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  • Principles, Privilege and Powerlessness in the Edwardian Prize Book:Bridging the Gap Between Two Opposing Worlds

In a world of mobile phones and tablets it is hard to imagine the joy that children once felt when presented with a book as a prize by the head teacher or the vicar of their church. By 1901, awarding books as prizes had become standard practice for most schools in Edwardian England. But how were these books viewed by recipients? Were their contents read over and over again or were they placed on the shelf as attractive editions? Were readers aware of their explicit pedagogy? This article unravels these and other questions by tracking the role of the prize book as an institutionalized object. Through an exploration of its content and prize inscription, we can gain a unique insight into Edwardian culture and society and examine the perpetual line that the prize book treads between privilege and powerlessness.

Popular Children's Literature in Britain, How to Do Things with Books in Victorian Britain, The Cambridge History of the Book in Britain, Literary Research and the Victorian and Edwardian Ages, 1830–1910, The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes, The Journal of Popular Culture, Proceedings of the Atlantic Provinces Linguistic Association, Religion and Respectability: Sunday Schools and Working Class Culture, 1780–1850, "Rewarding Reads? Giving, Receiving and Resisting Evangelical Reward and Prize Books," "Workbooks and Toybooks: The Task and the Gift of a Child's Book," "Embossed Gilt and Moral Tales: Reward Books in English Sunday Schools," George Bodmer, David McKitterick, Jonathan Rose, Leah Price, Kim Reynolds, Dorothy Entwistle, 1870 Education Act, Edwardian, Edwardian Prize Book

IN A WORLD of mobile phones, tablets and computers, it is hard to imagine the joy that children once felt when presented with a book as a prize by the head teacher of their school or the vicar of their local church. Yet the prize book, and its associated prize inscription, was a revolutionary concept when it was first introduced to Britain in the mid nineteenth century. By 1901, awarding books as prizes had become standard practice for most schools, Sunday schools and other institutions in Britain and its Empire. While prize books were typically awarded to a person in recognition of an outstanding achievement or contribution, they also served a secondary function of moral education and they were often used by educational and religious institutions as tools to disseminate approved fiction. But how were these books viewed by recipients? Were their contents read over and over again or were they placed on the shelf as mere attractive editions? Were readers aware of their explicit pedagogy or did they simply read the stories as a means of escapism? In terms of awarding institutions, did they differ in their prize-giving practices? Were boys and girls treated differently? And how did prize inscriptions vary? This article aims to unravel these questions by tracking the role of the prize book as an institutionalised object. Through an exploration of its content and prize inscription, we can gain a unique insight into Edwardian culture and society and examine the perpetual line that the prize book tread between privilege and powerlessness.

The widespread distribution of prize books grew chiefly as a direct consequence of the 1870 Education Act—the first piece of legislation to deal specifically with education in England and Wales. Although some [End Page 506] institutions had awarded books as prizes before, the downward spread of schooling was the catalyst that led publishers to create a specific new genre of "prize books" marketed explicitly at teachers and superintendents and molded to the requirements of the organisations which gave them away. Prize books were generally purchased in the thousands and largely bought for compatibility with the values of the organisation which distributed them over any literary merit or attention paid to an individual child's interests or abilities.1 In fact, the general consensus amongst book historians is that their content was often shoddily written and tailored to a formulaic and facile style.2

Nonetheless, their aesthetic appeal and cheap prices were chief motivating factors in their purchase. The application of mass-production newspaper print methods and machinery to book production meant that decorative cloth covers with gilt edging, colour blocking and bevelled boards could be printed at a very low cost. Publishers began to invest all attention in making the outside covers of prize books as attractive as possible, reducing costs by leaving the inside with thin paper and highly compressed print. Those responsible for the purchase of prize books recognised that making them appear as valuable as possible would reflect well on their institution, and consequently their supposed generosity could potentially bring benefits such as increased membership or monetary donations. The decorative boards of prize books were said to transform the relationship between publisher, bookseller, customer and reader3 as books could now be sold based on their external properties as much as by their internal contents. Their attractive covers are perhaps one of the principal reasons why prize books are still very easy to come by in second-hand bookshops and why they remain highly collectable amongst bibliophiles.

However, despite being a revolutionary period in terms of developments in book production, illustration and marketing, the Edwardian era and its many literacy practices have been widely overlooked as fields of research.4 Although in recent years, scholars have begun to study the Edwardian picture postcard in depth,5 very few previous studies have yet explored Edwardian book inscriptions, ownership or reading practices.

Prize books, in particular, have only received minimal attention thus far. George Bodmer6 briefly mentions the practice in his article on the task and the gift of a child's book, David McKitterick7 refers generally to the prize book when outlining chief advances in the book in Britain between 1830–1914, Jonathan Rose8 provides some information [End Page 507] from workers' memoirs on the receiving of books as prizes, and Leah Price9 and Kim Reynolds10 outline the resistance amongst some working class recipients of prize books. Perhaps the best-known study is that of Dorothy Entwistle,11 who used a dataset of 1,248 Sunday school prize books from 1870–1914 collected from second-hand bookshops to examine trends in the types of books given as prizes, the main themes of these books and their portrayal of men and women. None of these studies consider the differences in prize-giving practices between institutions, the effect of gender on the type of book awarded and the forms of prize inscriptions employed.

This discussion extends the work of Entwistle by focusing on a dataset of 706 prize books awarded from both secular and religious institutions in Edwardian Britain. It establishes the principal reasons for prize-giving, explores how religiosity and gender determined which book a child was awarded and considers the ways in which books were generally received by recipients. Finally, the materiality of prize inscriptions will be investigated—a rich, yet extremely underutilised source of data, particularly for scholars and historians carrying out research on local or social history. Not only can prize inscriptions reveal a considerable amount of information about schooling and religion in the early twentieth century, but the annotations, sticker types and books in which they are present can also offer a glimpse into the lives of ordinary Edwardians and their mentalities.


