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Monday, December 10, 2012

Can Cute Children and Clever Cats Sell Coffee? Yes, Indeed!

Front Cover
As the Special Collections Cataloger for the Smithsonian Libraries, it seems I'm always coming across something wonderful or surprising in my cataloging backlog. While I spend my time creating and upgrading records for historically significant publications on science, technology, and the decorative arts to support research on artifacts in the Smithsonian's collections, they're not all serious scholarly works bound in leather with gilt-lettered spines.

Recently I was amused to find this adorable eight-page booklet, Baby's Letter, published by Raphael Tuck & Sons of London, Paris, and New York, dating probably from the 1890s. Beautifully designed, the booklet features chromolithographed illustrations and a cursive text in the form of a rebus, substituting pictures instead of spelling out some of the words, as a little child might do.

Example of the rebus-style text in Baby's Letter

Baby's Letter is written in the voice of a little girl vacationing at the seaside to her pet cat back home, together with the cat's response. Anonymously written and illustrated, the booklet ("no. 1027") was designed at Raphael Tuck & Sons' studios in England and printed at the Fine Art Works in Germany.

Back cover
This particular copy of Baby's Letter was given away as an advertising promotion. Inside the front cover, an ink-stamped notice reads, "These books given with AAAA Coffee and one pound can Unrivaled Baking Powder. Sprague, Warner & Company, Chicago." One of the largest wholesale grocery firms in the United States at the turn of the twentieth century, Sprague, Warner & Company offered a number of premium items like this booklet to help promote sales of its household goods. Inexpensive little publications like Baby's Letter, and similar printed advertisements and promotional items originally intended to be kept around for a short time before being discarded,  are known as ephemera

Ink-stamp on p. [2] of cover
Raphael Tuck & Sons, a British firm which flourished from 1866 until the 1950s, issued an astonishing variety and number of illustrated postcards, greeting cards, and other printed souvenirs that are highly popular collectibles today. Surviving examples of many items published by Raphael Tuck & Sons can be browsed online in the crowdsourced databases TuckDB and TuckDB Ephemera.

Baby's Letter. London ; Paris ; New York : Raphael Tuck & Sons, [189-?].
Call number: PZ7 .B339 1890z CHMRB Cooper Hewitt National Design Library

--Diane Shaw, Special Collections Cataloger, Smithsonian Libraries

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