THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Untold lives blog

116 posts categorized "Arts and crafts"

15 August 2019

Gerasim Lebedev, a Russian pioneer of Bengali Theatre

Add comment

Whilst browsing through a list of inhabitants of Calcutta in the 1790s one particular entry caught my attention.  In June 1794 a Russian musician by the name of Gerasim Lebedev was listed as a resident of Calcutta.  As it seemed unusual to find a Russian in India at that time, I was intrigued to learn more.

List of European Inhabitants in Calcutta June 1794IOR/O/5/26 – Gerasim Lebedeff’s entry in a list of European Inhabitants in Calcutta, June 1794 Noc

Lebedev was born in Yaroslavl Russia in 1749, the eldest son of a church choirmaster.  The family later moved to St Petersburg where Lebedev sang in the choir, performed in theatre and began to learn English, French and German, also teaching himself to play violin.

In 1792 Lebedev accompanied the new Russian Ambassador to Vienna as part of a musical group.  However he left this employment shortly afterwards and began to tour Europe, earning a living as a violinist.

By February 1785 Lebedev was in England.  He sailed for India aboard the East India Company ship Rodney, arriving in Madras in August 1785 where he obtained the patronage of the Mayor, Captain William Sydenham, and earned a living putting on musical programmes.

In August 1787 Lebedev moved to Calcutta where he was to live for the next ten years, and where with the support of a Russian doctor he was able to establish himself as a musician.  Lebedev was interested in Bengali language and music and he is considered to be the first person to perform Indian music on western musical instruments.

In 1791 Lebedev was introduced to a teacher named Goloknath Das who taught him Hindi, Sanskrit and Bengali.  He used his new language skills to translate plays into Bengali and in 1795 he opened the first drama theatre in Calcutta.  The two plays he translated were Love is the Best Doctor by Molière, and The Disguise by M. Jodrelle.  They were performed on 27 November 1795 and again on 21 March 1796, with music composed by Lebedev himself and lyrics from a Bengali poet Bharatchandra Ray.

Poster advertising Lebedev’s first performances of his plays on 27 November 1795Poster advertising Lebedev’s first performances of his plays on 27 November 1795. Image taken from Wikimedia (Public Domain)

The shows were very well received and Lebedev received great encouragement from Calcutta society, including the Governor-General Sir John Shore.  The performances are today considered to be the first performances of modern Indian Theatre.  But Lebedev’s success was short lived as his theatre burned down shortly afterwards.

Lebedev was also involved in several disputes with both the British administration and one of his former employees and was asked to leave India in 1797.  Lebedev returned to London where he set about publishing works on the Indian Languages including A Grammar of the Pure and Mixed Indian East Dialects in 1801.

Lebedev returned to St Petersburg shortly afterwards and was still working there on publications on Indian languages in 1817 when he died at his printing house on 27 July 1817.

Plaque erected in Calcutta in 2009 to mark the location of Lebedev’s theatrePlaque erected in Calcutta in 2009 to mark the location of Lebedev’s theatre. Image taken from Wikimedia. Attribution: By Biswarup Ganguly, CC BY 3.0

In 2009 the Kolkata Municipal Corporation and the Cultural Department of the Russian Federation Consulate in Kolkata erected a plaque in Ezra Street, Kolkata to commemorate the site of the pioneering theatre Lebedev had opened there in 1795.

Karen Stapley
Curator, India Office Records

Further Reading:
A Grammar of the Pure and Mixed East Indian Dialects, by Herasim Lebedeff (London, 1801) V4516.  (The introduction pp. i-viii gives a summary by Lebedev of his life up until the publication of this work.)
IOR/O/5/26 List of European Inhabitants in Calcutta, June 1794.

11 June 2019

Writing with quills

Add comment

Where there’s a quill, there’s a way of telling how old it is; although not infallible it can give an idea.  The clue is by the way it is dressed – how the feathers are cut and shaped.  What many people do not realise is that there are left and right-handed quills depending on which side of the bird’s body the pinions come from.  The last quill in the image below is a left-handed one.

