The Hidden Treasures within The Museum of Childhood

Eliza Cottington

Following on from Fiona’s piece on her brilliant work at The Signet Library, I wanted to delve into the Museum world that I have found myself in as part of the work placement module on the MSc in Book History. I have had the privilege of exploring the genre of children’s literature at Edinburgh’s Museum of Childhood. This wonderful Museum has a vast, eclectic collection which encompasses a bookstore containing 15 to 20,000 books. Due to the financial constraints of a local authority museum however, and the magnitude of the task to accession all of the Museum’s books, they are a source of untapped treasures.

I have had the delight of working specifically with the Museum’s special collection of books. I was given free reign by the Museum’s curator, Lyn Stevens, to dive into the unaccessioned boxes and choose which were of interest to me and thus what I would like to work on. It quickly became apparent that there would be many that held captivating stories of publishers, binders and the children who had owned them.

Most of the books I have accessioned so far have dated between 1790 and 1850 and were donated to the Museum in the first couple of decades of it opening (1955-1975). The Museum’s founder Patrick Murray had his own unique style of accessioning the objects and often left books out of the register completely. This has caused issues for the current staff who have inherited his bizarre numbering system and who have the task of unpicking items that were not recorded or multiple objects that were lumped together under one accession number. Most of the books however, are unaccessioned, which has given me the chance to learn the precise workings of the Museum’s collections information system EMu. This opportunity has enabled me to research in detail the books I am working with to create a full record that hopefully, in the future, will be accessible to the public.

A Series of Prints of English History. Printed and Sold by John Marshall. Date unknown.

One of the trends that has become visible is how we continue to give books as gifts. There were multiple inscriptions in the books to relatives and friends. But it was also exciting to see how children interacted with their books. Some used them to practice their signatures whilst others followed the spelling rules and had a go at the teachings. Many books from this period were didactic and were for educational instruction, a sharp contrast to the beautifully illustrated children’s books of today. The special collection reflects the beginning of the market for children’s literature; many publishers who helped push it forward as a legitimate literary form are present in the collection, including John Marshall and Newberry & Harris (the later form of John Newberry’s publishing firm).

Inscription: Miss Bridget Robertson from Uncle Frank 30th Dec 1828

Uncovering who had owned some of the books has also been enthralling. One exciting find was the name William Kirk Dickson. When this inscription was written he was nine years old but he was to go onto become the librarian at The Faculty of Advocates and then the first head librarian at the National Library of Scotland from 1925 to 1931. Whilst working at the Advocates library he helped establish the NLS and advocate for its current location on George IV Bridge.

My work placement has been a brilliant opportunity to gain an understanding of the inner workings of a museum and the process of accessioning. I have been able to take the time to study books I would otherwise never have seen. The Museum’s book collection is an exciting source of the history of British childhood and for the material study of the book. I hope more people will see the value in this collection so it can assist researchers in the future.


Report by Eliza Cottington, current MSc student, Book History and Material Culture

Rogue or respected businesswoman? Mary Cooper and the role of 18th-century trade publishers

By Isobel Goodman, MSc Book History and Material Culture

London-based bookseller, Mary Cooper, inherited and successfully ran her late husband Thomas’s business at Paternoster Row from 1743 to 1761. A trade publisher by profession, her name frequently appears on extant publications; from some of the earliest printed children’s literature, and scholarly works in Latin, to controversial religious pamphlets of the Enlightenment era.

Michael Treadwell suggests that trade publishers performed three roles: to provide a distribution network for books self-financed by authors or printers, to present convenient means of selling cheaper works like pamphlets, and to put their own names to imprints of potentially controversial works to protect copyright holders. Despite her evident success, and little contemporary evidence of how she was regarded, the latter role has caused Cooper to be unfairly labelled a “rogue” by some historians (Brant and Rousseau, p. 6). Yet, contrary to building a business based on controversy, during her lifetime Cooper appears to have cultivated an image of legitimate success in a profession heavily reliant on reputation and personal connections.

