It is estimated that the book collection in Edinburgh’s Museum of Childhood archive numbers around 20,000 items, making it one of the most significant collections of children’s books in Scotland. The collection represents Scottish writers, publishers, and readers, as well as national and international trends in children’s reading across the centuries. This page provides a little overview of the archive.
The books in the collection range from 17th Latin grammar guides to the classics of 20th century children’s fiction. The special collection has been categorised as pre-1850, and includes titles such as Claudius Mauger’s French Grammar With Additions (1698), Andrew Tooke’s The Pantheon, Representing the Fabulous Histories of the Heathen Gods (1791), Thomas Mavor’s Elements of Natural History (1807), and Anna Laetitia Barbauld’s The History of a Goldfinch (1808).
Some books in the collection contain particularly interesting paratextual features, such as bookplates, inscriptions, and marginalia. A significant number of late c19th and early c20th century books were originally awarded as educational prizes to children, not just in local Edinburgh schools, from further afield including Papa Westray in the Orkney islands). The wealth of books published by Scottish publishing houses — for example, Nelson & Sons, Blackie, Gall & Inglis, Nimmo Hay & Mitchell, to name only a few — are a reminder of the key role which Scotland played in the production of children’s books in the c19th and 20th centuries. The collection also includes Victorian picture books, school text books, pop-up and mechanical books, ABC books, poetry and nursery rhyme books, as well as texts which can be categorised under the following genres.
The Museum of Childhood’s book collection is particularly rich in women writers, many of whom wrote specifically for girl readers, particularly from the late-Victorian era and the early 20th century. Angela Brazil’s school stories portray girlhood trails of school and friendships are represented in the collection, as are the school stories of Scottish writer Dorita Fairlie Bruce. The books of Irish writer and editor of the girls’ magazine Atalanta L. T. Meade (Elizabeth Thomasina Meade Smith) are also in abundance in the collection. Meade published hundreds of books for young readers, and many of these are contained within the museum’s book collection.
Scottish women writers represented in the collection include Jessie M. Saxby and Annie S. Swan. English writers include Ellinor Davenport Adams, Grace Aguilar, Juliana Horatia Ewing, Mary Louisa Molesworth [‘Mrs Molesworth’], and A. L. O. E (‘A Lady of England’, or Charlotte Maria Tucker). The books of Louisa May Alcott are found in abundance The ‘Pansy’ book series by Pansy (American author Isabelle Macdonald Aulden) are also present in the collection.
There are also many stories of adventure aimed at boy readers, including those by the English novelist and war correspondent George Alfred Henty and Scottish writer John Buchan. The collection contains many of the novels of the prolific Scottish adventure author R. M. Ballantyne. Adventure stories by Herbert Strang, which was the pseudonym of two English authors, George Herbert Ely and Charles James L’Estrange are also represented in the collection.
The collection contains books which might be considered ‘classics’ of the children’s literature genre. These were mostly published during the first golden age of children’s literature, which is generally regarded as beginning in 1865 with the publication of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and ending around 1920. These books include Frances Hodgson Burnett’s Little Lord Fauntleroy (1885), L. M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables (1908), Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty (1877), Thomas Hughes’ Tom Brown’s School Days (1857), Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island (1882), J. M. Barrie’s Peter and Wendy (1911); Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows (1908); George MacDonald’s At the Back of the North Wind (1871). Some notable exceptions which date from much earlier include Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe (1719) and John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress (1678), both of which were hugely popular with child readers and were reproduced in abundant editions throughout the 19th century.
Adaptations and abridgement suitable for child readers are also a feature of the book collection. These allowed difficult reading material to be communicated to a young audience. There is an edition of Edith Nesbit’s Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare (1907) as well as Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare (1807) by brother and sister duo Charles and Mary Lamb. There is also Ivanhoe, re-told by Elizabeth Hardie (1909) and Chaucer’s Stories Simply Told by Mary Seymour (1896).
There is a substantial selection of foreign-language fiction books. For example, the collection holds Les Enfants de la Mer, a French translation of The Water Babies by Charles Kingsley, part of a series of translations published by Nelson c.1920, which also includes Cendrillon (Cinderella); folktale collections from Hungary, Norway, Sweden, Italy, Germany, and elsewhere; two beautifully illustrated Japanese books (of the folktales Momotaro and The Grateful Crane by Masakazu Kuwata from 1965).