All 706 prize books collected for this article came from three chief sources: 1) Book Barn International; 2) Oxfam; and 3) Cardiff University's Special Collections and Archives (SCOLAR).

In all three institutions, prize books were identified by manually searching the shelves.12 To ensure accurate identification of inscriptions as Edwardian, the dataset only contains examples labelled with a date from between 1901 and 1914. This means that books published pre-1901 are included, provided that they were awarded as prizes during the Edwardian era. Upon identification, each inscription and the book in which it was present were photographed. An Access database was also created to input observations on the external and internal features of each book.13

The books were then arranged into four categories according to their awarding institution: 1) School; 2) Sunday School; 3) Clubs and Societies; and 4) Other. The information was gathered from the prize [End Page 508] inscription itself, which features information on the recipient's name, geographical location, awarding institution, date and reason for the prize. When it became apparent that, within these categories, there were also many variations, it was decided to split them into further sub-categories. Twenty-seven different types of institution were identified in total.14

School Sunday School Clubs and Societies Other
  1. 1. Board

  2. 2. Faith

  3. 3. Grammar

  4. 4. Boarding

  5. 5. Training College

  6. 6. Other

  1. 1. Church of England

  2. 2. Episcopalian

  3. 3. Baptist

  4. 4. Congregational

  5. 5. Primitive Methodist

  6. 6. Wesleyan Methodist

  7. 7. Pentecostal

  8. 8. Presbyterian

  9. 9. Other Methodist

  10. 10. Jewish

  11. 11. Quakers

  1. 1. Temperance Society

  2. 2. Pleasant Sunday Afternoon

  3. 3. Missionary Society

  4. 4. Bible Class

  5. 5. Adult Learning

  6. 6. Salvation Army

  7. 7. Boys' Clubs

  8. 8. Other

  1. 1. Competitions

  2. 2. Competitions

Prize-Giving as a Window to Moral & Academic Betterment

"The greatest slave is not he who is ruled by a despot, great though that evil be, but he who is in the thrall of his own moral ignorance, selfishness, and vice."15

In the Edwardian era, the Church was still the most dominant ideological force. It concentrated not just on religious functions, but also had educational, communicational and cultural objectives. At the heart of these educational objectives was the Sunday school, seen as the central feature of working-class community life and the principal channel through which the upper and middle classes sought to impose their social ideas upon working-class children.16 For many working-class children, Sunday school was a temporary refuge from poverty and thus the highlight of their week. At its inception in the 1770s, Sunday schools awarded children with medals and reward cards for good behaviour,17 but with the formalised measurement of competency introduced by the 1870 Education Act in England and Wales, Sunday schools began to adapt the practice and replace medals with prize books. These prize books were seen as a bridge between the awarding institution and the child's daily life. [End Page 509]

Edwardian society was also arguably the first in Britain to feel the direct impact of educational ideology. By 1901, Britain had experienced more than twenty years of free, compulsory education, and over 5.7 million children were attending school on a regular basis.18 The 1870 Education Act had established a system of 2,500 school boards made up of locally elected bodies who were responsible for the building and management of schools in areas where they were most needed, such as rural and industrial communities, whereas the subsequent acts of 1880 and 1891 had abolished fees and made attendance compulsory for all children between five and twelve years old. By the turn of the twentieth century, prize-giving books had also become a standard trade in schools.19

The Sunday school dataset here is made up of eleven distinct religious groups. Of these eleven groups, Roman Catholic is notably absent despite having 1.5 million practising members in England and Wales in 1901.20 John Turner explains this absence by the fact that Catholic educators did not become involved in the Sunday school prize-giving movement, as they did not accept its necessity.21 In all eleven groups, books are predominantly awarded for regular attendance, good conduct and punctuality—all traits considered essential for appropriate social conduct in Edwardian society.22 Books were also given for activities related to the field of religious practice such as scripture examination, Bible classes, reciting and collecting for missions. This demonstrates the effect that Sunday schools wished to have on a child's system of sociocultural dispositions. When awarding prize books, the implicit reader in mind was always a working-class child. The act of prize-giving was aimed at helping to shape the child's present and future position by means of moral education to make him/her a better person. In Entwistle's own classification of prize books by their main themes, feminine roles, masculine roles, character training, vices and self-improvement feature most frequently.23

However, in the case of Sunday schools, this implicit reader would have often had a family environment that was entirely different to the ideas promoted at Sunday school. Drunkenness, poor hygiene and betting were commonplace in Edwardian working-class communities. Thus, the stark contrast between the interpellation of the Church and their own family may have conflicted. While some children may have used the Sunday school and its education to "free" themselves from preestablished social categories, many would have remained within the environment in which they had grown up. This is likely to be because [End Page 510] working-class groups were easily manipulated as they often struggled to develop a coherent world view or spontaneous philosophy that related to their own place in society. Of the school dataset, like Sunday schools, both Board schools and Faith schools (schools ran by a religious denomination church) awarded prizes predominantly for self-improvement and respectability.24 As the two most attended schools, these institutions would have seen themselves as having a moral obligation to teach students right and wrong. Although emphasis was placed on children learning the "3 Rs"—reading, writing and arithmetic—far more attention would have been given to correct behaviour. Like Sunday schools, working-class and lower-middle-class children would have been the principal attendees. Awarding prizes for moral behaviour would have upheld the necessity to train children to fulfil their preestablished role in society. The data collected from military schools and ragged schools (charity schools for destitute children) show that they also favour behavioural traits over any other qualities.25 This result is unsurprising given that the military construct is one dominated by punctuality, obedience and discipline whereby the charity construct is aimed at bringing virtue to poor children.

