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JF Ptak Science Books Post 1966 Part of the series on Antique Children's Art

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It is difficult to find children's art from the 19th century–original work, printed work, published work. Very difficult–perhaps even more so for the published work than the manuscript. It is easy to understand why: first, the children would need access to paper and pencil or pen and ink–items that had some cost, that were not inexpensive, not available to the vast majority of children. Their work was ephemeral, produced on slate, or in horn books, or in charcoal on a wall, or in dust. Then, if the children did manage to record their creativity, then it would have to survive a generation of possessionship within their own lifetimes–to survive from the first part of the 19th century, the paperwork would have to survive five generations or more, 150+ years of house cleanings. Tough odds.

Manuscript--blank book017One way that this artwork survives is accidentally, as in the case below. Scribbles, notes, sketches, finding their way into ledgers and notebooks and works for children–the book closed, placed on a shelf, and perhaps forgotten. Put away in a trunk, saved in an attic, stored. And then, finally, found again after a century or two. Opened, the book of seeming nothingness is loaded with, well, everything. In this glorious example, ironically titled Blank Books, the books are anything but, now. This notebook was intended as a Ledger for the Merchant, and there was a bit of that done…but at some point, the ledger became a practice book, a tablet. And from the looks of it, from the scribbled date in practice signatures over the ledger columns, that change took place around 1868.

And in the blank spaces of the ledger and notations appear all sorts of everyday things, the sort of stuff that might be invisible to an adult because we take it for granted–perhaps not so with children, who might be fascinated by these objects because they have only been cognizant human beings for a few years. (It never fails to amaze me when I look at the photographs that our daughters made when they were three or four, wandering–and I could write "wondering"–around the house with a digicam. The images they recorded were things that were mostly part of the background hum of everyday life for me, except that their pictures were made at their eye level and gave a new meaning to these objects, for me.) What the child/children recorded in this dead ledger were common objects in 1868. Perhaps they are of a forgotten commonness. Whatever the case, it gives these objects a renewed interest to the observer of the future and our present simply because a child saw fit to draw them in the limited space in which they could draw.

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Manuscript--blank book020

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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post

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In my collecting of antique children's art (that is, art produced by children from 1880 and earlier) I've stumbled across a number of interesting other associated, relateable, things. One such item is this manuscript copy–from 1827–of a much older children's warning/lesson poem, called "The Lamentable Story of Wicked Polly", a scare-the-kids-to-death kind of poem, instilling (and installing) a very healthy dosage of the wrath of god, a falling away from the just Jesus, and the regretably-late realization on the everlasting pain of sin. A rosey children's lullaby it is not.

[The lyrics are below; click on the images for a more legible resolution.]

But the side interest here is literally at the side, a perhaps revealing bit of marginalia in which the copyist has recorded the names of 54 children (I imagine). Are these names the names of classmates, other children in school, kids in town? There are 26 girls and 28 boys; the girls, as it turns out, have 9 different names; the 28 boys have 18 different names. I wonder why? The girls have the following names (and with the number of holders): Ann (7), Ekiza (4), Mary (4), Hannah (3), Sarah (3), Mary (3), Jane (2) and then one each for Lydia, Sidney and Maria.

The boys have more imaginative names: most popular are William (4) and John (4); this is followed by Joseph (3), James (2), and Abraham (2). The rest of the names are single-uses, and include: Achilles, Joshua, George, Absolom, Enos, Thomas, Pinkney, Charles, Edward, Zachoria, Isaac, Dening and Reason. This is a small and unexpected sample, but it is interesting nonetheless–I don't even have an explanation, just this observation.

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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post

I am not sure that I have ever seen an image of an orchestra composed entirely of children, so I reprint this, found in the pages of an 1876 volume of Punch Magazine.



JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post

I've written a number of posts in this blog about the great scarcity of the antiquarian published art of children (here) and couldn't help but make a quick post of this very recent find. It occurs in the page of the August issue of the London Punch, and even though graffiti, this is definitely the artwork of a child, crept into the page of a popular journal. And as I say in a number of early posts, this work is really quite rare.

