What did the youngest citizens of Baltimore read in past centuries? A sampling of their literary selections is on display in the exhibition, "For Amusement and Instruction: Children's Books in Bygone Baltimore," now through Jan. 31 at the George Peabody Library of The Johns Hopkins University at 17 E. Mount Vernon Place in Baltimore. The books and related items in the exhibition come from the collection of Linda F. and Julian L. Lapides.
The exhibition features books published, primarily in Baltimore, for children and youth from the 1790s to approximately 1875. Many are illustrated with fine woodcuts and copperplate engravings. It highlights their history and changing nature as well as children's book publishers such as Samuel Wood, Fielding Lucas, John Horton and William Raine. Schoolbooks receive special attention as do the advertising booklets given out, especially at holiday times, by retailers with the well- known Baltimore names of Hochschild Kohn & Co., Hutzler Brothers and Stieff Pianos. Also on display are the childhood reading choices of several prominent individuals associated with Baltimore: Elizabeth (Betsy) Patterson Bonaparte, Frederick Douglass and Henry Louis Mencken.
During the 17th and 18th centuries, children's books led a precarious existence and their preservation often depended on special circumstances. Some titles saved by proud owners had been received as rewards for excellence or diligence in school. Others still intact had owners who inscribed them with cautionary verses to protect their volumes from harm and theft. Their survival in any condition is fortunate; more than any other body of literature, books read and enjoyed by children received the most love and the hardest wear.
Linda F. Lapides, a former librarian at the Enoch Pratt Free Library and her attorney husband, Julian L. Lapides, have been collecting books for children and youth for more than four decades and are especially interested in those published in their native Baltimore.
The George Peabody Library is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Please call ahead to check holiday hours from December 22 to January 1.
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