Books On Books Collection – Corinne Ringel Bailey

Alphabet Book No. 2108 (1934)

Alphabet Book No. 2108 (1934)
Corinne Ringel Bailey
Linen book. Saddle-stitch, staples, H305 x w255 mm. 8 linen leaves including cover. Acquired 19 January 2023.
Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Known now primarily for its Raggedy Ann books, The Saalfield Publishing Company (1900-77) published a wide range of linen books for children, naturally including numerous alphabet books with different themes. This last of four editions over 1928-34 — an alphabet of games, toys and entertainments — is one of Corinne Ringel Bailey’s more popular illustrated works. Based on library holdings, the most popular was The Adventures of Tom Sawyer published in 1931.

Although spanning the Great Depression, this abecedary depicts a world untouched by hardship. The “Jack & Jill” who come down this hill have a pail overflowing with letters. While the illustrations range back to inexpensive childhood activities (playing catch, hoop rolling, ice sliding and leapfrog), they also include a toy airplane, an electric train set, and a large radio cabinet for bedtime tales. Albeit not technologically advanced, both the pony cart for children under P and the tricycle under V (paying attention?) would have been luxuries — as would the replica steam-driven fire engine as well.

The booklet contains other peculiar leaps. While many of the activities have rural or suburban settings, the organ grinder was and remains an urban phenomenon. Words such as “aeroplane” and “quoits” have a British or European flavor to them (as do some of the dolls’ clothing), but a “yard” is where American children play while British children play in the “back garden”. The children’s clothing looks more American, and although animal crackers (biscuits) originated in England, the box depicted under Z (still paying attention?) looks suspiciously like the one created by Nabisco for its version of animal crackers.

Given the simplicity of most words in the book, “velocipede” seems a rather large one to include — even though it had been used since the mid-19th century on both sides of the Atlantic to cover bicycles and tricycles. Since other alphabet books of the period selected velocipede for V, the choice does not set Bailey’s apart from the crowd pedagogically. The absence of a more considered treatment of uppercase vs lowercase letters, however, does. From hornbooks onwards, most abecedaries present the uppercase and lowercase. In this respect and others, Bailey’s work is more picture book than alphabet book.

Illustration choices seem to have the upper hand. Echoing the animals in the image for Noah’s ark, there’s the clever illustration for “zoo” presenting a box of animal crackers with cookies shaped like those of Nabisco’s “Barnum’s Animals” escaping the box. Although the string attached to the box copies Nabisco’s that it introduced in 1902 for hanging the box as a treat on Christmas trees, the box is labeled “Kiddie Krackers” and does not look like the Nabisco brand box — probably to avoid trademark issues.

In fact, the intensity of colors — in the letters themselves, the bamboo umbrella’s pattern, the children’s ruddy cheeks and knees, and every image — delivers the overriding effect of this abecedary and looks back to the chromolithography of the 19th century, the woodcuts and posters of C.B. Falls and forward to such later 20th century abecedarians as Marie Angel, Sonia Delaunay, Carol DuBosch, Jean Holabird and many others in this collection.

Further Reading

Abecedaries I (in progress)“. Books On Books Collection.

Marie Angel“. 18 June 2021. Books On Books Collection.

Eulalie Minfred Banks“. 27 February 2023. Books On Books Collection.

Graeme Base“. [In progress]. Books On Books Collection.

Sonia Delaunay“. [In progress]. Books On Books Collection.

Carol DuBosch“. 6 January 2023. Books On Books Collection.

C.B. Falls“. 14 December 2022. Books On Books Collection.

David Hockney“. [In progress]. Books On Books Collection.

Jean Holabird“. 8 February 2022. Books On Books Collection.

Andrew White Tuer“. 26 December 2022. Books On Books Collection.

Arne Nixon Center. 2015. “The History of Cloth and ‘Cloth-like’ Books“. Arne Nixon Center for the Study of Children’s Literature. 2015. Accessed 6 February 2023.

Kirsch, Colin. n.d. “The Evolution of Children’s Tricycles: 1800s-1920s“. Online Bicycle Museum. Accessed 6 February 2023.