Introduction to the Catalogue

Introduction to the Catalogue

Introduction by Andrea Immel, Curator of the Cotsen Children's Library, for
A Catalogue of The Cotsen Children's Library. I: The 20th Century A-L. 

Choice Scraps of History

    Serious Collectors, proud of their stately classics, rarities in original boards, fine bindings and masterpieces of typography, have acquired a taste for juvenile books at prices that vie with eighteenth-century first editions or Shakespeare folios,' remarked the antiquarian bookseller Krikor Gumuchian in the introduction to his landmark 1930 catalogue that offered some 6,200 historical children's books for sale.1 But like all great booksellers, Gumuchian knew that the genre's value did not reside ultimately in the prices a newly emerging market would pay, nor even in the indisputable rarity of so many titles--thanks to the indignities that restless, careless, disrespectful, and even loving young owners inflict on their books' unresisting pages, illustrations, and covers. Gumuchian sensed that his books would appeal to a particular kind of buyer, one whose imagination was not necessarily sparked by such qualities as condition, state, and distinguished provenance, which are so important to traditional bibliophiles. What is precious to them may not strike a children's book collector as a treasure: like the urchin Aladdin, such a one can pass through a subterranean castle's chambers unaffected by urns full of gold, taking away only the unprepossessing old lamp whose dirtiness conceals its true worth. So, just like the thing-finder Pippi Longstocking, this century's greatest children's book collectors have possessed an uncanny ability to look at a book and sense its potential. Of course Pippi got out early to beat her fellow hunters to the lumps of gold that might be lying on the ground, but at the same time she would not spurn other fascinating objects that did not glitter so brightly. When she spied a discarded wooden spool, she instantly scooped it up with a delighted cry: it was not trash to her, but a new bubble-blower, or a curiously shaped bead for a necklace. 
     There is certainly a great deal of the thing-finder in Lloyd E. Cotsen, member of the Princeton University class of 1950, who began amassing his extraordinary collection of historical children's books from all over the world while he was the Neutrogena Corporation's president and chief executive officer. Few of the people who sped past the Neutrogena headquarters on their way to Los Angeles International Airport via Century Boulevard would have suspected that those buildings concealed treasures worth a king's ransom. For years, Mr. Cotsen piled his accumulated riches three feet high in one room in his office suite, or stowed them in boxes stacked on pallets deep in the product warehouse's recesses. There was no map hidden in a thimble, however, that revealed the hoard's location, no magic phrase that when spoken before the secret chamber would cause the doors to fly open, nor even so much as a tremendous dragon with a jewel-encrusted belly to guard it. There was only Mr. Cotsen's first librarian. Her charge was to sift  through everything and organize it, which was a rather more pleasant task than any Ali Baba set for the clever Morgiana. There was a dazzling array of items: Soviet picture books from the 1920s; ingenious mechanical books designed by Lothar Meggendorfer; an assortment of the wonderfully inventive activity books from the Pere Castor series; one of the earliest depictions of children's games, Jacques Stella'sLes jeux et plaisirs de l'enfance of 1657; a heap of Engelbrecht's hand-colored engraved peepshows from eighteenth-century Augsburg; the Wiener Werkstatte's Die Stadt , a striking set of color sheets with figures for children to cut out and assemble into a cityscape; a sheaf of prints on the theme of the world turned upside down, including one from the sixteenth century with the original wood blocks; writing sheets and workbooks from Georgian England and colonial America filled in by children as exercises in penmanship and arithmetic; a long run of the stunningly illustrated Japanese children's periodical,Kodomo no kuni ; early jigsaw puzzles, race games, tangrams, and card sets for building houses, learning natural history, or memorizing the pence table in the days before decimal coinage; untearable (and chewable) books on cloth or cardboard for babies; spellers and primers of varying degrees of somberness; a bewildering selection of alphabets showcasing their illustrators' ingenuity; and a wealth of titles issued by the Weimar Republic's most remarkable children's book publishers. 