A stark contrast can be made with Grammar schools and Boarding schools, where students were commended on their academic talents over anything else. These schools were typically attended by middle class children or upper-working-class children who may have received a scholarship. Rather than instilling in children the desire to remain within their deeply entrenched societal roles, these schools pushed children towards betterment. This is reflected in their prize-giving practice where attention is paid chiefly to subject capability (Maths, English, History, French) over behavioural traits.26 Training colleges, specialist institutions for teachers, engineers, etcetera, also show a similar trend in that all prizes are awarded for academic achievement (for example, Inorganic Chemistry, Art, Latin).27 It appears that each school provides children with the ideology which suits the role they are expected to fulfil in class society.

In terms of prize books awarded by clubs and societies, the majority of clubs are directly related to the recipient's religion and thus, like Sunday schools, they tend to promote religious ideology. In accordance with previous findings, all clubs with a religious ethos (for example, Temperance Society, Salvation Army, Missionary Society) give preference to moral codes of conduct, prizes being chiefly awarded for attendance, [End Page 511] diligence and regularity.28 Even the two secular clubs (Adult Learning and Boy Scouts) consider these traits worthy of prizes.29

The final category—Other—contains prizes awarded as part of competitions, be they by charities, magazines or companies. In these examples, competitions involved essay writing, handwriting or exams. It is interesting to note that despite their secularity, the competitions are still heavily guided by religious principles. Questions include "Describe some of the good ways in which animals, birds and insects may be a good example to us in leading a useful and unselfish life" (RSPCA) and "Write an essay on thrift" (Charity Organisation Society).

Gender & Religiosity in Prize-Giving

What are little boys made of? What are little boys made of? Snips and snails and puppy-dogs' tails, That's what little boys are made of? What are little girls made of? What are little girls made of? Sugar and spice and everything nice, That's what little girls are made of.30

In Sunday schools, prize books that contained religious/moral fiction were the favoured choice over any other book genre. These findings are in accordance with Entwistle.31 While she primarily employed content analysis to gauge the general themes of religious/moral fiction, this article uses corpus software to establish patterns of word frequency in the titles of books given to boys and girls respectively. The use of a corpus can help determine whether differences existed between gender and if so, what they were.

Five Most Common Nouns in Titles of Girl Books Frequency Five Most Common Nouns in Titles of Boys Books Frequency
1. Sacrifice 3 1. World 11
2. Trust 3 2. Victory 6
3. Hope 3 3. Fortune 5
4. Barriers 2 4. Training 3
5. Endeavour 2 5. Choice 2
Five Most Common Roles in Titles of Girl Books Frequency Five Most Common Roles in Titles of Boys Books Frequency
1. Girl 18 1. Boy 19
2. Daughter 7 2. Hero 18
3. Mother 7 3. Brother 5
4. Servant 6 4. Gentleman 4
5. Baby 2 5. Doctor 2

[End Page 512]

It is interesting to note that gender role models that conform to the dominant ideal of the period prevail for both boys and girls. Judging by the book titles, both have been placed into traditional categories that serve to uphold conservative masculine and feminine societal roles that were often maintained through both coercion and persuasion. Girl protagonists in the novels are predominantly characterised by the role they would be expected to perform in society and according to religious doctrine—that is, that of a mother, a daughter or a girl. "'Sacrifice" is also the most frequent word associated with feminine values, which conjures up an image of positive semantic prosody based on gentleness, womanhood and kindness.32 In all three examples, it is preceded by a lady's name. In these books, the woman is portrayed as the obedient and trustworthy servant who must be prepared to make sacrifices for others. The difference between male and female is perhaps most striking when we see the frequency of the word "barriers" in titles of books for girls as opposed to "world" and "victory" in boys' books. Although "barriers" is preceded by "broken" in one example and "burned away" in the other, further investigation of each book's plot reveals that the "barriers" are referring to a life of no religion. Thus, to "burn or break the barriers" is a metaphor for finding God. Whereas women are expected to live a contained life with limited opportunities and within local boundaries, men have the freedom to explore the global picture and most importantly, have the "choice" to do as they wish, "winning" and "path to" occurring most frequently before "victory," "modern," and "voyage" collocating most often with "world." Men are able to become "heroes" and "doctors"; however, they must also remain within the established reputable categories of being a "gentleman" and a good "brother."

The average time between date of publication and date of prize-giving for these books is twenty-five years. This may suggest that Sunday schools liked to select well-established material that consolidated traditional roles, despite the changing social status of women in Edwardian society. Although it is possible that the long-time lag may be simply due to the fact that publishers had a large backlog of stock that they wished to sell at a discounted rate to Sunday schools, the fact that The Girls' Own Paper and The Boys' Own Paper regularly advertise many of the books within this dataset as prize books may dispute this theory as it suggests that popular books were regularly reprinted in new editions. The advertisements in these magazines are likely to have also played a key role in influencing the decisions of educators in terms of [End Page 513] what to buy. Sally Mitchell and Andrew Stuttaford have both noted that these magazines developed the concept of a distinctive "boys" and "girls" culture by constructing an image of what it was to be a "boy" or a "girl" in Edwardian Britain.33

While books for girls are almost exclusively from the religious/moral category, boys also receive an equal number of adventure novels.34 The novels given were predominantly written by Gordon Stables, W. H. G. Kingston and R. M. Ballantyne.35 These authors promoted a different notion of boyhood from that advocated by religious institutions, emphasising instead physical prowess, imperialism, patriotism and outdoor adventure over values of patience, self-discipline and self-negation. However, the morals of conformity to a patriotic, dutiful Christian boyhood were often hidden through agencies of plot such as exotic settings and frenzied action.36 It is likely that these elements made the books "an acceptable compromise for educators between the approved yet dull prize book and the heavily criticised sensational juvenile literature."37 In the dataset, Kingston and Ballantyne show the longest time lag between publication and presentation: both books were given on average forty years after their original publication date. Many prize-book titles remained in print as publishers continually rebranded them. It is also possible that despite their promotion of an outdated version of societal roles, they were considered safe and reliable by religious educators.

