Copper Plate Pictures: Prints for the Juvenile Market

Jill Shefrin spoke to the Friends of the Bodleian on 8 June 2010, describing a volume of picture prints issued by William Darton Jr. (1781-1854).  Darton was one of the family of publishers whose books for children, appearing in the late 18th and 19th centuries, have been documented most recently in Shefrin’s own monograph, The Dartons : publishers of educational aids, pastimes & juvenile ephemera, 1787-1876 : a bibliographical checklist.  (2009)

The volume of prints [shelfmark Bodleian Vet. A6 c.118], acquired by the Bodleian Libary in 2008, dates from about the 1820s and contains over 50 prints from the numbered series Children’s Copper Plate Pictures, including such edifying scenes as ‘The stag at bay’ (no. 1) and ‘A farm house on fire’ (no. 8), as well as sheets with sets of smaller pictures.

The volume contains more of the harlequinades originally published by Benjamin Tabart (1767 or 8-1833) , probably acquired by William Darton Jr. at a time when Tabart was facing bankruptcy. Apparently Darton then issued these himself from his firm at Holborn Hill, London, as they remained popular.

Thirty-two of the prints are sheets of book illustrations. Eight to a sheet, these provided the plates (usually 16 for each volume) for entertaining and educational books for children, with such titles as ‘Inhabitants of the world’ and ‘The book of dogs’.

Shefrin described how a careful examination of this volume of prints supported her research into the workings of the market in children’s books. Having the sheets together in one volume confirmed that Darton had consolidated a stock of picture publications for children from works originally by Tabart, himself, and his father William Darton Sr. (1755-1819). The selection of items shows that earlier prints were re-used, and that old and new pictures were combined into series to be sold together.

It may have been intended as a sample album, to show potential customers examples of Darton’s work.

The volume is described in OLIS, the Bodleian’s online catalogue, (catalogued under the title ‘Darton Sample Album’, shelfmark Vet. A6 c.118).

See this earlier post for descriptions of other Benjamin Tabart harlequinades in the Bodleian’s collections.