The Historical Children’s Literature Collection is a digital repository of 85 items from UBC’s Rare Books and Special Collections. Publication dates range from the 1790s to 1890s, and include fairy tales, educational books, classic literature, religious texts, fortune-tellers, nursery rhymes, and more.
The collection gives us an idea of topics and stories that were popular for children during the 19th century. Classics like Gulliver’s Travels and Aladdin have persisted over time and are shared with children to this day. Meanwhile, some of the more obscure titles may be considered too dark for contemporary kids. The book Death and Burial of Poor Cock Robin for instance, is one that most likely wouldn’t be told anymore… for this reason it’s an interesting book to check out.
Many items in this collection are wonderfully illustrated – the prints are bold, often with splashes of colour. One can easily see how they would’ve captured a child’s attention.
During the 19th century, book illustrations were printed using one of a few available methods. These included lithography, copper/steel engraving and wood engraving. We know that the Aladdin image below was printed on copperplate because the cover of the book boasts: “With Three Copperplates.” All 3 of these prints are highly detailed with lovely colours. For most books though, we can only guess how the prints were made.
It is worth noting that while advances in print technology did allow artists to add colour to their prints, oftentimes colour was added by hand. This Little Red Riding Hood image is an example – if you look closely, you can see some of the brush strokes.
Here is a selection of favourite printed images from the collection. Some are in colour and others are black and white. As you look through them, perhaps try to figure out which printing method might have been used and whether or not they were hand-coloured.
Thank you for checking out this blog post! For more information about the collection, please see our earlier post: Launching Historical Children’s Literature Collection | Digitization Centre (ubc.ca)