     And if this were not enough, new treasures were being delivered to Neutrogena faster than any one mortal, without the good offices of a fairy godmother, could unpack and catalogue. So many packages arrived with such regularity that anyone would have assumed that buying books consumed almost all of Mr. Cotsen's waking hours. In fact, Mr. Cotsen had the distractions of running a corporation, which, in addition to his regular duties, included building up the company's collection of textiles and folk art, now at the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe, and adding to an unparalleled personal collection of Japanese ikebana baskets as well. Such a staggeringly diverse and rapidly growing cache suggested at first that its owner was more than half-serious when he cheerfully dismissed his collecting as mere accumulation of the best that he could find wherever his travels happened to take him. Certainly his librarian was tempted to take Mr. Cotsen at his word when he revealed himself to be neither the type of collector who agonized over every prospective purchase, nor the sort who was much inclined to follow the experts' opinions about what was worth adding to his collection. It was not difficult, after a little while, to discern his rationale for selecting the early material for the collection, but his choice of twentieth-century books, which he picked up from bookstores and museum shops all over the world or purchased from specialist booksellers' catalogues, was rather more baffling. Very few novels of any type for readers aged ten and above found their way into the collection. He was not actively seeking titles that had won prestigious awards, such as the Newbery or Caldecott medal books. There was no one author or illustrator whose entire body of work he hoped eventually to acquire. No series books, such as the Nancy Drew mysteries or Oz stories, stirred up in him that powerful nostalgia which motivates many collectors to reimmerse themselves in a fictional world vividly remembered from childhood--and yet there are scattered throughout the collection individual titles by Carolyn Keene and L. Frank Baum. 
     What Mr. Cotsen's frequent and large purchases of modern children's books did finally reveal was an underlying passion for illustrated works that help children become independent readers. This passion's origin remained something of a puzzle until work was well under way on this printed catalogue. Once it was possible to reconstruct the collection's history over its thirty-year existence, Mr. Cotsen's motives and goals as a collector emerged much more clearly. Among the 23,000 volumes at Princeton are several hundred books that Mr. Cotsen and his late wife JoAnne had purchased for the library they put together in the early 1960s, when they began reading to their four small children, Corinna, Tobey, Eric, and Noah. The presence of these books at Princeton is a poignant reminder that Mr. Cotsen's interest in collecting grew out of two parents' desire to find things the family would enjoy reading together. This family library was, of course, the origin of the Cotsen Children's Library's twentieth-century holdings--and indeed of the entire collection. 
    Books from the family library are readily identifiable by their blue bookplates illustrated with the image of a faun playing pan pipes, which Mrs. Cotsen selected from the third volume of Joy Street , the 1920s British annual for children. Many of the family bookplates have been annotated by Mrs. Cotsen in her own hand, and her jottings constitute an informal history of a family reading together--the kind of evidence that historians are always longing to discover. Her notes frequently record when the book was added to the family collection, or if it had been a gift from someone to one of the children on a specific occasion. The storyteller Richard Chase inscribed the eleventh printing of his Grandfather Tales: American-English Folk Tales to the entire Cotsen family on 21 May 1972 at the eleventh Renaissance Pleasure Faire. Mrs. Cotsen gave a copy of Lofting's The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle to her son Eric on his birthday in 1967, and the family celebrated the day by seeing the film Doctor Dolittle with Rex Harrison in the title role (fig. 1). Sometimes Mrs. Cotsen added to the bookplate a brief description of the children's responses to a text they read aloud together: the bookplate in Neville Wilkinson's Yvette in Venice and Titania's Palace records , `Read this in Lugano and Venice to the girls summer '68. They enjoyed it.' The