The Grolier Club is a private and prominent club for book collectors and other bibliophiles that dates to the late 19th century when the collecting of fine books and the history of printing arts were the hobbies of wealthy men. Chartered by a group of eight interested collectors its membership now numbers 800. The Club occupies a building in midtown Manhattan and has grown far beyond its original private club purpose to serve the needs of scholars and the interest and education of the general public.
One of the Grolier Club’s more popular traditions is its series of exhibits and accompanying publications known as the Grolier 100. The current exhibit in that series, just opened this past week, is One Hundred Books Famous in Children’s Literature. It so happens that two of those one hundred books on exhibit at the Grolier Club are from the Walter Havighurst Special Collections – one from the Edgar W. and Faith King Collection of Juvenile Literature and the other from the McGuffey Reader Collection.
Magasin des enfans, ou, Dialogues entre une sage gouvernante et plusieurs de ses élèves de la premiére distinction : dans lesquels on fait penser, parler, agir les jeunes gens suivant le génie, le tempérament, & les inclinations d’un chacun … par Made Le Prince de Beaumont. A Londres : Se vend chez J. Haberkorn, dans Gerard-Street, Soho : & chez les Libraires de cette ville, 1756.
Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont (1711-1780) was a teacher and writer who participated in documenting the French fairy tale tradition. Among the many fairy tales she wrote is the best known version of Beauty and the Beast. In her Magasin she compiled a variety of stories, fairy tales and moral tales for young readers.
The volume on exhibit is the first edition of Magasin des enfans, and Miami’s copy retains its very rare frontispiece (shown below).
The eclectic first reader for young children consisting of progressive lessons in reading and spelling mostly in easy words of one and two syllables, by W.H. M’Guffey … Cincinnati, Pub. by Truman and Smith, 1838.
It’s impossible to talk about the history of American children’s literature without referencing William Holmes McGuffey, who, during his brief tenure at Miami University, began the series of schoolbooks for which he became famous, if not rich. While teaching at a frontier schoolhouse in Kentucky before being hired at Miami, McGuffey realized that a lack of useful teaching resources was hampering the instruction of reading. The expansion of literacy was one of the major reforms of the early 19th century, and McGuffey discovered that there was little available outside of the New England Primer. He exploited the educational theory of his time to develop readers that coupled simple texts taken from major cultural sources – the Bible, Shakespeare, American history – with woodcuts of objects familiar to western Americans living in Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana and the other frontier states. He, and other contributors, then created a progressive series of readers geared to developing literacy skills.
The First Reader was originally published in 1836, shortly followed by the rest in the series. The publishers bought all the rights from McGuffey, and the McGuffey Readers became a publishing goldmine throughout the 19th century and into the 20th. In fact the Readers are still in print, for sale online, and used by home schoolers and church schools.
The Grolier Club exhibit will be open through February 7, 2015. If you are in New York City before then, stop by and enjoy this fabulous exhibit. Special Collections is honored to play a small part in it.
Assistant Dean for Technical Services & Special Collections