In the school context, Board and Faith schools generally replicate the patterns found for Sunday schools. Both show a preference for the awarding of religious/moral fiction to boys and girls, and adventure and historical fiction are also frequently presented to boys. Evelyn Everett-Green was the most frequently occurring author in the Sunday school and school context for both genders, suggesting that she was one of the few writers considered suitable for boys and girls alike. Unlike Sunday schools, these educational institutions also awarded nonfiction prize books. The most striking differences between Board and Faith schools can be noted in this prize-giving practice.

Even in the awarding of nonfiction books to children, Faith schools pay careful consideration to their content. Schools had the role of presenting children with an ideology that suited their position in society and their expected belief system. Thus, history and biography prize books are centred around Christian martyrs, missionaries and saints,38 whereas science books are published by religious companies (for example, Religious Tract Society, Catholic Truth Society) and offer a Christian-centric perspective on nature, evolution and the universe.39 [End Page 514] Board schools, on the other hand, are far more liberal in their choice of books. History and biography books emphasise notions of Empire, war and triumph,40 and science books are secular in content.41 The fact that Darwin's The Origin of Species is a favoured prize book is interesting given its controversy at challenging the biblical perspective on creation. This may suggest that Board schools were open to discussing scientific views of creation with children rather than solely propagating the religious version. Despite their different objectives, both institutions use prize books to create a very strict ideological construct in which recipients have little room to move or negotiate identities.

It is also apparent that the prize books awarded by Sunday schools, Board schools and Faith schools do not fit with our contemporary perception of the Edwardian novel. Authors that we now consider to be characteristic of the Edwardian age, such as Robert Louis Stevenson, Rudyard Kipling and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, are notably absent. This may be due to the fact that educators were keen to advocate the traditional Victorian concept of "respectability" and promote conventional masculine and feminine roles. However, it may also be that the books bought by institutions to give as prizes were almost always advertised as "prize books" by publishers. No publishing catalogues that include these authors in prize-book collections have been discovered. This suggests that they were perhaps considered more appropriate for adult readers.

In contrast, Grammar schools and Boarding schools awarded a far broader range of books as prizes. This may be due to less stringent budgetary constraints in terms of the types of books they could afford or it may be that they encouraged their children to broaden their horizons and grow personally rather than limit themselves to preestablished societal roles. Books awarded by these institutions were not selected from the standard list of books categorised by publishers as rewards or prizes. Instead, they appear to have been chosen specifically based on a child's interest or talent. In fact, many of the Grammar and Boarding school books in the dataset are custom designed volumes that would have arrived at a local bindery unbound and would be bound with leather boards and stamped or embossed with the school emblem in gilt on their front covers. These books also had more attention paid to their internal properties and often featured decorative endpapers and high quality paper unlike prize books. These material properties demonstrate the resources available to an individual on the basis of prestige and they suggest that pupils of Grammar schools and Boarding [End Page 515] schools had more symbolic capital than their Board and Faith school counterparts.42

The dataset also shows that there is no one specific genre of book that these institutions favour. The giving of religious/moral fiction is noticeably absent. When fiction is awarded, educators were more likely to select authors from the literary canon such as William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens and Walter Scott than religiously biased authors. The books chosen also encouraged a deeper engagement by the reader such as technical science books (The Steam Engine; Elements of Statics and Dynamics; Bacteriology) and poetry books (chiefly Longfellow, Browning and Tennyson). Both institutions also appear to be less bound by traditional societal roles, as both boys and girls received books from categories that were typically aimed at the opposite gender. Although this prize-giving act is not aimed at indoctrinating recipients into a particular way of thinking, the fact that it encourages them to stretch their minds and find their place within an ever-changing society suggests that it is an ideology nonetheless albeit a more appealing one.

In terms of the books awarded by clubs and societies, no particular style of prize book appears to be favoured. Advertisements for prize books generally targeted the children's market. As clubs featured adults as well as children, club leaders appear to have awarded books related to the activity in which the recipient was taking part and did not necessarily limit themselves to books characteristically marketed as prizes. Therefore, we see a proliferation of religious fiction and religious books given to members of the Temperance Society and Missionary Society, but a preference for sport books awarded by cycling and swimming clubs, and books on literary criticism, philosophy and politics in the context of adult schools. A similar trend is noted in the competitions subcategory, where the books awarded fit with the nature of the prize won (for example, In Birdland by RSPCA, Stepping Heavenward by the Christian Bible Searcher). It would seem that like schools, there was a clear divide in the intentions of clubs and societies and competitions according to their ethos. Whereas those with a religious inclination were more steered towards inculcation, those with a more secular outlook were interested in the educational betterment of members.

Privilege versus Powerlessness

The power of reading leads, in most cases, to the craving for books. If good be not provided, evil will be only too easily found, and it is absolutely necessary to raise the taste so as to lead to a voluntary avoidance of the profane and disgusting.43 [End Page 516]

The discussion so far has highlighted that the awarding of prize books to children, particularly in the context of Sunday schools and Faith schools, often had the goal of indoctrination rather than of celebrating the joy and pleasure of reading for reading's sake. Books were clearly imposed on end-users, not just to please them, but also to improve them or bind them to the organisation that awarded the prize. The introduction of prize books had moved books from their position as a commodity to an institutionalised object that could be employed as a tool by those in a position of authority to provide appropriate models of behaviour to working-class children and encourage them to achieve some form of respectability.

