As physical objects, children’s books are notoriously at-risk. Books and ephemera that were originally published for children usually ended up in the possession of… children, not surprisingly. And whatever their other merits, children aren’t typically known for their careful attention to the health and well-being of their toys and books.
That’s why a collection like our Edith Wetmore Collection of Children’s Books is so special. It’s comprised of about 2,000 books made for children, and many of them are still in incredible shape.
Imagine how easily this miniature French set of natural history books and its delicate, decorative could have been damaged in the nearly 200 years since its publication:
Or how about the fragile overlays attached to the pages of this guide for young women’s conduct:
Some items weren’t even designed to remain intact, like this assemble-it-yourself toy book of the Puss In Boots story (you can make your own version of one here):
And in some cases, survival of a book is legendary. Beatrix Potter couldn’t get anyone interested in her story of a rambunctious rodent, so she published 250 copies of Peter Rabbit at her own expense and gave many away. We can be sure that original number of 250 was whittled down by children who loved their books to pieces, which is what makes a copy like this one such a treasure:
With fragile books like this in such excellent condition, we wanted to make sure that they stayed as undamaged as possible, and that’s where the National Endowment for the Humanities* comes in. Thanks to a preservation grant program, we were able to purchase over 500 custom archival boxes for the most needy books in the collection. Individual boxes are great because they isolate books from most of the things that cause damage.
So now Peter Rabbit is safely ensconced and ready for another century of use by anyone (including children) who wants to see his first appearance in the world.
Next time: Numbers, numbers and more numbers.
*Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this blog post do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.