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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post [Part of the antiquarian art for/by children series.]

Kid art840 –The Sublime Antiquarian Art of Children, here.

–An Image Addition to a Series of Posts on the Antiquarian Publication of Artwork by Children, here.

–The Great Rarity and Sublimity of Antiquarian Artwork by Children, here.

I've written a number of posts to this blog on what I find to be a rare aspect of illustration–antiquarian publishing of artwork by children. As explained in some of the earlier pieces (linked above) it seems to me that artwork made by children appear generally by chance, although this work starts to make a few appearances in late 19th and early 20th century pedagogical works on how to teach children in school and the layout of the classroom. But in general, the work just didn't see much light of day in the publishing world.

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This image, found in the 24 January 1888 issue of Punch, or the London Charivari magazine, comes close to the issue, but not really–I'm sure that the work is that of one of the magazine's full-time illustrators. But the fates are in this image's favor simply for bringing attention to the art of the very young. I particularly like the image at bottom, with the small boy working hard at whatever is on his paper in the lap of his muse, with drawing graffiti on the wall over his head.

The key to the images, below:

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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post

The very Gorey-ish title of this book–seemingly designed to manufacture accidents for children–is actually a children's advocate book. Its a small book, a chapbook, made for small hands, produced on the cheap and meant to be consumed by children and adults alike, warning people of the commonplace dangers that called on children in the 1830's. Scalding, being kicked by a horse, falling, being injured while playing with knives and candles and firearms, crossing the street, being tossed by a bull or wild horse, falling out of a coach, drowning, playing and throwing stones, tumbling down stairs and the like made a devastating impact on the lives of children–sometimes ending them, as the author points out. By pointing out these dangers, and by having them read by (or to) children, the author believed that the lives of thousands of children could be saved.

[Image sources: Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.]

The mission statement:

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He was correct, of course; its a legendary problem trying to protect children from the obvious.

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I hardly expected the story that I found in this little square pamphlet, particularly since I had selected it because of its cover art.

Jack of the Bean Fields–written by Nina Millen and published by the Friendship Press of New York–turns out to be a photo-essay on one seasonal adventure of a boy named Jack Marco and his migrant vegetable-picking family. The story starts with the family in a bad way, heading out on the road in a broken car filled with Jack’s mother, father, grandmother and three siblings, out to find a camp where they could find jobs picking early beans.

Depression579 As the family fixes the car, Jack heads out to play in the fields, where he finds a book. We find that–at age 8 or thereabouts–Jack hasn’t been taught to read and hasn’t been to school in years, and the family doesn’t own a single book. The family gets underway, finds a camp, and moves into an empty unit in a series of shanties. They clean the place up, and Jack lays his book on a shelf. “Now we are settled again” announces Ma. Wincing.


In a story that could have been a very maudlin or saccharin affair, it was surprisingly matter-of-fact, eventually telling how community and church groups appeared through the intercession of a camp nurse to help the migrant families, clothe the children, and send them to school.


The war was underway, the Depression was on its way out, the economy was beginning to bounce–but then, as today, there were migrant farmers–they just weren’t being displaced by Dust Bowl factors anymore. But, basically, it was a good story for kids, focused mainly on appreciating what we have and our small gifts, such as family–and the ability to read.

JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post

Part of this blog's series on The Antiquarian Publication of Children's Artwork

Continuing an earlier post on the Great Rarity and Sublimity of Antiquarian Artwork by Children

I have found another small bit to add to the few posts I've made on this blog concerning the wide, vacant spaces of antiquarian publications of children's artwork. Its a small bit, but every bit is very difficult to come by:

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I think that I can safely say that artwork by children does not make very many appearances in Western art prior to the 20th century–published images just don't appear. Nor do the originals–considering the ephemeral nature of the effort at art by children, their work just don't seem to survive. Some of that reason–particularly in America–was the scarcity of materials for kids to produce art with: paper was not inexpensive, and neither brushes and paints. Crayons, invented for chubby and reachy fingers, were not invented for the mass market until 1903. ( Crayola sold eight crayons in a box for a nickel. The colors? Black, brown, blue, red, purple, orange, yellow, and green.) Then of course the artwork would have to be saved, somehow, for generations. As much as it would be fascinating to find artwork done at age four by your great-great grandparents, it would have to survive the cleansing tendencies of four generations of clean-up. End result: there's just not that much antiquarian chldrens' art floating around…

(Continue reading here.)

JF Ptak Science Books Post 1383

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I have a small collection of 18th and 19th century notebooks–ciphering books, tally books, keepsakes–kept by children and young adults. These books are remarkable for their contents, empty scratchbooks filled with whatever was necessary, whatever was important, whatever was trivial. There are notes about who-owes-what, provisions purchased, goods borrowed; mathematics problems, poesie, miniature observations, memorized bits. Signatures made over and over again, looking exactly like what children do nowadays, practicing writing their names, perfecting a signature, identifying themselves to themselves in private. These notebooks are far less formal say than a diary–they caught all sorts of ephemera of the day, stray information, all manner of stray bits. (This notebook is also available from our blog bookstore, here.)

In this notebook, used between 1811 and 1836, there are also repeated personal lessons and life's aphorisms, generally one page each, written over and over, practicing penmanship by repeating the advice,

"Youth is the season for acquiring knowledge" and "Temperance is the last guardian of health":

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I find it remarkable that this small item–about 8×5 inches, and having no more than 30 pages–survived in somewhat haphazard and occasionally directed use for more than 25 years. Then again, paper wasn't all that terribly common among the working poor in the United States at this time, so it is very understandable that this notebook would've been kept, and carefully so, as an important household object–and possibly a significant family-history document. For those of us today this looks like disposable information, ephemeral knowledge–evidence would say that this was definitely not the case when this book was still being used.

"Vanity is a Disgrace to shining Qualities":

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"Wit is most agreeable when set off by beauty":

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And the cover:, which is a curious thing, as someone kept track of "days" on a number of occasions here, not the least of which ran across the top of the book:
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The record of items purchased, of money charged for labor, allows us a peep into the daily working life during the first part of the 19th century:

Purchases made included 2 pounds of butter (15 cents), six pounds and a half of veal ($2.00), a gallon of molasses (30 cents), "half a berril of flower" (3 dollars), a pound of wool (12 cents), plus pork, potatoes, tea, salt, corn, rye

The labor is also of interest: renting the services of two yoke of oxen for one day seems to have cost one dollar, "tapping in a pair of boots" (30 cents), "one day's work on shaving hoops" (50 cents), and then many entries for "one days work a planting" and "a mowing" which seems to have been 50 cents; "hauling wood one day" was also 50 cents. It seems as though you could exchange a day's labor for two pounds of butter, a pound of wool, and two pounds of potatoes–at hose rates, I suspect that these people would've considered the veal to be a luxury meal.

JF Ptak Science Books

"Do You Want to be a Whale or a Eagel?"[sic]

Walking down the hall of my daughter Tess' school today I came across these absolutely brilliant displays of information tacked up on bulletin boards. The kids polled their classmates on whether they would rather be a whale or an eagle. The designs of the survey results were staggering to me, purely brilliant reasoning and expression.

The results here are magnificently displayed, elegant and crisp, and of course with a child's beauty.


Another astonishing work of private clarity–I really do need to interview the statistician to find out the deep depth of what is being presented here. It is just beautiful.


And even though I don't quite follow this one, there is a LOT of effort in it: perhaps the kids were asked to raise their hands for a whale and to stand to be an eagle. Those hands though I have seen drawn in books and manuscripts going back to the 12th century–they have stayed basically the same for 800 years.

My best wishes and congratulations to these children at Isaac Dickson School, Asheville, North Carolina.