As we highlight the Baines Collection in our Special Collections Advent Calendar today, I thought it would be appropriate for me to write about two items from the collection based on some material I had prepared when I recently showcased our Special Collections at the UCL Post Graduate Day. The Baines Collection consists of 200 books dating from the 1700s to 1920. This is a collection of children’s books that originally belonged to the Baines Family (many of them have inscriptions providing names of family members to whom the books belonged) and were given in 1955 to the Ministry of Education. The collection
was eventually donated to the IOE in 1992.
These two tiny books (volumes 4 and 5) I chose (Baines 104) were both published around the 1780s and belong to a series of work published in ten volumes entitled The Lilliputian Library or Gulliver’s Museum. The success of Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels early in the century led to publishers to draw on this popularity by associating subsequent children’s publications on Gulliver and Lulliput. The Lilliputian Library or Gulliver’s Museum is an example of one such publication that uses this marketing ploy.
The frontispiece confirms that when first published the complete series cost five British shillings and each volume six pence for the following reason:
…[it is ]but for the convenience of those little Masters and Misses, whole finances may not admit of expending to capital a sum at once, they may be supplied with one or more volumes, weekly or monthly, till the whole work is completed, at Six-pence each.
Five Shillings was a considerable sum in the 18th Century and we can therefore assume
that only middle and higher income families could afford these books -and also were most likely to have the literacy skills to read them. The ten volumes consist of lectures on morality, historical pieces, interesting fables, diverting tales, miraculous voyages, surprising adventures, remarkable lives, poetical pieces, comical jokes and useful letters. This whole formed the “complete system of juvenile knowledge, for the amusement and improvement of all little masters and misses, whether in summer or winter, morning, noon or evening”. The author is given as Lilliputius Gulliver, Citizen of Utopia, and Knight of the most noble Order of Human Prudence. However, it is thought that the series was by a Richard Johnson, a neglected 18th century children’s author, usually described as a ‘hack writer’ for he did not have any qualms about using the work of other authors if he had to to get his commissioned work paid for – see here for more information.
The small size (the books fit in the palm of my hand!) appealed to children who could more easily hold the books in their hands. We often think of miniaturisation as something that is a modern concept with computer devices getting smaller and smaller but in the 18th century, this was a growing phenomenon most evidenced in the trend towards designing dolls houses with smaller and smaller and more intricately designed furniture including book shelves and tiny books that sat on the shelves.
Now let me tell you about these two items in turn.