Contemporary descriptions paint a neutral picture of trade publishers. Dunton’s 1705 Life and Errors (Treadwell, p. 114) observes their merely making “a specialty of publishing books, pamphlets and periodicals for others”, and Dyche’s 1740 Dictionary (image 687) defines someone who “has his name put at the bottom of pamphlets, news-papers, &c. tho’ the property is in another person, to whom he is accountable for the sale”. These definitions, in turn, are certainly applicable to Cooper, who appears on the imprint of many shorter works as a legitimate distributor. Bookseller Robert Dodsley of Pall Mall, for example, collaborated with Cooper on 167 of his publications; likely, in part, because her location in Paternoster Row was conveniently close to the heart of the bookselling community and City trade.

A Dodsley/Cooper imprint. Cambridge, Richard Owen. The Scribleriad: an heroic poem. Book III. (London, 1751) [Main Lib Spec Colls S*.25.18/3]

Henry Dell’s poem The Booksellers (1766) illustrates that success within the competitive London book trade was heavily dependent on reputation. His observations cuttingly remark on the location, goods, demeanour and even accents of the London traders. Belanger has pieced together Dell’s anonymous references: Andrew Millar, for example, is described as “a Scotchman” who is “True to his int’rest, and to meanness too” (Belanger, lines 38-41), clearly demonstrating his perceived status as an ‘outsider’. St Clair argues that a “high monopoly period” followed the Act of Queen Anne (1710) where powerful London booksellers formed a “cartel” to impose restrictions on book trading (St Clair, p.93). Using their influence, they enforced their sole right to print even after copyright had expired, and threatened prosecution if booksellers stocked cheaper Scottish and Irish reprints. Indeed, many key London booksellers, such as Dodsley, chose to avoid the expense of registering all their copyrights at the Stationers’ Company, seemingly relying purely on their standing within the trade to protect them.

This short pamphlet is priced at just six pence. Carte, Thomas. A letter to the author of the case fairly stated: from an Old Whig. (London, 1745) [Edinburgh University CRC E.B. .9(42072)04/6/7]

With reputation dictating success (and retention of copyrights), Dodsley’s ongoing business relationship with Mary Cooper is perhaps indicative of the positive way in which she was viewed. Tierney observes that much of Dodsley’s work followed the typical trade publisher style; 54% of his publications being 48 pages or less. Likewise, over 50% of Dodsley’s solo publications were produced and sold in collaboration with the Coopers. Treadwell argues that cheap, smaller publications required large numbers of rapid sales to be profitable. Cooper’s books, in turn, demonstrate a marked focus on marketability and commerciality: often costing just a few pence, with the price conspicuously advertised below the imprint, and in economical octavo format (that is to say, markedly cheaper and more accessible than the folios or quartos produced by London booksellers).

Beyond the mere convenience of Cooper’s location and specialism, however, the Register of Entries confirms that she and Dodsley operated closely in wider business affairs: on July 30th, 1744, there are consecutive entries, in their names, for The Complaint or Night Thoughts. Both were registered, on their behalf, by “Ben: Cowse”, suggesting that Dodsley and Cooper also collaborated in buying copyrights.

Register of entries of copies, 1710-1746. Available through Adam Matthew, Marlborough, Literary Print Culture: The Stationers’ Company Archive (online) TSC/1/E/06/08. P.585.

As well as topping booksellers, such as Dodsley, Mary Cooper worked with self-financing authors and printers who required a point of distribution. Printers’ typical contract work on finite jobs removed them from additional profits if the books sold well, hence many sought to purchase copyrights and print their own publications. Under the London monopoly, however, booksellers operated ‘closed sales’ for copyrights after the death or retirement of a member and ensured the most lucrative were only bought by their affiliates. In this climate, printer William Bowyer purchased and published some of the more controversial texts, including those of Robert Clayton, Bishop of Clogher. Surviving company ledgers list a total of seventeen Clayton publications, three of which (An Essay on Spirit (two editions) and A Defence of the Essay on Spirit) omit Bowyer’s name on the imprint and list only sellers, including Cooper. Clayton’s Essay argued the highly controversial standpoint of Arianism: the belief that, within the Holy Trinity, Christ is subordinate to the Father and Holy Spirit, since his ‘creation’ implies an earlier time when he did not exist. Although Bowyer was a dissenter, his concealment from the imprints in favour of a trade publisher may be linked to the controversy.