 

QuillsQuills  17thC   17th/18thC  18thC  18th/19thC    19thC
Photos courtesy of Museum of Writing Research Collection-University of London

It’s a feather!  So what?  You can pick them up all over the place.  Maybe, but those feathers charted the course of history and literature for about 1,800 years, when they competed with and eventually lost out to the steel nib.  Many scholars are almost certain now that it was the Romans who changed the feather from an instrument of flight to an instrument of writing with the goose as the main victim.  However, we have to wait half a millennium until we get visual evidence for the quill and that is from a mosaic in the church of San Vitale, Ravenna dating from around 547 AD.

St Matthew writing with a quillSt. Matthew writing with the quill arrowed. The Church of St. Vitale, Ravenna. Photo courtesy of Alan Cole

The quill continued to flourish with almost twenty-four million being imported into London alone in 1831, despite the plentiful supply of steel nibs that had been introduced about eight years earlier.  Quills were used in every walk of life including, of course, by authors and poets.  Among these was Alfred, Lord Tennyson who, whilst living on the Isle of Wight in the mid-1850s, bent the end of his quill and threw it down in disgust.  It was picked up by a local farmer, William Thomas, in whose family it was kept until its donation to the Museum of Writing.

Quill belonging to TennysonThe quill belonging to Alfred, Lord Tennyson showing its bent nib. Photo courtesy of Museum of Writing Research Collection-University of London


Alan Cole
Honorary Consultant, Museum of Writing Research Collection

Come and see Tennyson’s quill in our exhibition Writing: Making Your Mark 

Exhibition poster for Writing - Making Your Mark

 

06 June 2019

William Morris and the Thames

Add comment

In August 1880, William Morris embarked with family and friends on an expedition along the Thames from his home in Hammersmith. The destination was the family’s country residence, Kelmscott Manor in Oxfordshire.

The trip inspired Morris, textile designer, poet and novelist, to write News from Nowhere. This utopic novel focuses on Morris’s socialist ideas, particularly emphasising common ownership of the means of production, and a libertarian, rather than state controlled, socialism.

An exhibition, currently running at Henley River and Rowing Museum explores William Morris’s connection to the Thames and the influence that the river had on his work. The exhibition includes Morris’s autograph manuscript describing his journey along the river, on loan from the British Library (Add MS 45407 A).

Manuscript in the exhibition display
The manuscript on display (left-hand case) in the exhibition, An Earthly Paradise: William Morris and the Thames, at Henley River and Rowing Museum

The manuscript is full of anecdotes and details from their journey. After sharing a joke with a waiter in Sunbury, ‘some of the males of the party seemed to think that they were entitled to indulge in the most abominable puns for the whole of the rest of the journey’.

The party was ‘Towed into the middle of Maidenhead Regatta’ and after reaching Great Marlow that night the Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights, rarely glimpsed in Britain, were visible.

Manuscript page opening
William Morris, Account of river journey from Hammersmith to Kelmscott, Add MS 45407 A, f. 4. © Society of Antiquaries. Reproduced with permission of the Society of Antiquaries.

Once the travelling party reached Henley they ‘stopped for dinner on right bank; W.M. cooked in cabin of Ark; result excellent’. However the dinner was soon interrupted by a group of swans who, luckily, soon ‘retired without breaking any man’s arm’.

The manuscript reveals the spirit of camaraderie between the travelling companions and the details of the people encountered, towns visited and the astounding natural beauty that they witnessed hints at the idyllic world of which Morris was inspired to write.

Another manuscript page opening
William Morris, Account of river journey from Hammersmith to Kelmscott, Add MS 45407 A, f. 5. © Society of Antiquaries. Reproduced with permission of the Society of Antiquaries.