Now that gender, class and age alike dictated what books were appropriate for young readers according to the standards of the community in which they found themselves, many liberal thinkers at the time began to fear that reading had become stripped of its transgressive force.44 Moreover, as the act of owning became disjoined from choosing, prize books questioned assumptions about the relationship between reading and identity. Their awardment specifically challenged the concept of Richard Altick's self-made reader, since receiving a book could signify powerlessness just as often as privilege.45

Owning a book did not necessarily imply reading it, and strategies conducive to the former may have actually discouraged the latter. While Sunday school teachers were likely to give out books with the hope that they would be read intensively46—that is, read in depth time and time again—and thus create a frame that cast readers into predetermined roles that confirmed their existing religious worldview, it is unknown whether recipients would have read them in this way. As reading does not evolve in a unilinear direction, working-class prize-book recipients may have actually read these books more extensively, chose to completely ignore their moral messages and read them simply for pleasure, or their messages may have bypassed them altogether. More savvy readers may have also made use of the text's epitext and paratext to establish their own meanings when reading. In the context of Boarding and Grammar schools, which predominantly had middle-class pupils, it is possible that recipients did have a more active engagement with books and positively received them. This is because recipients were typically awarded books based on their own academic talents and interests rather than imposed religious/moral fiction.

Nonetheless, although books awarded as prizes were specifically aimed at a particular social group, to target a readership too precisely [End Page 517] was to ignore how many times books changed hands. In the context of Sunday schools, for example, Price highlights how a book is first owned by a child and then by an adult; first by a believer and then by a scoffer.47 While Rolf Engelsing's categories of intensive or extensive readers are useful for contrasting modes of reading in European history, it is hard to fit the actions of prize-book recipients neatly into either category, as the reading self is an unstable entity that is forever changing.

Furthermore, the act of prize-giving by schools and churches aimed to inculcate children through explicit forms of pedagogy (the inculcation of values by means of articulated and formalised principles). While the prize-giver was clearly aware of what he or she was trying to do when carrying out the "explicit" action of giving a particular book to a child, the child was perhaps innocent to the intent, and may have implicitly adopted or taken suggestions given in the book without actively or intentionally doing so. Working-class children may have been targeted as they may have lacked alternative models in their own lives and may have been more susceptible to this indoctrination. Middle-class children, on the other hand, were likely already exposed to explicit forms of classification and verbalisation at home. Consequently, they were perhaps more aware of what the aims of the books were and more able to resist them. This "advantage" over working-class children perhaps explain why books marketed as "prize books" were almost exclusively awarded to working-class children, whereas middle-class prize winners had books chosen individually for them based on academic merit. While prize books were marketed as offering children an alternative life view, educators also wanted to ensure that children did not question the status quo and risk upsetting it. Therefore, Board/ Faith schools and Sunday dchools often tread a fine line between urging the acceptance of middle-class values and practices while indicating the importance of "knowing your place." Reynolds classes this need to strike a balance between eradicating working class culture and reinforcing class divisions and social inequality as part of the divine plan.48 In Grammar and Boarding schools, the mentality was different and children were encouraged to achieve their potential and succeed in whatever they put their mind to. The predominance of technical and scientific books (for example, Euclid Books I–IV and Practical Nursing) awarded as prizes supports this view.

Again, the question of how actively children engaged with these prize books arises. The fact that all prize books in the dataset have survived in second-hand bookshops in generally excellent condition after [End Page 518] more than one hundred years of ownership suggests that despite their intended purpose of being tokens of social exchange, most prize books were seldom looked at. Their pristine pages, stiff spines and lack of annotations are signs of this. The books awarded by Grammar and Boarding schools, however, do tend to be more used. Their grubby pages, scuffed spines and faded print are symbols of this engagement. These findings disprove the views of Charlotte Yonge, the children's religious novelist, who argued that for working-class children, prize books passed through many more phases of existence than books designed for middle-class readers.49 She felt that having access to a larger collection of books in their household, middle-class recipients may have had less sentimental attachment to the prize book and disposed of it quicker. She also argued that for working-class children, the prize book is something that is exhibited to relatives and friends, is read over and over, becomes a resource in illness, and forms part of the possessions to be handed on to the next generation.50 However, as she was an advocate of the National Society's Depository, she may have been promoting an idealistic view that was simply not true. Nonetheless, we must remember that the only books that most working-class households had copies of were The Holy Bible and The Pilgrim's Progress, so these prize books may have been a welcome alternative. Additionally, they may have been held in high regard by working-class children for their aesthetic appeal, being the only visible evidence of achievement in their lifetime, as well as for the mere act of possessing something.

As well as choosing to not read the prize book or simply ignore its messages, working-class children may have also acquired other forms of resistance to its messages. First, it is possible that a story's attempt to stamp out a particular form of behaviour or vice actually encouraged it. As remains the case today with their depictions on television or in computer games, the portrayal of drinking or gambling may have appeared attractive to a child and had the opposite effect. Second, there is evidence that many children resented the prize book as they felt cheated out of previous items that would have been awarded as prizes, such as clothing, sweets and oranges.51 This impingement may have led them to reject the prize book or symbolically purge it of associations with school or Sunday school by defacing or tearing out its sticker/inscription. In the current dataset, no known signs of resistance to prize books amongst Grammar and Boarding school children have been noted. This may be due to the fact that the books awarded did not attempt to enforce a particular viewpoint on them. [End Page 519]

Material Feature of Prize Inscriptions

As the practice of awarding books as prizes grew cross-institutionally, so it became customary to affix an ornamental sticker with the person's name, date, reason for the prize and the awarding institution on its front endpapers. These stickers had a dual purpose: while they offered the recipient a sense of belonging and allegiance, they also acted as a form of advertisement, which blended the importance of the institution with the success of the scholars. Reynolds describes the introduction of these prize stickers as a public relations exercise.52 Upon seeing a book with their child's name inside, parents may have felt gratified and that their investment had been worthwhile. Erving Goffman argues that the expressiveness of an individual involves two radically different sign activities: that which he "gives" and that which he "gives off."53 Although Goffman's theory concerned the presentation of self, it could also be applied at an institutional level, particularly in the context of prize stickers. For example, the awarding institution "gives" the verbal sign of a prize, yet in doing so they "give off" messages about their generosity, kindness, and in the case of premium or deluxe sticker designs even wealth. In order to keep up the public relations act, these books would have been typically presented at formal awards ceremonies where family members would have been invited to attend.