bookplate in the worn copy of Johanna Spyri's Heidi, illustrated by Frank Lloyd Wright's sister, Maginel Wright Barney, reveals that the story met with the approval of just two-thirds of the audience: `Read Nov. '67 and enjoyed by girls. Eric listened to only 1st part ' (fig. 2). Occasionally Mrs. Cotsen simply expressed pleasure in her discovery that the children loved some of her particular favorites from childhood, such as Max Mumenthaler's Wurzel-Marchen , illustrated by Martha Biber. In 1968, when her two daughters were studying French, Mrs. Cotsen gave them some easy illustrated pamphlets to build up their fluency. In these books, she wrote personal messages to encourage each of them to dip into the new book right away. The note to Corinna in Maggy Larissa's La fete de la petite sirene invited her to compare the story with Hans Christian Andersen's Little Mermaid, while the note to Tobey written across the title-page of Liselotte Julius's Claudine et Michel a la fete foraine asked, `Guess what the dog's name is?' 
    The portion of the family's library at Princeton University also tells us a good deal about what the Cotsens liked to read. They had various anthologies on hand, from such collections of nonsense poetry as A Case of the Giggles, illustrated by Tomi Ungerer (fig. 3), to short fiction such as Basile's Pentamerone retold for young readers. Fairy tales and fantasies were household favorites, including such well-known examples as George MacDonald's The Princess and the Goblin and James Thurber's The Thirteen Clocks and The Wonderful O, illustrated by Ronald Searle, as well as less familiar ones as Andre Maurois' gentle anti-war satire The Fatapoufs and Thinifers, with pictures by Jean Bruller, Ethel M. Gates' Broom Fairies, illustrated by the Petershams (fig. 4), and Thornbjorn Egner's Karius and Baktus, a cautionary tale about preventive dentistry whose protagonists are two troll-like cavities armed with pneumatic drills (fig. 5). Everyone enjoyed Greek myths--perhaps because Mr. Cotsen did such a terrific impression of Father Zeus hurling thunderbolts from the top of Mount Olympus. The Cotsens also took pleasure in fiction about the lives of children in colonial America, as for example Lois Lenski's Puritan Adventure, or Carolyn Sherwin Bailey's Children of the Handcrafts, illustrated by Grace Paull (fig. 6), as well as stories about children in foreign countries, like Hans Aanrud's Solve Suntrap, illustrated by Ingri and Edgar d'Aulaire. Noah, the youngest child, liked the challenge of solving complicated puzzle pictures in books such as Larry Evans' 3-Dimensional Mazes. The girls were partial to doll stories such as Frances Hodgson Burnett's Racketty-Packetty House, illustrated by Harrison Cady, or Mrs. H. C. Cradock's Peggy and Joan, illustrated by Honor C. Appleton (fig. 7), but they also enjoyed the naughtier pleasures of reading about Heinrich Hoffmann's pigheaded Augustus, who would not eat his soup and starved to death, or Kay Thompson's Eloise, who terrorized the occupants of New York City's Plaza Hotel (fig. 8). 
    Even this small sample of books from the family's library suggests how much the Cotsens appreciated excellent illustrations as well as good stories. Before the children could read independently, they were intrigued by the great Italian designer Bruno Munari's interactive picture books with their wildly inventive use of flap transformations, cut-away, and see-through pages. Even after the children graduated from picture books, their parents' interest in the art of children's book illustration continued to grow: Mr. and Mrs. Cotsen began to add increasingly sophisticated picture books to the library in the late 1960s. From London they brought home books such as C. S. Evans' The Sleeping Beauty, decorated with silhouettes by Arthur Rackham (fig. 9). They began collecting the Robinsons, the well-known English family of illustrators, perhaps because one of the few books to have come down from Mrs. Cotsen's family was a well-worn copy of Roland Carse's facetious history, More Monarchs of Merry England, with line drawings and color plates by W. Heath Robinson (fig. 10). They picked up a variety of retellings and reinterpretations of the Noah's ark story, including Roger Duvoisin's A for the Ark (fig. 11). The Cotsens also found themselves attracted to various European picture book illustrators. The colorful folkloric illustrations of the Czech artist Rudolf Mates (p. 578), the highly stylized work of Sigmund Freud's niece, Tom Seidmann-Freud, and the precise but delicate line of Maurice Boutet de Monvel all caught their eyes. Venturing into new territory, the Cotsens started buying works of contemporary American illustrators just coming into their own: there are at Princeton a signed copy of David Macaulay's Underground for Noah, and two of Maurice Sendak's works, The Juniper Tree and The Ten Little Rabbits, which he inscribed to all the children in the family. 
