As a child, my nose was often found buried in a book. Painfully quiet and shy, I found it easier to engage with the characters in my stories rather than the real life world around me; thus, a lifelong love affair with books began.
Fueling this passion was my mother, who would read to me when I was little, calling upon all of her dramatic powers to make the stories come to life. Her face would morph into the various expressions displayed by the characters on the page; her voice would be powerful, energetic, or ridiculous as appropriate. But my favorite part would be when she read something funny; she would fall right out of character and become mom again, and just laugh and laugh and laugh.
I still love listening to my mother read stories, to my own children these days – it brings me right back to those times when we would cuddle on the couch and get lost in stories together.
With this as a background, you can probably see why I am helpless when it comes to vintage children’s books. I see one and I just go weak in the knees with nostalgia. Serious book collectors often don’t like inscriptions as they prefer their acquisitions to be pristine, but that’s the first thing I look for in a clearly beloved children’s book.
The inscription is what gives me a direct link to the long ago hands that touched this book. I like to think about little Jerome opening his Christmas present and finding the gorgeously illustrated “Dolly at the Seaside ABC” inside, a gift from his favorite Aunt Alice. Perhaps Jerome and his mother would laugh at the line, “I is for Ink which trickles and runs upon the floor / Naughty little kittie upset it with her paw” as they thought about their own mischievous kitten.
And we can go even further with our imaginings. Perhaps Aunt Alice chose this book because she was enamored with the Victorian postcards of Raphael Tuck and Sons, the Dolly book’s publisher. She probably had no idea that those postcards, and in fact anything produced by Raphael Tuck and Sons, would become hugely collectible 100 years later.
You see, Raphael Tuck and Sons were so highly regarded that Queen Victoria awarded the firm the “Royal Warrant of Appointment” in 1893. During Victoria’s lifetime, all of their books were printed with the line, “Art Publishers to Her Majesty the Queen.”
This singular success allowed Raphael Tuck and Sons to open many offices around the world, so popular were their postcards and books world wide. They opened their new London headquarters in 1899, in a building that came to be called “Raphael House.” Its five floors housed every department of the business, from the delightfully named “Birthday Book Department” to the technical “Chromo, Oleograph, and Art Study Department.”
On the night of December 20th, 1940 the unthinkable happened: London was ferociously bombed by the Nazis and many buildings, including Raphael House, were utterly destroyed. Imagine it: 74 years of the company’s records and 40,000 original illustrations and photographs by some of the best artists of the day were gone in an instant. It turns the stomach, does it not?
The company did survive this tragedy, although it combined forces with two other firms in 1959 under a new name.
It is with all these things in mind that I find myself incredibly fortunate to be able to present to you not only “Dolly at the Seaside,” but also Father Tuck’s Noah’s Ark at Upswing Vintage. Beyond the stories and the beautiful illustrations, it is easy to be captivated by the history of the firm that published them.
Perhaps your own wee readers would be just as delighted with the pictures as little Jerome undoubtedly was, that Christmas Day back in 1911.
For further reading about Raphael Tuck and Sons, please see the Wikipedia entry on the company. To view an absolutely incredible collection of postcards and books published by the company, I encourage you to visit the marvelous TuckDB site.