An Earthly Paradise: William Morris & The Thames runs until 14 July at Henley River and Rowing Museum and includes hand-drawn textile designs, a signed copy of News from Nowhere, materials from the Morris & Co. workshop, along with his Thames series of textiles.

Stephen Noble
Modern Archives and Manuscripts

Follow us on Twitter @BL_ModernMSS

28 May 2019

The history of the pencil

Add comment

The British Library exhibition Writing: Making Your Mark tells the story of how writing flows through the last 5000 years of human history.  Visitors might easily pass by three little pieces of lead in one of the cases.   They are the predecessors of the pencil, one of the favourite writing tools of the last couple of centuries, used by generations of schoolchildren, note-takers, artists and, of course, librarians.

Leads for writing
Three lengths of lead drawn to a point for writing and drawing either specifically for that purpose or taken from stained glass windows and adapted.  Photo courtesy of Museum of Writing Research Collection - University of London

From earlier times, and in particular the Middle Ages, lumps of lead have been used for drawing or planning manuscripts.  Lead leaves a dense silvery line that can be overwritten in ink or paint.

The word ‘pencil’ comes from Old French pincel, and Latin penicillus or a "little tail" , and originally referred to an artist's fine brush of camel hair in the Middle Ages, although the use of a form of brush for drawing goes back to the early petrograph or cave paintings.  From that the stylus developed, sometimes being made of lead, hence our erroneous term for the writing core of a pencil. 

Representation of Philosophy with a brush and a pot in the History of Alexander the Great Representation of Philosophy with a brush and a pot in the History of Alexander the Great (England, 11th century) Royal MS 13 A I, f. 1v

Silverpoint is a drawing technique that dates back to the late Gothic/early Renaissance period.  It was used by artists including Jan van Eyck, Leonardo da Vinci, Albrecht Dürer and Raphael.  Silverpoint is one variety of metalpoint, where a wire is drawn across the surface of the paper leaving a feint silver line, although lighter than a lead.  Using a stylus or silverpoint, it is not very easy to erase a sentence or even one character. This changed with the widespread use of graphite.

Pencil sketch for a painted initial in an 11th-century Gospel Book from Flanders Pencil sketch for a painted initial in an 11th-century Gospel Book from Flanders Stowe MS 3, f. 11v

The modern pencil was invented in 1795 by Nicholas-Jacques Conte, a scientist serving in the army of Napoleon Bonaparte.  Conte’s original process for manufacturing pencils involved roasting a mixture of water, clay and graphite in a kiln at 1,900 degrees Fahrenheit before encasing the resulting soft solid in a wooden surround.  The shape of that surround can be square, polygonal or round, depending on the pencil’s intended use.  The hardness or softness of the final pencil ‘lead’ can be determined by adjusting the relative fractions of clay and graphite in the roasting mixture.

Oldest known pencil in the worldThe oldest known pencil in the world, found in timbered house built in 1630.  Image courtesy: Faber-Castell

Graphite was first discovered in Europe, in Bavaria at the start of the 15th century; although the Aztecs had used it as a marker several hundred years earlier.  The purest deposits of lump graphite were found in Borrowdale near Keswick in the Lake District in 1564, which spawned a smuggling industry and associated black economy in the area.  Appreciated for leaving a darker mark than lead, the mineral proved so soft and brittle that it required a holder.  Originally, graphite sticks were wrapped in string.  Later, the graphite was inserted into hollowed-out wooden sticks and, thus, the wood-cased pencil was born.  During the 19th century a major pencil manufacturing industry developed around Keswick in order to exploit the high quality of the graphite.  The first factory opened in 1832 under the name of Banks, Son & Co, now the Derwent Cumberland Pencil Company.  Cumberland pencils were those of the highest quality because the graphite left no dust and marked the paper clearly.

Alan E. Cole
Hon Consultant, Museum of Writing Research Collection, University of London.

