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Poetry, Verse and Rhymes; Games. 0785: Anon., The History of Little Tom Tucker

Author: Anon.
Title: The history of little Tom Tucker
Cat. Number: 0785
Date: No date, but 1807-50
1st Edition:
Pub. Place: York
Publisher: J. Kendrew
Pages: 1 vol., 16pp
Size: 10.5 x 6.5 cm
Illustrations: 16 wood-engravings

Images of all pages of this book

Page 003 of item 0785

Introductory essay

Like a great many children's books of the early nineteenth century, The history of little Tom Tucker takes a well-known nursery rhyme and builds a neat narrative on top of it (compare, for instance, The Queen of Hearts: 0781). Here, we begin with Little Tom Tucker singing for his supper of white bread and butter, but asking 'How shall I cut it / Without a Knife; / And how shall I marry / Without a wife?' (p.3). This verse is of obscure origins, but had doubtless formed part of an oral tradition. It had been included in that most important early collection of nursery rhymes, Mother Goose's Melody, probably first published in about 1780 (0686: see p.23). In The history of little Tom Tucker, however, we find out the answer to these questions.

Tom starts as a dunce and a truant, eager to play with his top and easily distracted from school by the arrival of a fair with its cast of monkeys and bears (p.7). Suddenly, though, he decides to reform. Partly, it seems, this is because he has been punished (by being flogged and chained to a log) by his school-master, and partly because he envies those of his friends who can read (pp.8-9). Tom soon becomes the most assiduous and clever boy in his school, and is awarded a medal (p.11), and given, by his father, a whip and a top, and a horse to ride. After Tom has proved his moral virtue, as well as his willingness to learn, by giving charity to an old woman (p.14), he meets his future wife. By the final verse, on the back cover, then, Tom can sit down to his supper, with his knife and his wife, and 'blest as a king' (p.16).

It is impossible to determine with any certainty the date of Kendrew's publications. James Kendrew started printing in York sometime between 1801 and 1803 according to his bibliographer, Roger Davis (Davis 1988: 12). Though Davis has been able, using watermarks and other internal evidence, to establish the publication dates of some of Kendrew's books for children, he can only conclude that the rest were published sometime between c.1815 and James Kendrew's death in January 1841 (Davis 1988: 43). When Kendrew died he was a fairly rich man. In his will he left £765 in addition to the business, which suggests that provincial printing was reasonably remunerative (Davis 1988: 15). Diversification was necessary to survive, though. When Kendrew's son took over the firm, he listed book-selling, provision of stationery and book-binding as equal or greater parts of the operation.

However, cheap chapbooks for children were what the firm was famous for. As Davis' bibliography shows, Kendrew senior specialised in half-penny books of 16 pages, penny books of 24 pages, and 32-page books, also sold for a penny, such as those in the Hockliffe Collection (as listed on the outside back cover of 0028). For these, a single sheet was printed in one impression, with the wood-engravings set alongside the text. It was then folded to make a 32-page book which was stitched together in one gathering. The outside pages were left unprinted because a cover was then pasted on to the outside of the book. This was made of 'sugar paper' (so-called because it was often used by grocers to hold sugar), and could be any one of a variety of colours. Not only would this cover be more decorative and durable, but it would conceal and protect the stitching used in the book-binding. Also, new outside covers could later be printed and pasted onto unsold stock so as make it appear a new edition (which is doubtlessly also why publication dates were not listed on these books). The two versions of Kendrew's Little Red Riding Hood in the Hockliffe Collection, for example, have very different outside covers. One set acts as a title-page and an advertisement for Kendrew's series of penny books (0028: front and back)); the other bears some apparently miscellaneous verses and vignettes (0029: front and back).

Kendrew also used his wood-engraving blocks fairly promiscuously, using illustrations to one narrative in many other publications. Davis suggests that Kendrew had a stock of about 500 wood blocks available to him at the time of his death (Davis 1988: 72). Many of these, Davis suspects, were plagiarised from other books, sometimes so well that it is difficult to be absolutely certain that the original blocks themselves were not sold on to Kendrew and used by him. Most often copied was the work of Thomas Bewick, the foremost wood-engraver of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. His images of animals and birds which first appeared in the famous A General History of Quadrupeds (1790) and A History of British Birds (1797-1804) were especially targeted, probably because they could be pressed into service to illustrate almost any story.

For other books in the Hockliffe Collection published by Kendrew of York see, amongst others, The History of Giles Gingerbread, A Little Boy, Who lived upon Learning (0240) and Mrs. Lovechild's Golden Present for all good little boys and girls (0685).

Davis, Roger, Kendrew of York and his chapbooks for children with a checklist, London : The Elmete Press, 1988

Davis, Roger, Kendrew of York and his chapbooks for children with a checklist, London : The Elmete Press, 1988

Davis, Roger, Kendrew of York and his chapbooks for children with a checklist, London : The Elmete Press, 1988

Davis, Roger, Kendrew of York and his chapbooks for children with a checklist, London : The Elmete Press, 1988