    By the 1970s, it was Mr. Cotsen who was doing all the buying for the family collection, now that the children were teenagers and Mrs. Cotsen was devoting more of her time to volunteering at the Beverly Hills Public Library. During this decade of transition when he matured as a collector, Mr. Cotsen began to redefine the collection's scope. As he found himself increasingly drawn to the kind of unusual or rare material offered by the New York antiquarian booksellers Walter Schatzki and Justin G. Schiller, the family library gradually metamorphosed into a serious international collection of the illustrated children's book from the fifteenth century to the present day. Mr. Cotsen's new interest in tracing the genre's development through time did not, however, diminish his original fascination with the twentieth-century illustrated book. Building on the foundation he and his wife had previously laid, Mr. Cotsen continued to buy a profusion of contemporary books, broadening the focus from the English-speaking countries to Europe and beyond, so that the collection would contain a cross-section of as many of the international design movements, national artistic traditions, and popular styles as possible, along with the work of individual artists that intrigued him. It is no exaggeration to say that Mr. Cotsen has succeeded in creating a museum of twentieth- century graphic design--especially of Arts and Crafts, Art Nouveau, Expressionism, Constructivism, Futurism, de Stijl, Art Deco, and Heroic Realism--as it is reflected in the century's illustrated children's books. It is also possible to find artists in the family collection who may have inspired Mr. Cotsen's more ambitious acquisitions. Ottilia Adelborg (1855--1936), Mrs. Cotsen's favorite illustrator, is a case in point. Over the years Mr. Cotsen has added more editions of this woman artist's books to the collection; however, he has also supplied her small but charming body of work with overlapping contexts. Thanks to his fondness for the European Art Nouveau picture book, her fellow Swedes Ivar Arosenius, Elsa Beskow (p. 106), John Bauer (p. 119), Carl Kylberg (p. 597), and Carl Larsson, and notable Scandinavian illustrators such as Suzanne Lassen (p. 613), Kay Nielsen (p. 392), and Einar Nerman (p. 287) have found a home in the collection. 
    There are many striking books in the collection, but Mr. Cotsen has never been interested in illustrated books primarily as beautiful objects. Instead, he has always been intrigued by the ways in which authors and illustrators convey meaning to a young audience. Of course, the idea that pictures help children learn more effectively is an old one, but the image was by and large subordinate to the word until improvements in printing technologies made it possible to produce books filled with color illustrations within a wide range of prices. Once, in the early twentieth century, the balance had been tipped towards the image as the more powerful and direct of the two vehicles, many contemporary creators of children's books--invigorated by the prospect of harnessing the potential of image and text in new ways--sought to improve or transform society by molding the next generation's values as early as possible. And in this endeavor they have proved themselves to be as eager as any educational reformer of the past. In fact, children's books are often windows on a society more transparent than its adult literature, and over the years Mr. Cotsen has gathered up a fascinating array of illustrated books from all over the world whose creators have tried using words and pictures to impress on children's minds particular habits, values, and beliefs. Some express a culture's highest ideals, or display its particular sense of humor, while others reveal its malevolent prejudices, or serve as the tools of propagandists of every stripe. For example, some teach the advantages of following the rules of good hygiene, as Marie Fischerova-Kvechova's cheerful pamphlet Slunce, voda, pohyb, vzduch v zdravem tele, zdravy duch! , executed around 1925 for the Czech Tuberculosis Society (p. 317). Some celebrate close ties between the generations, such as John Lim's memoir of his Singapore childhood, At Grandmother's House , 1977 (p. 639). Some overtly encourage