Come and see some of the first pencils and pens together with some brilliant examples of their use by everyday people as well as some famous hands of science, exploration and history in our exhibition Writing: Making Your Mark

Exhibition poster for Writing - Making Your Mark

 

12 March 2019

Felix Slade and his bindings bequest

Add comment


Felix Slade (1788-1868) was a lawyer, philanthropist and collector.  Born in Lambeth, he was the youngest of four sons and yet inherited his father’s estate.  He never married, instead devoting himself to the law and to collecting antiquities, fine bindings, glass and prints.  He supported many societies and funds, such as the Nightly Shelter for the Houseless, and lent items from his collection to public exhibitions including the 1857 Manchester Art Treasures Exhibition.  He belonged to the Society of Antiquaries and is widely remembered today for endowing three Slade Professorships of Fine Art at Oxford University, Cambridge University and University College London.  At the British Library, we remember Slade for his bequest of fine bindings to the British Museum (subsequently transferred to the British Library in 1973).

A drawing of Felix Slade by Margaret CarpenterA drawing of Slade by Margaret Carpenter now in the British Museum 1874,0314.1

The bequest consists of twenty-five fine bindings from the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries.  It contains examples of work by notable binders and includes various styles with English, French and Italian bindings well represented.  It also contains books bound for royalty, including King Charles I, Emperor Maximilian II and Henry III of France.  Here is a small selection of bindings from the bequest:
 

 Binding covering a copy of La Cyropedie (Paris, 1547)

This binding covers a copy of La Cyropedie (Paris, 1547).  It belonged to the royal library of King Edward VI of England (1547-1553), son of Henry VIII.  The leather is 16th-century English calf, tooled in gold and painted, with Edward’s arms on each cover. A similar binding is described here, and attributed to the King Edward and Queen Mary Royal Binder.

18th-century mosaic binding by Jean Charles Henri Le Monnier

An 18th-century mosaic binding by Jean Charles Henri Le Monnier, from a well-known dynasty of Parisian bookbinders.  He signed his bindings by gold tooling his name in tiny lettering on each cover.
 

Binding from the library of Apollonio Filareto

This is a rare survival from the library of Apollonio Filareto (fl. 1537-1547) Private Secretary to the Farnese family in Renaissance Italy.  The bindings on his books bear an impresa, or personal device, of an eagle soaring above a sea containing shoals of fish.  This also has “APLLONII PHILARETI” tooled in gold on the lower cover.  Filareto’s books all have fine 16th-century Italian medallion bindings.  The only comparable bindings from this period are those bearing an Apollo and Pegasus device made for Giovanni Battista Grimaldi (c.1524-1612), a Genoese banker and book collector who operated in the same social circles as Filareto.

 18th-century gold tooled goatskin binding by Antoine Michel Padeloup le Jeune
An 18th-century gold tooled goatskin binding by Antoine Michel Padeloup le Jeune for Marie Louise Adelaide de Bourbon Penthievre (1753-1821), whose arms are stamped in gold on the inside of the covers.  Padeloup was appointed royal bookbinder to King Louis XV and Madame de Pompadour in 1733.

Maddy Smith
Printed Heritage Collections

Further reading:
British Museum Library’s Donations Register 1866-1871 pp. 178-9.
To see more bindings bequeathed by Slade go to the Library’s online database of bookbindings and type “Felix Slade” into the Quick Search box.

 

15 February 2019

JMW Turner’s First and Last Loves (Part 2)

Add comment

Our last post told the story of Elizabeth White, the first love of artist JMW Turner. Today we turn to his last love - Sophia Booth.

Sophia Caroline Nollte was born in Dover, in 1798, to German immigrant parents.  She moved to Margate when she married a local fisherman, John Henry Pound, in 1818.  Sadly, he drowned in 1821, leaving her with two sons, Joseph, who died before he was six, and Daniel.