Significantly, Bowyer did add his name (alongside Cooper’s) to Clayton’s Vindication of the Histories of the Old and New Testament, printed just a year later, which presented the same Arianist argument. This contrast to his earlier reluctance might be explained by the Essay having been published anonymously. To be the principal named figure on the title page of a potentially controversial text could have damaged Bowyer’s professional reputation for printing scholarly works. Despite any controversy with the Essay, Bowyer (like Dodsley) was notably content to use Cooper as a distributor, and to openly acknowledge their business relationship in his other works. Moreover, the imprint to Clayton’s Essay names her alongside the high-profile bookseller, John Noon; implying, perhaps, that little significant stigma was associated with such a publication for the distributor. Noon was possibly even one of the elite London ‘cartel’ as, after his death, his books and copyrights were tellingly sold to a “select number of booksellers”.

One example of collaboration between Cooper and Hildyard. Sterne, Jacques. The danger arising to our civil and religious liberty, from the great increase of papists… (York, 1747) [NLS Nha.O165(5)]

The business networks she formed were arguably as important to Cooper’s trade publishing success as her reputation. The Coopers’ business dated back to at least 1709 and Mary passed the business to her brother-in-law, John Hinxman, on her death (who had himself been a shopman for Dodsley). Cooper’s involvement in selling some of the earliest extant children’s literature also implies that she had developed a successful system of mercuries and hawkers within London. These itinerant pedlars were key to the distribution of the cheaper publications associated with trade publishers, and this new and niche literature would have relied heavily on such links to become profitable. That Cooper felt confident to take on this project demonstrates the standing of her business. Furthermore, her network extended beyond London: she worked as a London distributor for at least eleven books printed for John Hildyard in York, and in 1751, operated as the sole London distributor for a work printed in Bath by Thomas Boddely (for whom Dodsley had also worked as an agent on at least two occasions).

Far from a reputation built on controversial texts, these connections demonstrate Cooper’s influence, which seemingly rested on a shrewd ability to successfully distribute cheaper books, both for and through her extensive business network. Thomas Cooper’s obituary in the Daily Advertiser reported that he had amassed a “handsome fortune” (Treadwell, p.115), and Mary herself came to own at least 18 copyrights, indicating sufficient professional standing to operate with the approval of the London bookselling monopoly. Indeed, her career challenges the perceived position of women in the book trade at this time: Cooper is named on imprints of at least two books in Latin, suggesting she was held in sufficient regard, even as a woman, to sell scholarly works. In a trade that evidently relied on complex business connections and reputation, Mary Cooper was a respected and skilled distributor of various forms of literature, whose professional recognition saw her work in collaboration with – and appear in print alongside – the key London booksellers of her time.


Act of Queen Anne (1710): Introduced a term of 14 years copyright, with provision for renewal for another 14 years if the author was still alive. This act gave authors the rights to their work for the first time, meaning authors could sell their copyright to a publisher and so no longer had to finance the publication of their own books upfront. The act also removed pre-publication copyright, far ahead of other European countries.

Topping bookseller: a seller who bought copyrights and then published and distributed books.

Trade publisher: a term first coined by Michael Treadwell in relation to the seventeenth-century book trade, referring to a bookseller who produced and/or sold books on behalf of their copyright holder.


Primary Sources

Cambridge, Richard Owen. The Scribleriad: an heroic poem. Book III. London: Printed for R. Dodsley in Pall-Mall; and sold by M. Cooper in Pater-noster-row, 1751. ESTC permalink:

Carte, Thomas. A letter to the author of the case fairly stated: from an Old Whig. London: Printed for M. Cooper, at the Globe in Pater-Noster-Row, 1745. ESTC permalink:

 A Catalogue of Books in Quires, the Remaining Part of the Stock of Mr. John Noon, deceased; Which Will be Sold by Auction to a Select Number of Booksellers, on Thursday afternoon, the 10th February, 1763… [London]: [s.n.], [1763]. ESTC permalink:

Clayton, Robert. An essay on spirit, wherein the Doctrine of the Trinity is Considered in the Light of Nature and Reason… London: Printed: and sold by J. Noon in the Poultry, G. Woodfall at Charing-Cross, and M. Cooper in Pater-Noster-row, 1751. ESTC permalink:

Clayton, Robert. A Vindication of the Histories of the Old and New Testament. In Answer to the Objections of the Late Lord Bolingbroke. In Two Letters to a Young Nobleman. London: Reprinted for W. Bowyer, and sold by M. Cooper, in Pater-noster-Row, and George Woodfall, at Charing-Cross, 1752. ESTC permalink:

Dyche, Thomas. A New General English Dictionary; Peculiarly Calculated for the Use and Improvement of Such as are Unacquainted with the Learned Languages… The Third Edition, with the addition of several market towns… London: Printed for Richard Ware, at the Bible and Sun in Warwick-Lane, Amen-Correr, 1740. ESTC permalink:

Hartley, David. Ad virum clarissimum Ric. Mead, M.D. epistola, varias lithontripticum Joannæ Stephens, exhibendi methodos indicans. Bathoniæ: typis T. Boddely. Prostant venales apud J. Leake & G. Frederick, bibliopolas Bathonienses; & M. Cooper, Londiniensem, 1751. ESTC permalink:

Index of Titles and Proprietors of Books Entered in the Book of Registry of the Stationers’ Company… from 28th April 1710 to 30th Dec. 1773. London, 1910.

Register of entries of copies, 1710-1746. Available through Adam Matthew, Marlborough, Literary Print Culture: The Stationers’ Company Archive. [TSC/1/E/06/08] Accessed October 20, 2019.

Register of entries of copies, 1746-1773. Available through Adam Matthew, Marlborough, Literary Print Culture: The Stationers’ Company Archive. [TSC/1/E/06/09] Accessed October 20, 2019.

Sterne, Jacques. The danger arising to our civil and religious liberty, from the great increase of papists… in a charge deliver’d to the clergy of the Archdeaconry of Cleveland in the visitations held at Thirsk, Stokesley, and Malton, in the year 1745. York: Printed for John Hildyard, ; and sold by J. and P. Knapton, in Ludgate-Street; T. Longman, T. Shewell, and M. Cooper, in Pater-Noster-Row, London, 1747. ESTC permalink:

Secondary Sources

Belanger, Terry. “A Directory of the London Book Trade, 1766.” Publishing History 1 (1977): 7-48.

Brant, Clare and Rousseau, George. “Introduction.” In Fame and Fortune: Sir John Hill and London Life in the 1750s, edited by Clare Brant and George Rousseau, 1-29. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018.

Grenby, M. O. “The Origins of Children’s Literature.” British Library Website. 15 May 2014.

Lancaster, John and Maslen Keith, ed. The Printing Accounts of William Bowyer, Father and Son. With a Checklist of Bowyer Printing, 1699-1777, a Commentary, Indexes, and Appendixes. London: The Bibliographical Society, 1991. Reproduced on Microfiche.

Maslen, Keith. “Bowyer, William (1699-1777).” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. 23 September 2004.

Raven, James. The Business of Books: Booksellers and the English Book Trade, 1450-1850. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007.

Schneller, Beverly. “John Hill and Mary Cooper: A Case Study in Eighteenth-Century Publishing.” In Fame and Fortune: Sir John Hill and London Life in the 1750s, edited by Clare Brant and George Rousseau, 107-120. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018.

Schneller, Beverly. “Mary Cooper, Eighteenth Century London Bookseller: A Bibliography.” PhD thesis, English Catholic University of America, 1987. [Schneller has composed the first complete bibliography of Cooper’s publications.]

St Clair, William. “The High Monopoly Period.” In The Reading Nation in the Romantic Period. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004, 84-102.

Tierney, James, ed. The Correspondence of Robert Dodsley, 1733-1764. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

Treadwell, Michael. “London Trade Publishers 1675-1750.” The Library Series 6, Vol. IV, No. 2 (1982): 99-134.

