Friday, May 25, 2012

A Cut Above: Turn of the Century Shape Books

The Happy Hour Paint Book by A.J. Schaeffer
by Beth Carswell
As anyone who has ever read Pat the Bunny can attest, small children are stimulated by books not only in the sense of the story, but also by tactile and visual cues. Making a book fun and beautiful as well as engaging word-wise is a sure way to keep young minds interested. A classic example is the shape book.
A shape book is a product of a form of die-cutting, in which a book is cut into a specific shape - rather than your typical rectangle or even square, these books can be shaped into whatever figure the designer fancies - a fire engine, an artist's palette, or even a shoe. The imagination is the only limit.
Still common in children's books today, shape books came into fashion in the 19th and early 20th centuries. One of the first publishers to put out shape books was the McLoughlin Bros. firm of New York (1828-1920), made up of Scottish immigrant John McLoughlin and his younger brother Edmund.
The two were ahead of their time with their use of printing technology, particularly in regards to color, and were among the first to use chromolithographs (an early form of multiple-color printing) regularly. Their niche included all manner of children's books, including nonsense stories and silly verses, nursery rhymes, picture books, alphabet books and more.
Perhaps it was John's past involvement with wood engraving and printing techniques that led to the interest in shape books and die-cutting, but whatever the impetus, the McLoughlin Bros. put out a great number of them. After a time, the pair's scope expanded beyond books to include toys, such as dolls and board games and children's blocks. After the respective retirement and death of Edmund and John McLoughlin, the firm was sold to Milton Bradley.
Die-cutting books into specific shapes still popular, particularly in children's books, but also occasionally seen in poetry, art books and other genres as well. The Victorian-era shape books, many of which are featured here, have become highly sought-after by collectors and are generally quite scarce.

All Manner of Shapes:

Teddy by Karl Rohr
by Karl Rohr
Key to Nature's Lock
Key to Nature's Lock(sold) 
Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper
Last of the Mohicans
by James Fenimore Cooper
The Tour of 1897 by James A. Bailey
The Tour of 1897 
by James A. Bailey

Stringed Melodies by Alice Price and F. Corbyn
Stringed Melodies 
by Alice Price and F. Corbyn
Sweet Nature by Helen Burnside
Sweet Nature 
by Helen Burnside

Year's Farewell by Jessie Chase
Year's Farewell(sold)
by Jessie Chase

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