The Digital Library Center is currently digitizing a number of hand-colored chapbooks from the John MacKay Shaw Collection. Chapbooks derive their name from the chapmen who sold them. Peddlers and tradesmen would offer small, cheap books among their wares, often accounts of fairy tales or current political events, lessons in language and song, or engaging stories. Many of the chapbooks in the Shaw Collection cater to a younger crowd; these examples of 19th century juvenile literature would have been popular among the middle and lower classes. The hand-colored illustrations would have increased the price of the simple text by offering a richer, more attractive set of pictures to accompany the story.
The comic adventures of Old Mother Hubbard, and her dog by Sarah Catherine Martin provides an excellent example of hand coloring in a chapbook. Most of us know the rhyme about the woman who went to the cupboard to find her poor dog a bone, but that’s not quite the whole story. First published in 1805, the nursery rhyme follows the increasingly outlandish behavior of the dog, who teaches himself to read, play the flute, dance a jig, and ride a goat. This 1819 version is one of many chapbooks that anthropomorphized animals to tell an amusing story. Unlike other fairy tales, this story doesn’t offer an obvious moral lesson, relying upon the antics of the dog to simply entertain, rather than instruct. Sadly, the tale of Old Mother Hubbard and her comical dog ends on a somber note – the final illustration depicts Hubbard weeping over the grave of her now-deceased pup. Though not exactly a happy ending, this chapbook represents an interesting time in publishing, storytelling, and the consumption habits of the masses. The full text will soon be available on DigiNole.
Here in Tallahassee summer is in full swing with high temperatures already hitting the 90s. In honor of the arrival of beach-going, sea shell-collecting days, the staff at Florida State University’s Special Collections & Archives invites you to explore the weird, wonderful and occasionally scandalous world of 19th century marine zoology.
FSU’s rare books collection contains numerous illustrated zoological and botanical works including a large selection of illustrated conchological texts and a nearly complete collection of publications from the Linnean Society and The Ray Society. We picked three especially interesting and “beachy” books to feature in this special summer-themed post. So, break out your sunscreen and prepare to brush up on your knowledge of marine zoology!
We begin with a foray into the sordid world of illustrated conchologies. For readers who may be unfamiliar with the term, conchology is the study of mollusk shells.
The Conchologist’s First Book By Edgar Allan Poe, 1839
The Conchologist’s First Book was originally published in 1839 and was the only work attributed to Edgar Allan Poe to be published in a second edition during his lifetime.
Poe, who was down on his luck and in financial straits at the time, was commissioned by the American naturalist Thomas Wyatt to write an introduction and lend his name to a revised edition of his Manual of Conchology. Despite Poe’s assertion that he edited, revised and arranged the text in close cooperation with the original author, controversy arose over claims that the book violated copyright law and charges of plagiarism were bandied about. Poe became so concerned with the damage the accusation might do to his reputation that he threatened to pursue legal action. Meanwhile, Wyatt’s own Manual of Conchology was likewise criticized for having borrowed heavily from Captain Thomas Brown’s The Conchologist’s Textbook which was published in Glasgow in 1837.1
This first edition of The Conchologist’s First Book features the original uncolored illustrations which appeared in color in the second edition, published in 1840.
Illustrations of The Fossil Conchology of Great Britain and Ireland : with the description and localities of all the species By Captain Thomas Brown, 1849
The second featured book comes from the very same Captain Thomas Brown of the Poe-Wyatt conchological controversy. Illustrations of The Fossil Conchology of Great Britain and Ireland was published in 1849 and contains 98 superbly illustrated pages drawn by Brown himself. Among Brown’s claims to Victorian naturalist fame are his membership in the Linnean Society, his presidency of the Physical Society and the honor of having a species of sea snail named after him.
A Monograph of the British Naked-Eyed Medusae: with Figures of all the Species By Edward Forbes, 1848
With the final featured book we move away from mollusk shells and into deeper waters, so to speak. A Monograph of the British Naked-Eyed Medusae is number 12 of a series of texts published by the Ray Society. The Ray Society was established in 1844 with the expressed object of “the promotion of Natural History by the printing of original works in Zoology and Botany…”2 Unlike similar societies of the period, The Ray Society specifically sought to publish works of scientific merit that were unlikely to be commercially profitable and therefore unlikely to appear in print. A Monograph of the British Naked-Eye Medusae is one of many fascinating and beautifully illustrated volumes in the Ray Society’s long list of publications which also includes Charles Darwin’s A Monograph of the Sub-class Cirripedia: with Figures of all the Species and William Buckler’s Larvae of British Butterflies and Moths.
These beautiful and interesting books are part of a large collection of illustrated Natural History books to be discovered in Florida State University’s special collections.