The Children's Books collection at the American Antiquarian Society is, within its scope, the world's finest. Extending from the sober prose of Thomas Shepard's children's catechism, Short Catechism Familiarly Teaching the Knowledg of God (1654), to the cheerful images of children at play in Young America's ABC and Pretty Picture Book (1900), the collection chronicles the emergence of an American literature for children. Books written for children can provide important evidence of the forces structuring childhood experience, that is, the ideals and ambitions of the society that wrote and published them. Scholars studying a variety of social issues-- the treatment of the physically handicapped, city life, temperance, and slavery--will find rich materials here. The AAS collection of books for children is thus an unparalleled resource for studies in such fields as the history of childhood, child discipline and the education of children, the history of reading, and the history of publishing, printing, and the graphic arts.
At present, children's literature at AAS is divided physically among several collections. Children's books published before 1821 are part of the Dated Books and Dated Pamphlets collections, while those published from 1821 forward are housed as applicable among the Children's Literature, McLoughlin, School Books, Sabbath School Books, Primers, and Catechisms collections. Children's books issued before 1801 and after 1820 are fully cataloged in the AAS online catalog; the children's imprints issued between 1801 and 1820 are accessible under the subject heading, "Children's Literature" in the AAS Imprint Catalog, a card catalog available in the library reading room. Children's books issued between 1801 and 1820 are in the process of being fully described in the AAS online catalog. New titles are being added every day.
As d'Alté Welch noted in his A Bibliography of American Children's Books Printed Prior to 1821 (Worcester, 1972), the Society "has by far the largest and most interesting collection of children's books seen.... [It] contains almost two thirds of all extant American [pre-1821] children's books." After Welch's untimely death in 1970, our already unrivaled collection was further strengthened by the acquisition of his personal collection. At 3,500 titles, these early children's books comprise an unparalleled resource for those seeking to understand the development of the children's book market in the United States.
Most American books for children printed before 1821 were printings of English chapbooks--which included traditional tales like "Cock Robin" and "Children in the Wood," abridgments of literary works like "Robinson Crusoe," and books of amusement and instruction, particularly those first issued by the London publisher John Newbery. Many of these chapbooks originally published by Newbery were reissued for the American market by Worcester printer and AAS founder Isaiah Thomas. Towards the end of the eighteenth century, such English writers as Maria Edgeworth and Sarah Trimmer began producing a literature more especially designed for children, and their works were quickly reprinted in the United States.
Welch's bibliography covers only the nonpedagogical genres of pre-1821 American juveniles, but the AAS collection is nearly as strong in early primers, textbooks, and catechisms. The Society holds the single strongest collection (about 200 editions) of New England primers printed before 1830, as recorded in Charles Heartman's bibliography The New England Primer Issued Prior to 1830 (New York, 1934), and nearly half of the non-New England primers recorded by Heartman in "American Primers, Indian Primers, Royal Primers, and Thirty-Seven Other Types of Non-New England Primers Issued Prior to 1830" (Highland Park, N.J., 1935).
After 1820, American writers and publishers made a deliberate effort to produce a native literature for American children, one suited to instruct the young citizens of a new republic, and this collection is particularly rich in materials for the social historian.
The nonpedagogical portion of this collection housed in the Children's Literature Collection is one of the strongest in the nation. It numbers about 9,000 editions and includes fiction, poetry, natural history, travel narratives, Sunday school tracts, and conduct of life manuals. The collection is especially strong in the works of Louisa May Alcott, William Taylor Adams (i.e., "Oliver Optic"), Jacob Abbott, Samuel Goodrich, in chapbooks, and in the publications of the American Sunday School Union and the American Tract Society. The collection also contains some important boxed sets and cabinet libraries
One portion of this collection is worth noting separately. The Society holds approximately 1,400 picture books issued by the New York firm of McLoughlin Brothers. McLoughlin publications are particularly well known for their use of colored illustrations, which were hand-stenciled during the firm's early years and printed using etched zinc plates, chromolithographs, and photo engravings later on. The collection includes many copies from the company archives. The bulk of the collection is the gift of AAS member Herbert H. Hosmer, who had acquired much of it from Ruth Miller, the daughter of McLoughlin Brothers Vice President Charles Miller. The collection represents a departure from the usual collecting policy of the Society, for the imprints within it range from the 1850s to well into the twentieth century. Current acquisition policy provides for purchase of McLoughlin publications published to about 1899.
In addition to these McLoughlin picture books, the Society holds a magnificent collection of drawings and proofs originally belonging to the McLoughlin company archives. Also donated by Herbert Hosmer, this collection contains over 760 pieces created between the establishment of the firm in 1858 and its sale to Milton Bradley in 1920. The majority of the pieces date from McLoughlin Brothers' commercial and artistic halcyon period between 1880 and 1900, and includes drawings by Enos and Frances Comstock, Palmer Cox, Georgina A. Davis, Anthony Hochstein, Justin H. Howard, Sarah Noble Ives, and Ida Waugh. A finding aid providing access to each piece of art work in this collection is now available online.
The Society also holds significant collections of pedagogical juvenile books, although it does not collect as comprehensively in this area. There are about 1,300 school books, 230 Sabbath school books and primers, and 320 primers published between 1821 and 1876 in the collection.
The post-1820 juvenile collection has become an increasingly well-used resource, largely owing to the detailed cataloging of this collection provided through the American Children's Books Project funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities between 1985 and 1996. These records provide access in both the AAS online catalog and in RLIN for subject, genre, publisher, printer, illustrator, engraver, physical characteristics (e.g., signed bindings), and place of imprint, along with the traditional entries for author and title. Over 13,500 records describing the post 1820 children's titles are now available. In content and format, this rapidly growing database of juvenile literature complements and extends the Society's North American Imprints Program.
An important database that was started during the American Children's Books Project is the Nineteenth-Century American Children's Book Trade Directory. This directory charts the dates and locations of individuals and firms involved in the publication of children's books held at AAS, including publishers, binders, booksellers, printers, ink makers, stationers, and stereotypers. The database covers individuals and firms active in towns and cities throughout nearly all lower 48 states, many of which produced books for adults as well as for children. The chronological scope covered by the Directory is between 1821 and 1876, with some exceptions. AAS staff are now working to make this directory available both as a World Wide Web database and as a printed publication. This Directory will prove to be an enormously valuable research tool for book collectors working to date their books, for bookdealers appraising nineteenth-century American books, and for researchers of the book trade at large in America.
The AAS collections of children's literature continue to grow significantly each year, due in no small part to two acquisition funds devoted to the collection of children's books established by AAS members and prominent collectors Ruth Adomeit, and Linda F. and Julian L. Lapides. The Ruth Adomeit Fund, has enabled the Society to procure scores of children's titles published before 1840, many of them chapbooks. For over a decade, the Lapides Fund has provided money to purchase a visually stunning array of picture books, including many McLoughlin titles. These funds ensure that children's books at AAS remain a vital resource.
Finally, it should be noted that the Society's holdings include important supporting materials for studies in the history of childhood and children's literature, including advice manuals for parents and teachers, several hundred games, and the largest single collection of American children's periodicals to 1876. Paper checklists are available for both the games and the children's periodicals. The AAS Manuscripts Collection contains strong holdings of juvenile diaries, as well as the papers of individuals and firms associated with children's book publishing, such as educators Joseph Lancaster and Goold Brown, illustrators Lydia Very and David Claypoole Johnston, and publisher Lee and Shepard.
The Society also holds one of the largest collections of amateur newspapers, many of them written, printed, and distributed by children under eighteen, which provide a rare source of insight into the world of nineteenth-century American children and adolescents.