The Enlightening Signet Library

Fiona Mossman

As part of the MSc Book History and Material Culture, students can choose to undertake a work placement with an archive or library. This not only allows those of us on the course to gain hands-on experience, but deepens the ties between the institutes in question and the Centre for the History of the Book. I have been fortunate to be placed at the Signet Library, a library of undeniable architectural attraction but also home to some fascinating collections. My little empire within this library is the English History and Topography section, underneath the cupola in the Upper Library. For three months I get to dive into this ‘bibliographic terra incognita’, cataloguing and researching the books in this area, and putting what I find on the map, so to speak, of the online catalogue.

The Upper Library

The librarian of the Signet Library, James Hamilton, has been exceptionally welcoming and helpful. My brief upon arrival was to spend several hours poking around undisturbed in the shelves, getting a feel for what the collection holds, before picking out whatever caught my fancy to work on. This section, the product of the Enlightenment ethos that broadened the lawyer’s scope to all disciplines, is unusual in the Signet Library’s holdings both for its focus outwith Scotland and in the many forgotten survivors of the sales of 1959-1998, which had significantly reduced the library’s collections; as such, this is a welcome holdout that is only now being explored in earnest. Featuring history, topography, and antiquities, it is a treasure-trove of early archaeology, history, and travel writing, along with fine engraving, many different bindings, stories of provenance and much more.

One of my first challenges was cataloguing a nineteenth-century volume entitled ‘A Sketcher’s Notes’, written anonymously by Mary Webster as accompaniments to her drawings, signed ‘M.W.’ and well represented within the volume. I was able to bring two volumes of her work together, having been separated upon arrival at the Signet Library in 1914, and to credit her authorship for the first time in the case of the second volume. While the authorship of the first volume was attested in other libraries’ catalogue records, and was known by the librarian who processed them upon arrival, this information had since been lost and I was very pleased to contribute both to the accessibility of these books and new information about women’s authorship.

Mary Webster’s books reunited for the first time since 1914

The collection is very varied, and I have catalogued both a French translation of David Hume’s History of England belonging to Madame de la Bord, who I spent a while tracking down before identifying her as a lady-in-waiting to Marie Antoinette, and a twentieth-century privately published collection of photographs from ‘A trip to Iceland’. The earliest publications that I have come across date from the seventeenth century, while a 1779 book on Northumberland appears in the 1782 library catalogue, making it one of the very earliest non-legal works in the library as whole; but there are many more modern works, including, somewhat egregiously, a copy of Mein Kampf, sandwiched between two early printed books and a biography of Oliver Cromwell.

Preserving bindings with Cellugel (Madame de la Borde’s Hume is the sumptuous red book)

As part of this placement, I will also be curating a display at the upcoming exhibition ‘The Great Affair is to Move’. I look forward to getting stuck into preparations for this very soon, although it will, of course, involve having to pick and choose among my favourites!

The outcome of the cataloguing project—started by me but likely to engage further book history students in years to come—is to allow the material in this collection to be findable via the library’s online catalogue, as well as to enhance understanding of the many fascinating and diverse books held in the collection. I have certainly been learning a lot, and I hope that this has given a flavour of one of the work placements of the current master’s students.

Fiona Mossman and Signet Librarian, James Hamilton


Report by Fiona Mossman, current MSc student, Book History and Material Culture

The Trials and Tribulations of Editing the Nineteenth Century

On the 24th January, the Centre for the History of the Book had the pleasure of hosting a joint talk by Professor Tim Fulford of De Montford University, Leicester and Professor Jane Stabler, Head of the School of English at the University of St Andrews. They are both currently in the midst of editorial projects and these, alongside the processes of editing, were the focus of their talk.

Fulford’s latest work has been editing the letters of scientist and poet Sir Humphry Davy. Davy is most famous for his discovery of more elements than any other individual, but what unfolded from Fulford and his team’s research was Davy’s own editorial role in the production of Wordsworth and Coleridge’s collaborative volume of poetry, Lyrical Ballads. Davy guided the text through the press and his letters reveal a new side of the process and production of this seminal work. Fulford noted how this is one of the real excitements of editing: bringing into print another side of the story.

