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Book of the Month

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May 2008

Toy Books

Glasgow: c.1818
Sp Coll Bh13-c.28

This month's book choice features a set of ten children's chapbooks. These illustrate the type of children's literature that was available to the mass population in the early 19th century.

Some of the items that make up the set
Chapbooks were so-called after the pedlars or hawkers known as 'chapmen' who travelled from place to place and sold the booklets along with other small household items such as ribbons, threads and needles; in towns, chapbooks would be sold on the streets or at gatherings such as fairs. These small books had a varied subject matter including popular tales, accounts of marvels, fairy tales, religion, executions and fortune telling. While originally chapbooks had been printed for an adult readership, increasingly they were printed for the juvenile market.

The boxed set
The items are held in a box which is stamped on the "spine" Lumsden's Toy Books with the imprint information "Glasgow 1818-". Some books were sold as boxed sets in the 19th century. However, it is not known at what stage these books were boxed in this way, or by whom.

According to The Oxford Encyclopaedia of Children's Literature, the term toy book broadly describes books that were intended for fun and play rather than instruction, although it usually more specifically meant books that were designed to be played with, such as shape books.

In common with many children's stories of the time, most of these items have a didactic tone and incorporate a moral to be learned. Children's literature was heavily influenced by the philosophical ideas of John Locke and Rousseau, who saw children's minds as a tabula rasa or clean slate, ready to be moulded.

Contained in the box are:

  • Aladdin or The Wonderful Lamp

  • Beauty and the Beast

  • The entertaining and instructing history of Little Jack

  • Gulliver's Travels

  • History of Goody Two Shoes and her brother Tommy

  • Obi or Three Fingered Jack

  • Old Mother Hubbard and her wonderful dog

  • The Triumph of Good Nature exhibited in the history of Master Harry Fairborn and Master Trueworth interspersed with tales and fables

  • Vicissitude or the life and adventures of Ned Frolic

  • The Way to be Happy or the History of the Family at Smiledale to which is added the story of Little George

The History of Aladdin; or The Wonderful Lamp.
Stories in chapbooks were often unauthorised abridgements of popular works.

For example, The Adventures of Captain Gulliver, in a voyage to Lilliput is an abridgement of the famous story by Jonathan Swift. To chapbook publishers, the Lilliput and Brobdignag voyages seem to have been the most popular of Gulliver's adventures, while the other voyages from the original novel do not seem to have been used.

Another famous tale, Beauty and the Beast, was a chapbook favourite. Originating in France, the first published version of the story by Madame de Villeneuve in 1740 was superseded by the more popular abridged version by Madame de Beaumont. This chapbook version has a moralising tone, common in children's books of the period.

The History of Aladdin; or The Wonderful Lamp, has been based on one of the most popular of the tales from 1001 Arabian Nights; it is frequently featured in chapbooks.

Not all the stories have remained as children's favourites. The history and adventures of Obi; or three-fingered Jack recounts the story of a man who is considered invincible until his Obi or evil talisman is destroyed. Other versions of this story, including a pantomime, maintain that it is based in part on a true story from Jamaica in 1780.

While its themes of murder, mysticism, slavery and beheading would be considered unsuitable for modern children, its combination of adventure and magic realism made it ideal chapbook material.

The History and Adventures of Obi; or Three-Fingered Jack

The entertaining and instructing history of Little Jack

A feature of chapbooks is the frequent lack of reference to an author. This could be attributed to the desire to give the perception that the chapbook was an extension of the oral tradition of stories told from time immemorial.

For example, no author is cited in our copy of The Entertaining and Instructing History of  Little Jack. However, Thomas Day is credited as being the author in an earlier version of the work printed in The Children's Miscellany (1797). This chapbook version tells the story of Jack, from his being suckled as an orphan child by a nanny goat to his rise through society.

A highly popular tale, Goody Two Shoes, was printed by several chapbook publishers and remained a popular didactic tale into the 19th century. The copy here has a pencilled note from an unknown reader on the inside front cover, attributing the story to Goldsmith.

This alludes to the popular notion that the story was the work of Oliver Goldsmith, author of several works including She Stoops to Conquer. However, other sources have attributed the tale to chapbook publisher John Newbery or Giles Jones.

This copy also has an additional tale, The adventures of her brother Tommy, which tells of his adventures after the tearful farewell of the siblings in the main story.

The History of Goody Two Shoes with the adventures of her Brother Tommy

Vicissitude or the life and adventures of Ned Frolic

Not all the chapbooks in this set focus on improving young minds. Vicissitude is described as an original comic song for the entertainment of all good boys and girls in the British Empire. It recounts the ups and downs of the life of Ned Frolic.

However, Brimmel and Roscoe describe it as a drinking song, quite unsuitable for children. With its references to nappy, another word for drinking bowl, this seems to be a fair comment:

So then to be cheerful and happy,
And end the fatigues of the day,
A jorum I took of brown nappy,
Which made me quite jocund and gay.