In 1825 she married John Booth, who described himself as 'a gentleman of Margate'.  He was 37 years older than her.  They established a guest house on the seafront in Margate, near the harbour.  In 1826 Sophia gave birth to a son, John Pound Booth, who died of cholera in 1832.  John Booth also succumbed to cholera in 1833 and so, once again, Sophia was left a widow, with one surviving child, Daniel Pound.

Turner stayed in the Booth guest-house from about 1829, favouring the location because of the quality of the light.  After John Booth’s death he began a relationship with Sophia.  Turner’s friend, Charles Turner (no relation) described Sophia as being like a fat cook with no discernible education.  But Turner’s love for Sophia was romantic; he wrote her poems and gave her drawings.

Turner's A Sleeping Woman, perhaps Mrs Booth

Joseph Mallord William Turner, A Sleeping Woman, Perhaps Mrs Booth c.1830–40 Photo © Tate CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0 (Unported)

In 1846 they moved to Davis Place, Cremorne Road, Chelsea, which is now part of Cheyne Walk.  The house was rented in Sophia’s name and the neighbours assumed that Turner was Mr Booth.  He habitually wore a naval greatcoat and was known as 'Puggy Booth' or 'The Admiral' in the area.  Turner died in the house in 1851.

After Turner’s death, Sophia told his friend, David Roberts, that Turner never made any financial contribution to their life together but that he had composed verses in honour of 'herself and her personal charms' and had been jealous.  She claimed that he had told her that she was 'the handmaid of art'.

In December 1852, Sophia’s son, Daniel Pound, who had become an engraver, applied for a passport.  His travelling companions were named as his mother and Gustave Philip de Garlieb, a Danish-born engraver who worked at the Ordnance Survey. His address was the same street as Sophia, so he was either a neighbour or, possibly, a lodger.  Where did they go and what was the reason for their trip?  I am still looking for clues.

Sophia became friendly with John Ruskin, Turner’s artistic executor, and sold him some of Turner’s notebooks.  Ruskin gave her gifts, including the oval self-portrait miniature of Turner as a boy.  Turner’s first biographer, Walter Thornbury, portrayed Sophia as acting in a mercenary way after his death but Ruskin and other friends thought that this was unfair.  She had, after all, burned Turner’s letters to her rather than sell them and she gave away many of his other possessions.

In 1865, her son, Daniel Pound, sold some of the Turner paintings she owned for £4,000 and bought Haddenham Hall, in Buckinghamshire, for £1,000, where she lived until her death in 1878, aged 80.  She asked to be buried at St John’s Church, Margate, so Turner’s first and last loves lie in the same churchyard.

Grave of Sophia Booth at St John's Church Margate

Grave of Sophia Booth at St John's Church Margate Grave of Sophia Booth at St John's Church Margate - photographs by author

David Meaden
Independent Researcher

Further reading:
Franny Moyle, The Extraordinary Life and Momentous Times of J.M.W.Turner (London, 2016)
Felicity Myrone , J. M. W. Turner and his World: John Platt (1842-1902), a Late Victorian Extra-illustrator, and his Collection Electronic British Library Journal

 

Turner's House logo

Turner’s restored house in Twickenham is currently open Wednesday-Sunday: 12 –1pm: Self-guided visits, and 1-4pm: Guided Tours (Last entry: 3:30pm)

 

14 February 2019

JMW Turner’s First and Last Loves (Part 1)

Add comment

Valentine’s Day would seem to be an appropriate time to look at the romantic life of the great painter, JMW Turner.  There were many women in Turner’s life, at least one of whom bore him children, but he never married.  The disparaging comments he made about matrimony were probably formed by his observation of his parents’ troubled marriage and perhaps as the result of an early experience.

Today we look at Turner’s first love - Elizabeth White.