Not all prize books contained elaborate stickers. Many simply feature a handwritten inscription by the headmaster or vicar with the recipient's name, date and reason for the prize. There are two possible reasons for the difference in inscription practices. First, it could be that the institution had a limited budget at its disposal and thus could not spend money on prize stickers as well as books. Alternatively, it may be that books with these handwritten inscriptions were awarded on a less formal basis. For example, if a child behaved exceptionally well in a Sunday school session, the vicar may on the spur of the moment have gone to his "stock" of prize books and inscribed it to the child. The latter suggestion is more likely, given that the practice of simple handwritten inscriptions is widespread across all religious and secular institutions and not exclusive to particular groups known for their more "humble" status (for example, Primitive Methodists).

A range of prize stickers were in use in Edwardian Britain, which varied according to printing methods and illustrations. Their styles can be roughly classified into four categories: 1) Basic, 2) Standard, 3) Premium, 4) Deluxe. These terms have been selected based on the vocabulary used in Edwardian publishers' advertisements for prize books. [End Page 520] Basic prize stickers (Fig. 1) are generally characterised by their monochrome hue. They normally consist of a plain white square or rectangular piece of gummed paper with a simple straight edged border and the word "prize" or "reward" printed in bold. The borders and lettering on these stickers are predominantly black or navy blue; occasionally, purple or red is also used, but no two colours are ever both used on the same sticker. No illustrations, decorations or motifs are present. The specific information about the student, the prize won and the institution that has awarded it are typically filled in with a black fountain pen. Given their basic style and lack of printer details, these stickers are likely to have been produced on a local scale only. There are 112 basic prize stickers in total across the dataset. Although these stickers are used across all institutions, they are slightly more favoured by smaller non-conformist religions such as the United Methodists, United Free Church and Methodist New Connexion. This may suggest that their budget did not allow for more elaborate designs.

Fig. 1. Basic
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Fig. 1.


In contrast to basic prize stickers, Standard prize stickers (Fig. 2) are typically polychrome with at least two colours. These stickers tend to have far more elaborate borders, which usually incorporate modern elements of art nouveau, such as abstract patterning and floral motifs, with older more traditional features, like historiated initials in a dropcap style. The blending of these two styles together would ensure that a balanced and appropriate image of the institution was conveyed to recipients and their families. The use of a currently fashionable design (art nouveau) would show that the institution was modern and forward-thinking, but at the same time, its traditional elements would stress that it still took great pride in tradition and established practices. In some cases, traditional designs would also hint at an institution's longevity and well-established reputation. In the current dataset, there are 170 standard prize stickers. Many contain small illustrations that act as signifiers that indicate the awarding institution. For schools, this was often the school crest or coat of arms, which linked to the school by means of an arbitrary, human-imposed convention; [End Page 521] for Sunday schools, the iconic image of the church, connected through the principle of resemblance, was often used. Other frequently occurring images include a stream and bridge, two hands shaking, a bust of John Wesley and Doric columns. The former two images serve as dual symbolic signs that suggest a connection or link, in the same way that the prize book itself forms a bridge between home and school or church; Wesley serves as an indexical sign of Wesleyan Methodism in general; and the columns may symbolise order, history and culture. Like basic stickers, standard prize stickers were also printed at a local level. Unlike their basic counterparts, many featured the name of a local printer who specialised in prize books and educational rewards. This is our first clue that the market for prize stickers was profitable enough for specific booksellers and stationers to specialise in selling them. The fact that these standard prize stickers were the best quality stickers available at a cheap price may explain why they are so widespread across all prize-giving institutions. Also, it is interesting to note the effect of local printing in this category: all prize stickers given in Sheffield were printed by the Sheffield printer T. Woodcock and all Wolverhampton stickers were printed by the Wolverhampton printer J. Rushton & Son.

Fig. 2. Standard
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Fig. 2.


Premium prize stickers (Fig. 3) are generally of superior quality to the Basic and Standard prize stickers. They differ because they feature gilt on either their borders or lettering in addition to, or instead of, using polychrome colours. They also tend to employ more elaborate art nouveau characteristics such as leaf and tendril motifs and whiplash lines. Gold is a colour of high saturation with strong value-laden meanings of opulence and wealth. Therefore, its employment on a prize sticker would "give off" a lot of information about the social status of an awarding institution and serve as a constant reminder to all who engaged with the prize book. It is also possible that churches, in particular, often wanted to be seen as more generous or richer than the rival [End Page 522] church next door, so they chose stickers (and prize books) that were likely to demonstrate this and potentially attract more pupils. Premium prize stickers were printed at both a local and a national level: while many were issued by large institutions such as the Sunday School Union, National Society's Depository, and Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge, many were also still produced by local printers. The current dataset contains 132 premium prize stickers. Like the Standard category, Premium prize stickers were used across all institutions, both secular and religious. They also all conform to the characteristics of the category outlined above: all feature either gilt elements or a range of colours and art nouveau patterns. Perhaps the most interesting finding regarding this category is the fact that many of the prize stickers are numbered, suggesting that they come from a catalogue that institutions would have produced for schools and Sunday schools to pick the designs that they would like. This is particularly noted with Sunday School Union designs, but also with some of the smaller local companies such as Eld & Blackham and Marcus Ward & Co. As a result, this is the first category in which we see mass-produced prize sticker designs recurring several times across schools and Sunday schools nationwide.