There are many beautiful editions from the 19th and 20th centuries of classical fairytale collections by Charles Perrault, the Grimms, and Hans Christian Andersen, as well as those famously published by Andrew Lang as the Coloured Fairy Books. There are lesser known collections too. Wilhelm Hauff was another German collector of fairy tales; Hauff’s Fairy Tales (1903) which was translated by Cicely McDonnell is included in the collection. Gaelic Fairy Tales (1908) was published in Glasgow and written and illustrated by three women: Winifred M. Parker, Katharine Cameron and Rachel Ainslie Grant Duff. Donald A. Mackenzie’s Wonder Tales from Scottish Myth and Legend (1917) also offers Scottish mythology. Fairy tales from around the world are also represented, including Indian Fairy Stories (1915) written by Scottish folklorist and writer Donald A. Mackenzie, Czech Folk Tales by Josef Baudiš (1917) and The Hungarian Fairy-Book (1913) by Nándor Pogány.
The collection holds up to 100 chapbooks, mostly from the mid-to late-19th century, although many carry no date. Chapbooks were small, cheap, and popular editions of stories which were sold on the street from the early modern period, and appealed to both adults and children. Miniscule chapbooks in the collection include several published by John Golby Rusher, a printer who was based in Banbury, Oxfordshire. These Banbury chapbooks include ‘Nursery Rhymes from the Royal Collection’ and ‘The Cries of Banbury and London and Celebrated Stories.’ There are also some chapbooks from Alnwick-based publisher William Davison, such as ‘The History of Robin Hood, Captain of the Merry Outlaws of Sherwood Forest’ which would have cost one halfpenny. There are also a small number of chapbooks published in Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Dundee.
Many different annuals are represented in the collection, from the early-Victorian Peter Parley’s Annual, the brainchild of the American writer Samuel Griswold Goodrich (1793-1860) to an extensive range of volumes of The Girls’ Own Annual and The Boys’ Own Annual. These annuals and their magazine counterparts were hugely popular with children in the later nineteenth century and early twentieth century. There is also Chatterbox, Blackie’s Children’s Annual, The School Girls’ Own Annual, The Captain: A Magazine for Boys and Old Boys, Herbert Strang’s Annual, Mrs Strang’s Annual for Girls and Chums.
The popularity of annuals continued into the mid-20th century, and reflected youth fascination with celebrity, media and consumerism in their leisure culture.
Educational and instructive books
There is a large selection of grammar books in the collection, particularly in Latin, French and German. The collection contains various science books, particularly from the late 19th century. Women writers are also well represented; for example, there are books by Arabella B. Buckley, who was a science communicator. Her book The Fairy-Land of Science (1878) was based on her touring lecture series. Other titles of interest include the geological book The Story of the Earth in Past Ages by the paleontologist Harry Govier Seeley (1896) and The Elements of Natural History, chiefly intended for the use of schools and young persons (1808) by the Scottish educationalist and writer, William Fordyce Mavor (1758-1837).
There is a large collection of books relating to religious and moral instruction. For example there is a selection of small Sunday school books, and improving fiction such as Emily Steele Elliot’s Reuben Inch, or the Power of Perseverance (1889), Maria Edgeworth’s Moral Tales for Young People (1801) Joseph Johnson’s Self Effort; Or, the True Method of Attaining Success in Life (1883).
The collection contains various popular encyclopedias and educational miscellanies for children, including those edited by Arthur Mee, an English writer and journalist. He began writing The Children’s Encyclopedia as a magazine in 1908, and it was eventually published as a 10-volume series. In 1919 Mee began the newspaper for children, The Children’s Newspaper, which ran until 1865. There are also a significant number of Wonder Books, with titles such as The Wonder Book of Empire and The Wonder Book of the Navy. These books were published throughout the 1930s and 40s, by the publisher University of Knowledge Incorporated, based in Chicago.
For more information about the archive, please see:
Sarah Dunnigan and Danielle Howarth (eds), Growing Up With Books. A Little History of Children’s Literature as seen through the Collection at Edinburgh’s Museum of Childhood (2018)
Lyn Stevens, ‘The Story of the Museum of Childhood’, in Dunnigan and Howarth (eds), pp. 9-13
Sarah Dunnigan and Shu-Fang Lai, The Land of StoryBooks. Scottish Children’s Literature in the Long Nineteenth Century (2019)