- Cultural Record Keepers Beth Budd Bentley Collection Osborne Collection of Early Children's Books Toronto Public Library
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The Infant's Library, published in 1800 by John Marshall of London, consisted of sixteen miniature juvenile books housed in an elegant wooden box, cleverly decorated to resemble a library bookcase. Minnesotan Beth Bentley had collected early children's books for years before she was offered this item by a book dealer. After some negotiating, Bentley acquired The Infant's Library. Together with Stacey Grimaldi's A Suit of Armour for Youth (1825) and complementary Grimaldi materials, it became the focal point of her collection of early rare children's works. When this collection required a proper case, Bentley and her husband, Professor G. E. (Jerry) Bentley, Jr., commissioned a bookcase to be constructed by the cabinetmaker Jeff Cooper after the design of The Infant's Library. [End Page 343]
After many years of enjoyment, Bentley parted with her treasures in 2002, placing them in the Toronto Public Library's Osborne Collection of Early Children's Books. In honor of the gift, the Friends of the Osborne and Lillian H. Smith Collections commissioned a special bookplate to be designed by the Canadian artist Eric Beddows. Beddows made use of Bentley's rebus, three bees, an emblem that appears throughout the Bentley household. All books at the Osborne Collection bear bookplates representing their respective donors, either those of the original donor, Edgar Osborne; of the Canadiana and Lillian H. Smith Collections; or of the special gift of John Sullivan Hayes. The Beth Budd Bentley bookplate is unique in representing not only the gift but also the light heart and free spirit of the giver.
Born and raised in Montevideo, Minnesota, Bentley became a resident of Canada following extended stays in England and travels on the Continent. She spent her career as an instructor at the Toronto French School and at schools in Chicago and Algiers, introducing children to the books that had been the joy of her own cheerful childhood. Her gift to the Toronto Public Library was celebrated on June 22, 2002, the fiftieth wedding anniversary of the Bentleys and ten years after her husband had presented her with the gift of a bibliographic listing of her collection—the work of many surreptitious hours stolen from his own studies of the author William Blake.
The establishment of the Osborne Collection in 1949, brought about by a donation from Edgar Osborne, county librarian of Derbyshire, England, marked a transition in the history of children's services at the Toronto Public Library. Influential throughout Canada since 1912, these services had grown from offering book selection, promotion, programming, and outreach models to a new level of reference support. With the addition of Edgar Osborne's two thousand early children's books, through which Osborne hoped to foster literary and cultural ties to England, the Toronto Public Library undertook to support historical research and studies in children's literature. Over the years, the collection's mandate expanded to encompass the breadth of children's book history in Canada. The 2002 addition of Bentley's collection brought new depth not only to the holdings of early materials but also to the collection of popular and series books, particularly imports from the United States that had been widely enjoyed by children in Canada but largely omitted from retrospective collections. [End Page 344]