Fig. 3. Premium
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Fig. 3.


Deluxe prize stickers (Fig. 4) were the highest quality stickers on the market in Edwardian Britain. They almost always feature elements of gilt, whether that be on the border or the lettering, and also contain a range of bright colours and even more elaborate art nouveau designs/ patterning than the former categories. Again, the gilt served as a subtle sign of wealth, while the bright colours attracted attention. Any uses of imagery tended to feature birds, animals and flowers. Religious institutions may have selected these images as symbols of God's creations, whereas for secular institutions, the widespread interest in nature in Edwardian Britain may have given them broad appeal. Deluxe [End Page 523] prize stickers are predominantly printed on a national scale by large "reward" selling companies. In the current dataset, there are 94 deluxe prize stickers—the lowest number of prize sticker types. The fact that these were part of the most expensive prize sticker range and often had exclusive designs may explain why they feature less than any other sticker. While all previous prize stickers were used cross-institutionally, the findings from this dataset show that the deluxe sticker type was favoured by Wesleyan Methodist and Church of England Sunday schools as well as Board schools. These religions were the wealthiest at the turn of the twentieth century, and Board schools also had the most money invested in them by Local Education Authorities (they would have the financial means to afford deluxe stickers).54 Within this data subset, the first use of "template" designs can be noted: sixteen examples of the same sticker with a blank space for the school's crest and name. Buyers could then choose what they would like printed onto the sticker. One of the leaders in deluxe sticker designs was James Askew of Preston—the leading seller of specialised reward books and prize stickers in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries By the beginning of the Edwardian era, his trade had become so lucrative that he had employed a travelling salesman in South Wales. A direct consequence of Askew's trade in Wales is reflected in the fact that the dataset contains two stickers from Penarth, Wales, printed by Askew and awarded in 1911.

Fig. 4. Deluxe
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Fig. 4.


Despite the major differences between these four categories of prize sticker, they all share some similar traits. First, all handwritten elements on each sticker are written exclusively in black fountain pen. Occasionally, school names are stamped with a purple or black rubber ink stamp. Pencil is not used on any occasion. Black ink was likely used for its durability and formality. Also, despite their differences in [End Page 524] design, all stickers are made of gummed paper—paper with a gum adhesive backing. When water was added to the paper (or it was licked like a stamp or an envelope), the adhesive would become activated and the paper could be stuck inside the reward book. While permanent paper and copperplate paper were also used regularly in the Edwardian period (particularly in the creation of bookplates), prize stickers were made exclusively of gummed paper, since they could be quickly and easily stuck into books. The final thing that all these prize stickers share is their location in the prize books. Almost all of them were affixed onto the centre of the front endpaper of the book. This ensured that upon opening a book, the prize sticker was the first thing that caught the reader's eye, and as the front endpaper was attached to the back of the front cover, its hard board backing made it easier to stick an adhesive there than on a "free" page.

Fig. 5. Prize Inscription
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Fig. 5.

Prize Inscription

The Prize Inscriptions (Fig. 5) in the dataset generally follow a formulaic structure and they contain at least two of the following four elements: 1) Recipient's name, 2) Reason for prize, 3) Awarding institution or person, 4) Date. There are 198 examples in total in the dataset spread across all categories


We now see there is a context to an initial discussion of the importance of Edwardian book inscriptions as a field of research—how, when awarding prize books, religious institutions often attempted to strike a line between eradicating working class culture yet reinforcing class divisions and social inequality. The deliberate indoctrination of recipients with appropriate forms of behaviour presented a direct threat to their status of self-made reader. This imposition on recipients by those in a position of authority, coupled with the institutionalising of the book, highlights the turbulent boundary between privilege and powerlessness that its awardment granted. We have also seen how corpus tools can be used to enrich our understanding of the role that book titles played in consolidating feminine and masculine roles. By considering prize stickers as individual advertisements for the awarding [End Page 525] institution, we can see how particular semiotic features such as colour and imagery work together to "give off" messages about the church or school's wealth, social status and generosity. These prize stickers were an incredibly lucrative practice reflected in their versatility: they could be mass-produced and selected from a catalogue, based on a template, adapted from it and bought in a stationers or booksellers or bought directly from a travelling salesman.

Further engagement with the dataset could be done in three main ways: first, further use of corpus tools, such as Antconc, to explore the word frequencies and particular concordances and collocations on each prize sticker in the dataset should be made, which will be of particular interest to the linguistic community and may appeal to book historians who wish to incorporate linguistic tools into their own research to strengthen their assumptions. Second, employ archives in researching the recipients of each prize. By using census records, military papers and street directories, we can build up a picture of the life of each person who was awarded a prize sticker. Out of all book inscription types, prize stickers are particularly suitable for this type of investigation as they reveal a great deal of information about their owners—full name, school, city. By having access to a person's entire name (including middle name) and his/her city increases the chances of them being found in archives and enables more accurate conclusions to be made. Third, there needs to be collaboration with a large institution such as the People's History Museum, the Victoria & Albert Museum, or the National Trust to access a sample book collection from a member of the working class, middle class, or upper class. This will enable generalisations to be made about the ways in which the practice of prize books varied across Edwardian society.

