemingly have access to schooling and a variety of coloring materials, he is also evincing a common middle class fear about the brutal and violent lower class wanting to harm the bourgeoisie.  Of course, one has to keep in mind that Legeay is just a child; I don’t mean to foist upon him some propagandist motivation.  I believe, rather, that he is just a young man reflecting the world views around him as he completes a school assignment.

In this next scene two officers happen upon the hapless body of our victim. Notice their spurs . . . but lack of horses to use them on.

In this next scene two officers happen upon the hapless body of our victim. Notice their spurs . . . but lack of horses to use them on.

The killer smokes his victim's pipe, the scoundrel!

The killer smokes his victim’s pipe, the scoundrel!

Our murderer contently relaxes in a local café after his grisly deed, as the be-spurred officer enters. From the clues in this panel we get our first guess at the possible region of origin for this poster. On the door we find inscribed “Café” and “Cidre”. Cidre is French for cider, specifically the kind popularly produced in the regions of Normandy and Brittany. This familiarity with cidre might be an indication that Legeay is from one of these regions (or just a budding young drunk).  But as we will see, there is other evidence that points in a very different direction.

The murderer, sandwiched between spurs, is apprehended and clearly startled.

The murderer, sandwiched between spurs, is apprehended and clearly startled.

Here our guilty man seems repentant and regretful at the Assize Court. Notice the second sign in the background: Etres Sans Frapper (enter without knocking).

Here our guilty man seems repentant and regretful at the Assize Court. Notice the second sign in the background: Etres Sans Frapper (enter without knocking).

Un Crime Effroyable, guillotine sceneIn this scene the action of the story comes to a close.  Our killer is being escorted to a smiling executioner manning the infamous guillotine.The perpetrator’s escorts are none other than our officers-in-spurs and a crucifix bearing priest. This panel, however, shows us more than just the moments leading up to our murderer’s last.Look closely at the left side of the illustration and you might just be able to make out the most puzzling feature of this item, what appears to be debossed text reading: Hollonge.

Provided here are two closer images of the text (one vertical, one horizontal):

closer image of the text, vertical

closer image of the text, horizontal

It is unclear whether this text is a hand written inscription or whether it is a trade mark on the paper itself. It seems unlikely that it is the debossed trade mark ofa paper manufacturer, “Hollonge”, because the mark does not appear on any other panel of the poster and no such company has turned up in my research. So it might be an inscription. But who would write it?  Why was it written? What does it mean?

Hollonge might be a corruptionthat is supposed to denote Hollogne. Hollogne being short hand for the town of Grâce-Hollogne, known to English speakers as The Ardennes.  Grâce-Hollogne, it turns out, is located not in France, but in Belgium. Butif the poster is from Belgium one might wonder why the text is written in French. Significantly, perhaps, The Ardennes is located in the province of Liège, placing it in the region known as Wallonia. This might place Legeay as a Walloon, a French speaking Belgian.

Another aspect of Hollonge is that it seems to have been etched by a tool. Hollange is composed of recessed markings, and some of the strokes appear too thick to have been written by pencil or pen. However it was made, it appears to have been a mistake.  If the word is supposed to be Hollogne, it is spelled wrong. Furthermore the final character “e” also resembles an “l”.

Maybe Legeay wrote Hollonge. It’s possible, considering that, as we will see, Legeay makes spelling errors elsewhere as well. But why would Legeay write the place of origin on his own work? Certainly he knows (and doesn’t need to share) where he lives and where he’s made his work. Though the erroneous word is an inscription, it probably isn’t Legeay’s.

It’s more reasonable to assume that the inscription was written by a more recent owner of the work, perhaps a collector of juvenilia or an antiquarian bookseller. This owner was probably French, considering that Hollogne is written with two l’s as opposed to one (Hologne), which is the Wallonian spelling of the place-name. The word might have been erased because of the spelling error or because the attempt to place the origin of the work in Hollogne was unfounded.

With the limited evidence we currently have, all I can do is offer a few guesses about this work’s place of origin. Does the mention of “cidré” point towards Normandy or Brittany as the origin of the work, or does Hollonge point us to Belgium? We might just never really know, with any real certainty, where exactly this work was created.

But what we can be more certain of is that Legeay is probably middle class, that he is a decent illustrator, and that he is not a good speller. This brings us to the final panel:

The tricolour banner, using the three colors of the French flag, directs the possible origin of the work back towards France; or at least informs us that Legeay is a Francophile.

The tricolour banner, using the three colors of the French flag, directs the possible origin of the work back towards France; or at least informs us that Legeay is a Francophile.

In the bottom right hand corner of the work we get our autograph: J M Legeay. Considering that the "m" is so diminutive, it might denote the second half of a hyphened name. A common name of this form, was (and still is) Jean-Marc. "Sep R/96" I take, for obvious reasons, to represent the month of Septembre (September) and the year 1896.

In the bottom right hand corner of the work we get our autograph: J M Legeay. Considering that the “m” is so diminutive, it might denote the second half of a hyphened name. A common name of this form, was (and still is) Jean-Marc. “Sep R/96” I take, for obvious reasons, to represent the month of Septembre (September) and the year 1896.

This final panel delivers the true coup de grâce of the piece, a moral message from our insightful author that caps off the story: “N’assasinez point et vous n’serez point gigotiné” (Don’t murder and you won’t get the guillotine). Pointedly, young Legeay has spelled two words wrong; Assasinez is missing an “s” (assassinez) and the spelling of that last word, gigotiné (as opposed to the already Francophone guillotine), is very wrong. Legeay seems much more careless with his spelling and word choice than his illustrations. I don’t think the boy was very much motivated to really draw out his moral lesson but, in true boyish fashion, was much more interested in illustrating violence instead (probably to the chagrin of his teacher).

But let’s return to that very odd word gigotiné. It might mean more than just a child’s bad spelling. Using gigotiné might prove that Legeay is cleverer than he appears. Gigotiné, if spelled this way purposefully, has a double meaning. Not only does it obviously denote the guillotine, it also means to associate another word with that infernal machine: gigotin (a prepared leg of lamb). Coupled with this association, gigotiné reminds us of the outcome of the guillotine’s use. It’s tongue and cheek of course, and not meant to be taken too seriously. It was probably a common euphemism; not something Legeay came up with himself.

I can't help but wonder if this piece was ever hung, and where it might have been displayed. Would Legeay's parents have let that proud child hang this in their living room?

I can’t help but wonder if this piece was ever hung, and where it might have been displayed. Would Legeay’s parents have let that proud child hang this in their living room?

This poster is an article of juvenilia that, although humorous and interesting, is still shrouded in mystery.  I’ve tried my best to explain who might have made this work and why they might have made it.  But given my limited knowledge and the limited information that the work itself offers, my interpretation of this child’s work should be taken with a grain of salt.  The origins of this clever little poster remain enigmatic.  But what we do end up with is a glimpse into the life of a child during the close of the 19th Century. Though this poster begs more questions than it provides answers, it is nevertheless a charming look into how a child at the time saw and felt about the world around him (particularly, how he felt about murders and guillotines).