100 Nineteenth-century Rhyming Alphabets in English, from the Library of Ruth M. Baldwin

By Ruth M. Baldwin | Go to book overview

Preface

LESS THAN twenty years ago I received in all as a birthday gift from my parents who were in England a handful of chapbooks, and, being properly appreciative of these quaint volumes, throughout the winter small packages of other old children's books. From this beginning started the great adventure of developing a library of nineteenth-century children's books in English to which I have added more than a thousand volumes a year. The story of the building of any library is a fascinating one -- particularly to the builder -- and considerable discipline is required to resist the telling.

Since in the early years books seemed scarce and money more so, I collected anything available to me that was a children's book in English before 1900, and I learned to prefer an inscribed copy definitely read and used by children. After all, a real children's book is not only one written for children but one used by them as well, and if the collector does not prefer worn and frequently tattered volumes he must become resigned to them or else limit his collection to those rare volumes which never fell into a child's hands. As a teacher this I could not do. Defensively at first, if a choice was to be made, I took the unknown and forgotten book rather than the classic, the common edition rather than the limited one. Great libraries which could afford them would see to the preservation of the others.

As the years have gone by I have never ceased to be amazed at the endless quantity and variety of children's books which one century produced. In the spring of 1968 I purchased from Ben Tighe of Athol, Massachusetts, some two hundred and fifty nineteenth-century alphabets rhyming and otherwise. It was almost a reluctant purchase because, although these books exemplified the very thing I was trying to preserve, they were for the most part, being in paper covers, in what seemed to be a miserable condition. However, this collection gave impetus to this book and has furnished about half the examples in it.

This book is by no means a definitive collection. In fact it may contain only a small portion of all the rhyming alphabets in English produced for children in the nineteenth century. It does not even contain a majority of my own examples many of which have been eliminated, many acquired since this volume was selected, and many more not even found. Dozens of children's magazines and annuals which ran for many years are probably full of them. Only a few of these have been used here. Two of these were serialized in children's magazines in twelve monthly parts a few letters at a time. Most remarkable perhaps is the fact that neither the alphabets nor their illustrations were commonly reprinted from one book to another as the stories so frequently were. With few exceptions each one that turned up was new and different. However, two examples in this book use the same pictures with different verses. One was an English edition and an American edition, the other two American editions.

Making a choice was most difficult. The best illustrations sometimes had rhymes without content or form, while the best poetry was occasionally attached to insignificant pictures. A paramount decision was not to use only those which would reproduce well or even to limit the collection to those which could be reproduced at all. Many originally in color are in black and white, and many of those made from hand-colored pictures show clearly that the painter did not stay within the lines. Yellowed paper, bleeding ink, foxing, and grubby finger prints may show up as well. Some plates have not been reproduced, and occasionally it can be noted that the poet or rhymer has made ref-

-ix-

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100 Nineteenth-century Rhyming Alphabets in English, from the Library of Ruth M. Baldwin
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  • Title Page v
  • Preface ix
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