Nursery rhymes also feature. Old Mother Hubbard and her wonderful dog is an age-old tale, brought to life here with coloured plates. The tale of the old woman and her entertaining dog was first published in 1805, although the character is credited as being the oldest dame in nursery literature, with roots going back as far as 1591.

The book also includes The First Blossoms of Learning or a new alphabet for children. This is the only example in the set where the illustrations do not completely match up with the text. There are pictures throughout the item, but they only relate to the nursery rhyme, not the alphabet.


Old Mother Hubbard and her wonderful dog

A selection of items featuring different title labels

The books in this set are not of a uniform appearance and feature a range of slightly differing sizes and different kinds of paper.

There are four two-penny books that have blockprint covers, giving the title of the book on front and back. Advertising for prints and maps are also included on the back of each item.

A further five items have plain covers in a thicker paper; stuck on the front cover are different styles of title labels with various showy typefaces. One final plain cover item has no title label, although it is not obvious whether there never was one or whether it is merely missing.


Hand-coloured illustrations from Old Mother
Hubbard and her wonderful dog

Coloured illustrations feature in five of the items. They are crudely hand-coloured, but they do seem mostly to correspond to the accompanying content - which is not always the case in chapbooks. It has been reported that children were often employed by chapbook publishers to colour their engravings, although it is not known if that was the case here.

The other items are embellished with what are described on the title-pages as "elegant" cuts or engravings. Both woodcuts and engravings were used in chapbooks.

Illustrations from The Way to be Happy
or the History of the Family at Smiledale
to which is added the story of Little George

The Triumph of GoodNature exhibited in the history of Master Harry Fairborn
and Master Trueworth interspersed with tales and fables

The majority of the items in this set are undated, as is common with chapbooks. They were published and sold by James Lumsden and Son, a highly regarded stationery company. Besides chapbooks, Lumsdens printed a lot of ephemeral items such as minutes, bills and adverts. According to Neuberg, they printed chapbooks between 1814-1826. Based in Glasgow, the company's high standing is reflected in the fact that it gave the city two Lord Provosts.

This set of children's books is from the Wylie collection. Amassed by Robert Wylie, chairman of the Glasgow firm of furnishers, Wylie & Lochhead, and a founder member of the Glasgow Bibliographical Society, the collection consists of almost 1,000 volumes relating to the history and topography of Glasgow and its environs from the 18th century to the early 1900s. Included is a substantial amount of ephemeral material, including chapbooks, broadsides, playbills, and advertisements.

In addition to the chapbooks in the Wylie collection, there are a wide range of chapbooks across the collections. Our chapbooks catalogue lists those held in Special Collections, as well as holdings for Edinburgh Central Library, Stirling University Library and the National Library of Scotland. It is a very useful resource for those wishing to explore the fascinating world of chapbooks further.

Other examples of nineteenth century children's chapbooks published by James Lumsden and Son held in Special Collections:

Tommy Thumb's song-book
Sp Coll Bh13-c.21
The History of Tommy Playlove and Jacky Lovebook
Sp Coll Bh13-c.21
The Discreet Princess, or the adventures of Finetta Sp Coll Bh13-c.29
The story of Little Dick and his playthings
Sp Coll Bh13-c.29
The Valentine's Gift 
Sp Coll Bh13-c.29
The Child's Instructor
Sp Coll Bh13-c.29
Cottage Tales for little people Sp Coll Bh13-c.31
Gammer Gurton's garland of nursery songs
Sp Coll Bh13-c.31
Fun upon Fun; or the humours of the fair  Sp Coll Bh13-c.33
The History of Little King Pippin Sp Coll Bh13-c.35

More generally, there is an extensive collection of ephemera in Special Collections: see, for example, the descriptions for broadsides and chapbooks, and also digitised examples of broadside ballads, and hanging ballads. 

The following works have proved to be useful in writing this article:
Books for the young: An exhibition of books for children and teenagers 1500-1900. Catalogue of an exhibition held in the Hunterian Library, University of Glasgow December 1968 Sp Coll Reference (available in the reading room)
Edward J Cowan and Mike Paterson Folk in Print: Scotland's Chapbook Heritage 1750-1850 Edinburgh: John Donald 2007 English S189 COW 
Victor E Neuberg Chapbooks : a guide to reference material on English, Scottish and American chapbook literature of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries London: Woburn Press 1972  Bibliog D39 1972-N
Victor E Neuberg The penny histories : a study of chapbooks for young readers over two centuries London: Oxford University Press 1968 JNF 828.6 NEU
Andrew O'Malley
The making of the modern child: children's literature and childhood in the late eighteenth century London: Routledge 2003 Gen Lit E1010 OMA
S. Roscoe and R.A. Brimmell James Lumsden and Son of Glasgow: their juvenile books and chapbooks Pinner: Private Libraries Association, 1981 GUL Bibliog D6-L4 1981-R
Victor Watson The Cambridge Guide to Children's Books in English JNF 082 52 WAT2
Jack D Zipes The Oxford Encyclopaedia of Children's Literature Gen Lit qE1010 OXF, 4 v

Return to main Special Collections Exhibition Page

Sharon Lawler May 2008