mardi 7 décembre 2010

The Blackberry Girl : an 1834 "toy book" from Stanstead

Around 1832-1833, Joseph Soper Walton and Asa Gaylord came to Stanstead from Montpelier, Vermont, and set up a publishing business. Walton, a printer and journalist, and Gaylord, a bookbinder, had previous experience in printing and publishing, as they had quite likely met years before while apprenticing to Ezekiel P. Walton, Joseph’s elder brother and a major printer in Montpelier.

They were not quite the first to publish books and newspapers in the Eastern Townships, as Silas Horton Dickerson had settled here as a printer in 1823, issuing his weekly paper The British Colonist, as well as a few books. Over the years, however, Dickerson got into trouble with judicial authorities, Tory opponents and unpaid merchants – who together, brought the printer to bankruptcy, and forced him to sell out his equipment by 1834.

Not so surprisingly, the newcomer Joseph S. Walton happened to be the one who bought back the used printing wares in 1834, quite possibly after working with Dickerson at his shop for a few months upon arriving in Stanstead. In any case, apparently without any equipment of their own, Walton & Gaylord managed to print a few titles in Stanstead before Dickerson went out of business : among those, The Child’s Book of Natural History (by an anonymous teacher, 1833) and The Blackberry Girl, A Pretty Story in Verse for Good Children, by Mrs. Lovechild, 1834. (This author, Mrs. Lovechild, obviously used a pseudonym – as a children’s book writer cannot possibly bear such a name for real…)

The Blackberry Girl, paper wraps, front and back covers

Both these titles show clear similarities in their crude letterpress typesetting and printing, their use of repetitive ornaments and the inclusion of woodblock prints of animals – and as such, are very different from later publications Walton & Gaylord would issue, leading us to think they might be the handiwork of binder Asa Gaylord rather than Walton’s. Both are charming little publications, probably the first two in a long series of "Reward Books", or "Toy Books" as Gaylord describes them in his account book (1838-1845, now preserved in the SHS Archives). Indeed, in 1835, on the back cover of their Geography and History of Lower Canada, the publishers boast "over 25 titles" in this category of reward books, besides listing several school books and other publications. All in all, some 11 different titles appear to have been published by Walton & Gaylord before 1834 (not counting the reward books), and at least as many more afterwards – not to speak of their newspapers and their series of Farmers’ Almanac. As was sometimes the case with Walton & Gaylord books, the toy books above may be reprints from earlier American editions, yet we have no evidence this was the case here.

Unfortunately, the two titles above are among the only three from this series we know of – most likely the only preserved titles, since today, very few public libraries (apart from the SHS Archives, which hold these two) list these or other titles from the series. Another known title is The Little Book, from an anonymous author, also issued in 1834. Thanks to the Taylor family of Massawippi, who donated an original copy of The Blackberry Girl to the SHS in 1962, we can offer our readers and members a scan of this delightful little booklet (8 cm x 11,5 cm in size).

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