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