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.

Blood and Thunder: A Murder most Foul Drawn by a Child

One of our newest acquisitions here at Cotsen is an example of juvenilia,or a musical, or visual art created by a child artist (we apply it to works made by children who did not grow up to be famous).  This particular piece is a cleverly illustrated French-language poster presumably created and inscribed by J. M. Legeay (Jean-Marc?) September 1896 (see final panel). The poster tells a story in pictures about a murder and what ensues after the despicable act, complete with a sobering moral.

Although this murder is resolved and justice is meted out, many mysteries surrounding the piece itself.  Where was it made?  Who made it? Why was it made?  Without further ado: Un Crime Effroyable [A terrible crime].

Un Crime Effroyable

This handmade poster in ten panels of paper with a folding cardboard border is illustrated in crayon, ink, watercolor, and pencil.   All the panels are backed on black linen cloth and is carefully designed so that it can be hung on the wall or neatly folded up.

The top two panels bear a 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 physical facts we might infer that this item was diligently worked on by a young (and presumably amateur artist) with a good degree of skill.  It would have taken several hours at least to illustrate, cut, lay out, and paste down on the backing.  But we don’t get a clear indication of why he spent so much time creating it.  Legeay probably didn’t create a this story of crime and punishment just for his own amusement. Rather, it seems possible that it might have been  a school assignment, an exercise in moral education.  Let’s see what the young man learned…

Un Crime Effroyable, first panelIn this first scene there are two characters: a middle-class fop in bright yellow pants, who has just left the wine and liquor store in the background, and a small green blob in the middle distance, whom we soon learn is the malefactor.

Un Crime Effroyable, second panelHere, with no explanation, our friend with the cherubic face who is feeling no pain is stabbed by a mustachioed assailant.  But notice  how the clothes of the victim and the murderer identify their respective classes.  The bourgeois with his top hat and parasol  is cut down by a working class man in his plain green coat and matching kepi. At this point we might ask if this is an illustration of class conflict; an instance of a working-class man preying on a defenseless middle class-man by a middle-class child evincing a common bourgeois fear of  the supposedly brutal and violent lower class. Of course, the artist Legeay is just a child and foisting a propagandist motivation upon him may not be warranted.  I believe he is just reflecting the world views around him in 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. In this panel are the first clues as to the place of origin for this poster. On the door is written “Café” and “Cidre.”  “Cidre” is French for cider, specifically the kind produced in Normandy and Brittany. This familiarity with cidre might be an indication that Legeay is from one of these regions (or just a budding 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  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 death. 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, horizontalThis text could be a hand-written inscription or  a trade mark on the paper itself. It seems unlikely that it is the debossed trade mark of a paper manufacturer named Hollonge, because the mark does not appear on any other panel of the poster and no such company was turned up in my research. So it might be an inscription. But who wrote it and why? What does it mean?

“Hollonge” might be a corruption of  “Hollogne,”  or short hand for the town of Grâce-Hollogne in the Ardennes.   But Grâce-Hollogne, it turns out, is located not in France, but in Belgium. Bu tif the poster is from Belgium, why the text is written in French?  The Ardennes is located in the province of Liège in the region known as Wallonia and Walloons are French speakers.  So perhaps Legeay was a Walloon.

The word “Hollonge”  seems to have been etched by a tool. It 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”  by mistake, which is  possible because he made spelling errors elsewhere.  But why would Legeay write the place of origin on his own work? Surely he knew (and doesn’t need to share) where he lived and where he made the poster. 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 later 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  rather than with one, which is the Wallonian spelling. 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 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 or does “Hollonge” point to Belgium?   We would need more information to make this call.

But what we can be more certain of is that Legeay is probably a middle-class boy, that he was a better illustrator than he was a 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 coup de grâce of the piece, a moral from our insightful creator 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 a the second double ess (“assassinez”) and the spelling of that last word, “gigotiné,”  instead of the Francophone “guillotine.” Legeay was much more careless with the text than with his illustrations. I don’t think the boy was as motivated to draw out the moral lesson as in illustrating violence (probably to the chagrin of his teacher).

But let’s return to that very odd word “gigotiné.” It might be indicative of more  a child’s bad spelling. Using “gigotiné” might prove that Legeay was cleverer than he appears. “Gigotiné,” if spelled this way on purpose, has a double meaning. Not only does it denote the guillotine, it also associates 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.. It’s tongue and cheek, of course, and  probably 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 gory but humorous poster 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 my interpretation of this child’s work should be taken with a grain of salt.  Though this poster begs more questions than it provides answers, it is nevertheless a bracing look into how a child represented with gusto gory murders and swift guillotines.