- The Dartons: Publishers of Educational Aids, Pastimes & Juvenile Ephemera 1787-1876. A Bibliographic Checklist, Together with a Description of the Darton Archive as Held by the Cotsen Children's Library Princeton University & a Brief History of Printed Teaching Aids
This book enumerates the non-book educational materials published for children at the Gracechurch Street and Holborn Hill firms of the Quaker engraver-turned-publisher William Darton and his successors. It complements Lawrence Darton's 2004 checklist of the children's books published by those firms. Some of the many subsections of Shefrin's book identify addenda to Darton's checklist and list the Darton juvenile books recently bequeathed by him to the Cotsen Children's Library at Princeton University. Published by the Cotsen Occasional Press, Shefrin's large and attractive volume is even more than the sum of its many parts. Indeed, at the time of writing, it has [End Page 346] won both the Bibliographical Society of America's Schiller Prize and (fittingly) the Darton Award of the Children's Books History Society.
Shefrin's checklist includes educational materials either held in public and private collections or mentioned in newspaper advertisements. Items are arranged alphabetically within publishing house, and classified with icons: Shefrin's categories of teaching aid include 'alphabet toys,' 'battledores' and 'cards.'
Her detailed descriptions and excerpts and especially her many contextual essays reconstruct pedagogical philosophies and practices, not only in the Dartons' Britain, but in early modern Europe generally. Preceding the checklist is a historical survey of printed teaching aids: Shefrin shows us that teachers had 'good sport' with their scholars long before Locke recommended sensory stimulation in the seventeenth century. Her overview of the Dartons' educational trade necessarily considers their competitors and links series of prints with the expansion of mass education in the new infant and monitorial schools. She includes interesting financial information in her descriptive list of the Cotsen holdings of the Darton family archive: for instance, how 'Schools' and 'Country Booksellers' affect 'the profit of the Copy rights' is one thread of an undated written 'conversation' between Samuel Darton and his very deaf father, William. Thanks to multiple indexes and generous cross-references and illustrations, Shefrin allows us to see how publishers like the Dartons could resourcefully adapt the same image to different media and different markets. Her general entry for 'Darton's Children's Pictures' explains how some of J.R. Barfoot's 'prints of animals most useful to man' appear not only in different series but also as jigsaw puzzles: her separate entries for each allow us to see how the print of 'The beaver, and his uses' was entirely redrawn for the puzzle. Darton seems to have been active in the development of 'dissected' maps into puzzles on other subjects; that story is one of Shefrin's most notable contributions to scholarship.
The book's numerous illustrations convey a particularly vivid sense of how natural history, religion, and geography might have been taught at the centre of the empire. While Shefrin acknowledges the gap between theory and practice, her apparatus tempts us to reconstruct the teaching of subjects. Grammar stereotypically involved much rote memorization and unpleasantness. A 'Murray's grammar' (along with 'half-a-dozen cards of terms') is on the desk of Dickens's abusive schoolmaster Wackford Squeers in Nicholas Nickleby (1838-9), and Murray had apparently produced an abridgement because the original was getting defaced by younger scholars. As publishers of this popular English grammar, the Dartons must have been associated with the teaching of this field. Shefrin's index reveals an array of their other products for teaching grammar: terms were defined in verse, printed on cards, [End Page 347] appeared in letterpress charts and illustrated prints, and were tested in games. Some educators hoped humour might make the teaching and learning of grammar more pleasant and effective. Shefrin's well-chosen excerpts...