A Lively Experiment

Notes on collections at the RIHS

Object Thursday: Little Benjamin, or, Confess your Faults

Little eyes and little hands needed books too. The Rhode Island Historical Society holds a lovely collection of children’s books from the 18th and 19th centuries and a selection of them is currently on display at the Library as part of “Beware the Woods: Children’s Books of the Past”, the R.I. Center for the Book’s 2013 Art of the Book Program,

The Society’s earliest book for children is The American Latin Grammar: or, A Compleat Introduction to the Latin Tongue. Printed by John Carter in Providence in 1780. It was owned by William Marchant (1775-1856), the son of R.I. Continental Congress delegate and U.S. federal judge Henry Marchant (1741-1796). The Society was lucky to welcome the entire Marchant Library and Papers in the 1970’s. This delightful imprint has William’s inscription as well as a threat from an anonymous friend warning him to not leave his book lying about other people’s rooms.

Latin Grammar, 1780

The majority of the exhibit is books that were printed in Rhode Island, with a special exception of a Royal Primer that was printed in Glasgow, Scotland in 1795 and also owned by William Marchant. Early children’s books are probably most known for their incredible woodcut engravings and the Royal Primer has a fantastic alphabet sampled here:

Royal Primer Detail

In 1831, Providence printer Hugh Hale Brown (1792-1863) produced an entire run of child-size chapbooks with exciting cautionary titles including: Conversion and Happy Death of Sarah Fuller, Gray Hairs Made Happy. An Interesting Story for Children., Mischief Its Own Punishment; Exemplified in the History of William and Harry., and James and Joseph; or the Contrast Between Industry and Indolence. Brown interchanged many of the illustrations and this series is just as fun for adults.

Wolf with mark

This certificate of merit from the RIHS Ephemera Collection was written for a little Rhode Island girl named Anna M. Hineman at an unknown date in the 19th century and may sum up many people’s school days.

G1173 Ephemera Collection

G1173 Ephemera Collection

There are children’s book exhibits going on around the state this month and the keynote lecture for the Art of the Book Program is this Saturday, 9/28 at 2 p.m. at the John Carter Brown Library: “Vivid Imaginations: the History of the McLoughlin Bros.” Laura E. Wasowicz, Curator of Children’s Literature at the American Antiquarian Society, will profile the firm that pioneered color printing technologies in the mid-19th century and gave us the children’s picture book as we now know it.

For the full program of exhibits and events go to http://ribook.org/art-of-the-book/

~Phoebe Bean, M.L.S., Librarian


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