When things were difficult at home, and for the benefit of his health, the young Turner would often stay for long periods with relations, notably his maternal uncle, Joseph Marshall, who was a butcher in Brentford.  In 1787, the twelve-year-old Turner moved from Brentford to stay with friends in Margate, where he attended Thomas Coleman’s school in Love Lane.  One of his school friends was Edward White, whose sister, Elizabeth, was the same age as Turner.  Young William was strongly attracted to Elizabeth and, after he returned to London, he visited Margate frequently throughout the early 1790s and the relationship blossomed.  Turner’s problem was that he did not feel that the state of his finances made it possible for him to propose marriage.

Turner's Margate harbour from the sea 1786-87Joseph Mallord William Turner, Margate Harbour from the Sea 1796–7 Photo © Tate CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0 (Unported)

After his success at the Royal Academy Exhibition of 1796, Turner felt himself sufficiently established to propose to Elizabeth and set off down to Margate, only to find that she had become engaged to a local man, Richard Wiles.  Some of Turner’s biographers describe Wiles as a builder – he wasn’t, he was a publican.  The marriage licence describes him as Richard Wiles of St John, Thanet, innkeeper, bachelor, and the newspaper report of the wedding, in 1798, describes him as of The Bull’s Head Inn.  The confusion is probably because his parents were also Richard and Elizabeth. There is still a Bull’s Head on the site, where, in 1952, Eric Morecambe (Bartholomew) had his wedding reception when he married the landlord’s daughter, Joan Bartlett.

Turner was devastated and his friends’ accounts suggest that he suffered some form of breakdown. Sadly, Elizabeth did not enjoy a long or happy life. Her son, another Richard, was born in October 1799 but died in February 1800.  Elizabeth herself died the following year, aged 26, but I have not been able to discover the cause of her death.

Elizabeth is buried in the churchyard of St John the Baptist Church, Margate. 

St John's Church MargateSt John's Church Margate from New Ramsgate, Margate, and Broadstairs Guide (Ramsgate, 1855?)

Wiles family grave at St John's Church MargateWiles family grave at St John's Church Margate - photograph by author

I assume that Turner knew of Elizabeth’s death from her brother or one of his other contacts in Margate but I can find no record of this.  It is, however, a reasonable assumption that this early experience contributed to Turner’s jaundiced view of relationships and marriage in particular.

David Meaden
Independent Researcher

Further reading:
Franny Moyle, The Extraordinary Life and Momentous Times of J.M.W.Turner (London, 2016)
Kentish Weekly Post or Canterbury Journal 27 November 1798 British Newspaper Archive
Felicity Myrone, 'J. M. W. Turner and his World: John Platt (1842-1902), a Late Victorian Extra-illustrator, and his Collection' Electronic British Library Journal

JMW Turner’s First and Last Loves (Part 2)

Turner's House logo
Turner’s restored house in Twickenham is currently open Wednesday-Sunday: 12 –1pm: Self-guided visits, and 1-4pm: Guided Tours (Last entry: 3:30pm)

 

19 December 2018

Christmas bound

Add comment

'Do give books - religious or otherwise - for Christmas. They're never fattening, seldom sinful, and permanently personal.' Sound advice from American magazine editor Lenore Hershey (1919-1997).

19th century green paper over boards on Naughty Boys and Girls 11526.f.1. 19c green paper over boards on Naughty Boys and Girls [1852].

Those of us born ‘non digital’ would have regularly received a festive book or two; an annual, collections of fairy tales, ghost stories or Christmas verse.  Whatever the subject, the bindings were invariably attractive. Mass production techniques developed in the 19th century meant that books once hand-bound in leather were now available in inexpensive cloth or paper covers.  The emerging middle classes in Victorian England had money to spare for the purchase of extras, notably books, and if they were instructional as well as aesthetically appealing, all the better.  Artists were employed to decorate the bindings and they often ‘advertised’ by incorporating their initials into their designs.  Notable were John Leighton, also Albert Henry Warren, William Harry Rogers and William Ralston.  Examples of their work are below.

Naturally, Christmas would not be Christmas without Charles Dickens, particularly as many of his stories were set in the festive season.  Their popularity was a money-spinner for author and publishers alike.

