RARE, COMPLETE SET OF THE INFANT’S LIBRARY: SIXTEEN MINIATURE BOOKS FROM THE EARLIEST ERA OF CHILDREN’S LITERATURE, HOUSED IN ORIGINAL PAINTED WOODEN BOOKCASE
(MARSHALL, John, publisher). The Infant's Library. London: John Marshall, circa 1800. Sixteen volumes. Crown 64mo (1-7/8 by 2-1/2 inches), original color paper boards, mounted cover labels, original miniature wooden bookcase (2-1/4 by 3-3/8 by 6-3/8 inches) with four compartments and painted sliding front panel, engraved paper label to rear. $16,000.
Complete set of The Infant’s Library, early children’s book publisher John Marshall’s clever collection of sixteen miniature volumes “for the instruction and amusement of young people,” housed in their original wooden bookcase with painted sliding panel. Excellent, significant and rare.
Once London bookseller and publisher John Newbery demonstrated the profitability of producing books expressly for children—a novel idea in the mid-18th century—other entrepreneurs attempted to follow his lead. Most made no lasting impact on the nascent field of children's literature, but another London book merchant and publisher, John Marshall, emerged as "the most vigorous among the early newcomers." Little is known about Marshall's life; however, scholars do know he was in business as early as 1780; that he (or his eponymous firm) remained in the trade until at least 1828; "and that he published practically nothing but children's books—of a good type, not mere leaflets? That last fact, with the evidence of his continuity drawn from dated imprints, is the striking point. Marshall's authors are really important in the history of children's books [among them Dorothy and Mary Ann Kilner, Elinor Fenn and Lady Fenn]? Not the least of John Marshall's contributions to the new, imaginative mode of publishing children's books lay in his exploitation of ideas related to [Newbery's]approach to reading [as entertainment]. Along with the games and puzzles that publishers were developing he marketed a variety of boxed books and cards designed to appeal to children's liking for such things" (Darton, 137-38, 138n22), most notably The Infant's Library, which is—in the words of the engraved paper label affixed to the rear of the wooden bookcase housing the collection—a "great variety of books and schemes for the instruction and amusement of young people."
The 16 miniature volumes include an abecedarian (Book 1); a spelling primer (Book 2); guides to large animals (Book 5), flowers (Book 7) and birds (Book 8); guides to household and other common items (Books 4, 10); and several books of views and scenes from everyday life (Books 6, 11, 12, 14, 15), including a volume of boys at play (Book 9—"Little boys should be very careful where they shoot the arrows") and girls at play (Book 13—"Now I will dress my doll. Which shall I put on, the striped gown or the muslin frock?"). The sixteenth (though unnumbered) book is, in lieu of an index volume, A Short History of England and presents portraits of monarchs from William the Conqueror through "our present and most gracious Sovereign George III and his amiable consort Queen Charlotte." The books are housed in their original miniature wooden bookcase, the front, sliding panel of which bears a painted scene of shelves full of leather-bound volumes at the top and a mother reading to her children at the bottom. All books (except the spelling primer) feature charming miniature woodcuts and engravings, "possibly by J. Piggot" (Osborne II:899).
All books complete, with expected light age-wear to the original, delicate bindings; similar expected light age-wear to intact bookcase with functional sliding panel, two small pieces of trim molding reattached. An exceptionally well-preserved specimen of Marshall's innovative work in publishing for juveniles, and a primary source for study of ideas about childhood in mid- to late-18th-century Britain. Most rare and desirable.