Cock Robin Through Time #1: Nelson's Oil Colour Picture Books for the Nursery (1864)

23.02.2018

This is the first in what I hope will be a series of posts, in which I shall be sharing a selection of illustrations for the Cock Robin story as they have appeared throughout history, a mixture of pieces I have acquired myself or examples I have found online.

There are a surprising variety of iterations, though they mainly date to the Victorian era. In contrast, as far as I can tell, there does not appear to be a single modern illustrated version of the rhyme in print today. I wonder if this is perhaps because in the Victorian age, there was an openness toward the explicitly macabre within children's entertainment, that has since been abandoned. Either way, it means I may just be filling a gap in the market!

 

Anyway, on to the matter of this post...

 

'The Death and Burial of Cock Robin' 

Nelson's Oil Colour Picture Books for the Nursery (1864)

 

 

​I was recently excited to purchase this very obscure, if tattered and incomplete copy of the Cock Robin story. I did not know anything about the edition or it's age when I purchased it on an online auction site, but the illustrations were so striking I could not resist getting a hold of it.
Here are my scans of the illustrations, which are in remarkably good condition, given the state of the outer cover: 

 

As far as I have been able to discover, this was one of a series of children's picture books published by T. Nelson and Sons in 1864, meaning its over 150 years old! The book I have contains these six oil colour chromolithograph prints, which I think cover all the animals of the rhyme. Unfortunately some of the accompanying verse pages are missing (the usual first and last at least). The pages, most of which are loose, are held within a very delicate and worn turquoise cover (top image), embossed with flowers and images of children, with its own inset printed title and circular print. 

 

I think these are some of the best illustrations for the tale that I have come across, particularly because they have an eerie tone that is very similar to what I am trying to capture in my own images. I also much prefer it when the animals are not overly anthropomorphised, as this adds something to the uncanny concept of the funeral. The depth of the colours and shades are intensely rich to view in hand, and remind me, particularly in the foliage, of old Japanese woodcuts. There is a certain vibrancy and life in them, as physical prints, that seems missing in modern digital printing, but which isn't entirely replicated in these scans.

 

This book; delicate and wilting though it may be, is one I shall treasure for many years to come, and perhaps it is not too much to hope that some day, my own effort will reside on the shelf of some unknown person, in 150 years time, and might give the same joy to them as I find now in these ephemeral pages. 

 

I do hope you have enjoyed seeing them! 

 

Thanks,

 

Joseph

 

 

 

 

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