Rare Book Monthly

Book Catalogue Reviews - February - 2009 Issue

Childhood Comes Alive in the Pages of Aleph-Bet Book

Alephbet90

Chris Van Allsburg's original art for The Stranger on Aleph-Bet cover.


By Michael Stillman

Aleph-Bet Books has just released its Catalogue 90 of Children's Books and Illustrated Books. These are wonderful catalogues, filled with memories and imagination. You may outgrow the books you liked when you were in your teens or twenties, but you never outgrow the ones you loved as a child. You may read books by Dr. Phil today, but they are no match for those of Dr. Seuss. And, long before our new President told us that yes, we can, the Little Engine That Could taught us that important lesson. They are all here, and so many more, inside the pages of this latest catalogue from Aleph-Bet Books.

Aleph-Bet catalogues, listings in alphabetical order, generally start with ABC books. There are 80 of them this time, including several which were designed to inculcate the young with advertising messages. However, these products were not the plastic toys or sugary cereals and drinks we see advertised on television today. For example, item 2 is A Balsamic Ditty, which promotes Wild Cherry Balsam and Peruvian Syrup to children. "C" is for Prince Albert's castle and gold, "Which he gladly would give without pride or assumption / Could his daughter be cured of the dread fiend Consumption." If only Albert knew of this simple remedy, he could have saved his gold. From 1883. Priced at $250.

Perhaps the kiddies would prefer Scott's Emulsion. Item 7 is New Jingle Joys For Scott's Emulsion Girls and Boys. This "pure medical nourishment" should appeal to girls and boys more than candy. From 1913. $250. Fletcher's Castoria and Health Products' cod liver oil are also out with direct appeals to children. The latter must have had the kids begging their moms for a spoonful of tasty cod liver oil. An odd one is a children's ABC book promoting B.F. Goodrich and Palmer Tires. Few adults, let alone children, could afford automobiles in 1902, but here is Ye Primer: A Rhyme Book of Ye Letters of Ye Alphabet. "S is for safe / Which our tires surely are / There are others but / Ours are better by far." Were people still saying "ye" in 1902? Item 9. $500.

That haunting image on the cover of this catalogue (click the thumbnail image upper left to see) is a piece of original artwork for the 1986 book The Stranger. It appears opposite the text beginning, "But it wasn't a deer." The original watercolor has been matted and is signed by Chris Van Allsburg. Item 562. $27,500.

Frederick Waugh was a popular American artist of the early 20th century. He was best known for his seascapes. Waugh also tried his hand at writing, but was far less successful. Item 269 is a fantastic tale he published in 1916: The Clan of the Munes. It is a strange fantasy, somewhat along the lines of Alice in Wonderland. The Munes were bizarre creatures created from dead tree stumps by an Indian wizard. The illustrated story was perhaps a bit too strange for the time, and it did not sell well. Unsold copies were destroyed, making it something of a rarity. $850.

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