Fulford went on to emphasise the collaborative nature of taking on editing projects like this and thus the joy of having colleagues to discuss and debate findings with. Editing letters, Fulford noted, also involves elements of detective work that can be both thrilling and frustrating, depending on the outcome. Finding a box of letters abandoned in a forgotten garage is well worth the wait! Yet there are downsides that accompany the process too. It is an ongoing and evolving piece of work, in which the finish line is constantly shifting and moving. New letters can suddenly come to light and as a result you cannot know for sure if you have ever found them all.

It was enlightening, from the perspective of a student with no experience of professional editing, to learn the stages it entails. Fulford detailed how it begins with the dating of manuscripts, a challenge in itself as Davy had a habit of mis-dating his letters, or not dating them at all. This is followed by transcription, a lengthy process – and one we had a chance to attempt in the session – and finally, annotation. Crucially, Fulford emphasised how annotation should concern a range of facts that readers and researchers can use, and not a space for opinions. This requires editors to try and predict what future scholars will find useful.

Stabler then took to the stage to discuss her current work on Byron’s poetry. This is part of a project that seeks to create a seven-volume edition of Byron’s poems for the Longman Annotated English Poets Series. This is a huge undertaking alongside her co-editors, but crucially a ‘labour of love’ as Stabler noted in the seminar. To produce an edition a different style of editing is followed compared with Fulford’s work on Davy’s letters. Stabler explained how her and her team chose Byron’s manuscripts as their copy-text, rejecting any printed editions. This decision was not taken lightly because it can often spark controversy what text an editor chooses. Stabler argued that for this edition of Bryon’s poetry they wanted to go back to his manuscripts in order to create a new text, one that has not been encountered by the public as a published version.

There are several significant differences between Byron’s manuscripts and the printed versions, one of which is his style of punctuation. Stabler demonstrated how it was inherently different from that of his editor, William Gifford, who imposed his more conservative style onto Byron’s texts pre-publication. Another difference that emerged was Byron’s fascinating decision to leave open variants in his manuscripts, allowing his editors to choose the words or phrases they desired. Stabler’s work seeks to make these more visible to the reader and reveal the arguably conservative decisions and power wielded by Byron’s editors. These elements reflect why Stabler felt it was important to go back to the manuscripts to try and understand more about Byron’s vision for his poetry.

It became clear how the placement of a single apostrophe can have a dramatic effect on the meaning of a line of poetry, thus demonstrating how important it was to try to gauge what Byron had intended, not just his editors. On several occasions Stabler and her team therefore decided to move the apostrophe from where it had been placed in older printed versions. This is an example of a significant difference between print based and online, ‘hyper-text’ editions; someone has to decide, you cannot keep continually clicking to see another variant. This connects to on-going debates in the field of textual scholarship regarding the use of print editions that require a single copy-text, versus the increasing capabilities of online databases to reflect a diverse range of sources. And yet, both Stabler and Fulford felt there is still a viable market and need for print. The digital edition can go on forever, which is not necessarily always a positive thing.

Finally, Stabler highlighted, like Fulford, that there are difficult decisions facing editors. The question of what does and does not need to be glossed is a constant back and forth between the members of the editorial team, and the answers can vary depending on the work’s intended readership. There is also the dilemma of how to present both the text and annotations on the page that will still allow you to provide a clear reading copy. But despite these challenges, there was no doubting the excitement and satisfaction that both speakers felt from being scholarly editors. The seminar ultimately reminded us that there are multiple writers and individuals whose work is awaiting editing: to be lifted out from their hiding places. Editing therefore has the privilege of being able to bring such individuals out of obscurity and into the public’s eye. So whose work will be next?

Report by Eliza Cottington, current MSc student, Book History and Material Culture

‘Ticker Tape Readers’: Dr. Paul Crosthwaite

November 8 brought Dr. Paul Crosthwaite to the Center for the History of the Book Seminar series at the University of Edinburgh. Dr. Crosthwaite’s lecture was titled Ticker Tape Readers: Investment Advice Writing in “the Shadow of 1929”.  The presentation involved research related to the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s project entitled History of Financial Advice.  It was another well-attended event in the CHB’s series of seminars.

Continue reading