Cover of Christmas Stories from the Household Words. Conducted by Charles Dickens12623.g.25. Christmas Stories from the Household Words. Conducted by Charles Dickens. [The extra Christmas numbers for 1850-1858.]

Victorian publishers exploited this lucrative new market to tailor books to the tastes of children, although the two depicted in the song book below seem somewhat depressed at the prospect!

  Stories for the Little Ones - Gold blocked cloth binding designed by William Ralston11602.cc.30. Gold blocked cloth binding designed by William Ralston.  Note the initials WR towards the centre of the tail edge.

Some children’s picture books retained a didactic flavour.  The upper cover of Simple Hans and other funny pictures and stories proclaimed 'Oh children, children come and see / This funny picture-book for you and me/ Bought by our Mama dear! / So that we may grow good and wise / And ‘neath a merry laugh’s disguise/ Learn naughty ways to fear'.

Other themes were more fun, ranging from the snowy weather to seasonal tales and traditional toys.

Jack Frost & Betty Snow - Gold blocked cloth binding designed by John Leighton
12807.b.53. Gold blocked cloth binding designed by John Leighton.

Paper binding over boards on King Nutcracker, 1854.12806.e.12. Paper binding over boards on King Nutcracker, 1854.

Gold blocked cloth binding designed by Albert Henry Warren on Tales of the Toys, 1869 12807.ee.35.  Gold blocked cloth binding designed by Albert Henry Warren on Tales of the Toys, 1869 and bound by Bone and son of London.

Books could also promote sociability and enhance family life.  After the grand Christmas dinner, chapters containing stories, jokes, nonsense verse and other favourites could be read aloud and enjoyed by everyone.
 

Gold blocked cloth binding on Lewis Caroll’s The Hunting of the Snark, 1876.W14/4782.  Gold blocked cloth binding on Lewis Caroll’s The Hunting of the Snark, 1876.


Paper binding over boards on A bushel of merry-thoughts, 1868 designed by William Harry Rogers (RB.31.a.43. Paper binding over boards on A bushel of merry-thoughts, 1868 designed by William Harry Rogers (his intertwined initials are beneath the red pennant to the left).

Serious-minded relatives or godparents who held themselves responsible for the spiritual or moral well-being of their young kinsfolk, sometimes felt it appropriate to give them devotional or educational works.  One can only hope that they were not quizzed on the contents!

Five spines from gold blocked cloth bindings Spines from gold blocked cloth bindings (taken from the Library’s online image databse of bookbindings).

Annuals were popular, particularly as gifts to older children who could be trusted to read quietly to themselves (perhaps whilst the adults had an after dinner nap).

Peter Parley's Annual - Gold blocked publisher’s cloth binding 1860PP.6750. Gold blocked publisher’s cloth binding on an 1860 annual (note the designer’s signature MAC below the date). This was a gift from father to son as indicated by the manuscript notes inside: "Dec. 21st 1859. To My Dear Son Denis. A Reward for attention to his studies. D H Donnell".

 

Detail from the paper cover of London out of town12352.a.3. Detail from the paper cover of London out of town.  The price was one shilling.

In 1844, John Leighton wrote and illustrated the amusing London out of town. Or the adventures of the Browns at the sea side.  It was one of the earliest comic books and appealed to old and young alike.

Merry Christmas and merry reading!

Cover of Christmas Rhymes and New Year's Chimes11649.f.22. Blocked in colours on cloth. Mary D Brine, [Christmas Rhymes and New Year's Chimes ... Illustrated.] [1890] 

P. J. M. Marks
Curator, Bookbindings. Printed Heritage Collections

Further reading:
Edmund M. B. King, Victorian Decorated Trade Bindings, 1830-1880: A Descriptive Bibliography. The British Library and Oak Knoll Press, 2003.
The Victorian Web

With thanks to Gillian Ridgley.