boys to join idealized peers participating in political movements: the members of the Fascist Black Shirts' youth auxiliary bear an uncanny resemblance to Tintin, Herge's popular comic book hero, in Verdini's illustrations for Il capo-squadra Balilla , 1933 (p. 174). In sharp contrast, the engagingly silly antics of Kathleen Ainslie's Dutch dolls in Votes for Catherine Susan and Me (1910) gently disparage the suffragettes' tactics as if to reassure English girls that the movement to win women the right to vote was nothing to be taken seriously (p. 20). Some portray heads of state as gods to be worshipped, as in Testi's extraordinary tribute to Mussolini in Vincenzo Fraschetti's Italia dall' A alla Z , 1936 (pp. 330--331), while others expose them as shams, as in Raymond Briggs' savage caricatures of Margaret Thatcher in The Tin-Pot Foreign General and the Old Iron Woman , his 1984 denunciation of the Falklands War (pp. 146--147). 
    Among modern children's book collectors, Mr. Cotsen has come the closest to realizing his mentor Walter Schatzki's conception of the ultimate collection, one that would include the 'literature of all centuries and all languages,' that would be unlikely to 'duplicate any existing library,' and that would afford an unparalleled opportunity to study the impact children's books have had on their times and cultures. To give just one example, at the Cotsen Children's Library at Princeton it will be possible to explore the legacy of one of the greatest of all children's books, the revolutionary Orbis Pictus by the seventeenth-century educator Johann Amos Comenius. One may begin by examining the first Danish edition of 1672, with Latin annotations by two schoolboys, and follow the thread through a run of English translations up to the nineteenth century, the editions of Jakob Eberhard Gailer's Neuer Orbis Pictus , with its splendid hand-colored lithographed plates, or Suzanne Ehmcke's 1949 trilingual Le petit dictionnaire en images (fig. 12) from the original family library. In the process of building up this splendid collection, Mr. Cotsen has revalidated Walter Benjamin's view of book collecting as a passion 'bordering on the chaos of memories' that compels anyone in its grip to buy those objects that 'renew the old world.' Benjamin detected the passion's origins in the untidy child's treasures hidden away in his dresser drawers, for whom 'every single thing he owns makes up one great collection,' a cache comprised of 'prickly chestnuts that are spiky clubs, tinfoil that is hoarded silver, bricks that are coffins, cacti that are totem poles and copper pennies that are shields.' Of course, Benjamin realized that adult collectors are not motivated solely by the urge to hunt down things that fascinate just themselves: the desire to rearrange individual items into intriguing new juxtapositions--just as a child puts together a scrapbook with cut-outs and decals--keeps the hunt engrossing and provides an intellectual justification for continuing the pursuit. When an ambitious collector like Lloyd E. Cotsen succeeds in refocusing that vital childish urge to renew the world, his books assembled on the shelves will simultaneously reflect aspects of his own personal history and illuminate dimensions of the universal past as well. When completed and fully indexed, this multi-volume catalogue describing Mr. Cotsen's generous gift to the Princeton University Library will reveal some of the many concepts, subjects, and themes that link one book to others in the collection. Many more connections are waiting to be discovered by those who will want to assemble other scrapbooks from books in the collection that will 'renew the old world.' It is our hope that this catalogue will bring scholars from this country and from around the world to the Cotsen Children's Library, inspired to recover social and cultural history as experienced by children over hundreds of years--just as its founder has envisioned. 

ANDREA IMMEL              
Cotsen Children's Library

1. Gumuchian et Cie, Les livres de l'enfance du XVe au XIXe siecle (London: Holland Press, 1979), vol. 1, pp. xvi--xvii.

2. Walter Schatzki, Old and Rare Children's Books: Catalogue Number One (New York, [1941]), pp. 1--2.

3. Walter Benjamin, 'Unpacking My Library,' in Selected Writings, Michael W. Jennings, general editor (Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1999), volume 2, 1927--1934, pp. 486--487. 

4. Walter Benjamin, 'One-Way Street,' in Selected Writings, volume 1, 1913--1926, p. 465. 

5. Walter Benjamin, 'Unpacking My Library,' in Selected Writings, volume 2, 1927--1934, p. 487.