The Edwardian era was the last to be involved in the longstanding practice of awarding prize books. While giving books as prizes remained a commonplace activity until the end of World War II, their lucrativeness had decreased and publishers no longer focused on specific marketing of prize books. By the mid 1940s, a combination of decreased Sunday school attendance, paper shortage, high book prices and changed social attitudes and conditions put a total end to their production.55 In schools, this came to be replaced by the awarding of book tokens. We need to remember and commemorate this forgotten practice for it is essential for a true understanding of who the Edwardians were and what they did. [End Page 526]

Lauren O'Hagan
Cardiff University


1. Kim Reynolds, "Rewarding Reads? Giving, Receiving and Resisting Evangelical Reward and Prize Books," in Popular Children's Literature in Britain, Julia Briggs, Dennis Butts, and Matthew Grenby, eds. (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2008), 189–209.

2. Leah Price, How to Do Things with Books in Victorian Britain (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2013), 62.

3. David McKitterick, The Cambridge History of the Book in Britain (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), VI: 99.

4. Melissa van Vuuren, Literary Research and the Victorian and Edwardian Ages, 1830–1910 (Plymouth: Scarecrow Press, 2010), xii.

5. See Julia Gillen, "Writing Edwardian Postcards," Journal of Sociolinguistics, 17 (2013), 488– 521; Sara Hook, "You've got mail: Hospital postcards as a reflection of health care in the early twentieth century," Journal of the Medical Library Association, 93 (2005), 386–93; Karen Malcolm and Barbara Becker, "Edwardian postcards as an insight into the Edwardian mind and community," in Proceedings of the Atlantic Provinces Linguistic Association, Margaret Harry, ed. (New Brunswick: Atlantic Provinces Linguistic Association, 2007), 59–65; Bjarne Rogan, "An entangled object: The picture postcard as souvenir and collectible, exchange and ritual communication," Cultural Analysis, 4 (2005), 1–27.

6. George Bodmer, "Workbooks and Toybooks: The Task and the Gift of a Child's Book," Children's Literature Association Quarterly, 24 (1999), 136–40.

7. McKitterick, Cambridge History of Book in Britain, 99.

8. Jonathan Rose, The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010), 90, 121.

9. Price, How to Do Things with Books in Victorian Britain, 163.

10. Kim Reynolds, "Rewarding Reads? Giving, Receiving and Resisting Evangelical Reward and Prize Books," 192.

11. Dorothy Entwistle, "Embossed Gilt and Moral Tales: Reward Books in English Sunday Schools," The Journal of Popular Culture, 28 (2004), 81–95.

12. This reduced bias compared to an online search system, which would have preidentified the location of prize books and thus may have skewed the findings in terms of frequently occurring prize-giving institutions, sticker types and book genres.

13. This information includes book title, author, publisher, year of publication, edition, binding, inscription type, inscription information, inscriber, source and validity.

14. The frequency breakdown for each category is as follows: Board, 164; Faith, 53; Grammar, 40; Boarding, 13; Training Colleges, 10; Other, 10; Church of England, 149; Episcopalian, 2; Baptist, 29; Congregational, 14; Primitive Methodist, 30; Wesleyan Methodist, 79; Pentecostal, 6; Presbyterian, 3; Other Methodist, 14; Jewish, 1; Quakers, 1; Temperance Society, 15; Pleasant Sunday Afternoon, 8; Missionary Society, 10; Bible Class, 12; Adult Learning, 9; Salvation Army, 3; Boys' Club, 4; Other, 13; Competitions, 8; Charity, 6.

15. Samuel Smiles, Self Help (New York: Cosimo Classics, 2005), Kindle Edition.

16. Thomas Lacqueur, Religion and Respectability: Sunday Schools and Working Class Culture, 1780–1850 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1977), 187.

17. McKitterick, Cambridge History of Book in Britain, 48.

18. Committee of Council on Education, 1901 Annual Report. Great Britain.

19. Rose, Intellectual Life of British Working Classes, 2.

20. Gareth Leyshon, "Catholic Statistics—Priests and Population in England and Wales, 1841– 2001." Accessed 31 August 2016: http://www.drgareth.info/CathStat.pdf

21. John Turner, "Books for prizes: an aspect of the late nineteenth century book trade," in Studies in the Provincial Book Trade of England, Scotland and Wales Before 1900, David Stoker, ed. (Aberystwyth: Department of Library and Information Studies, 1990), 1–13. [End Page 527]

22. The frequency breakdown for attendance, good conduct and punctuality awards per religious denomination is as follows: Church of England, 52/149; Episcopalian, 2.2; Baptist, 19/29; Congregational, 7/14; Primitive Methodist, 9/30; Wesleyan Methodist, 36/79; Pentecostal, 2/6; Presbyterian, 2/3; Other Methodist, 6/14; Jewish, 1/1; Quakers, 1/1.

23. Entwistle, "Embossed Gilt and Moral Tales: Reward Books in English Sunday Schools," 94–95.

24. The frequency breakdown for attendance, good conduct and punctuality awards for Board and Faith schools is as follows: Board, 108/164; Faith, 30/53.

25. The frequency breakdown for attendance, good conduct and punctuality awards for Military and Ragged schools is as follows: Military, 3/4; Ragged, 4/5.

26. English (8/40), Mathematics (7/40) and Examination Prize (4/40) are the top three reasons for prize-giving for Grammar schools; Mathematics (4/13), Form Work (4/13) and French (2/13) are favoured by Boarding schools.

27. Chemistry (3/5) is the top reason for prize-giving in Engineering Colleges; Latin (3/5) and Scripture (2/5) are favoured by Teacher Training Colleges

28. The frequency breakdown for attendance, good conduct and punctuality awards for religious clubs are as follows: Temperance Society, 7/15; Pleasant Sunday Afternoon, 6/8; Missionary Society, 2/10; Bible Class, 7/12; Salvation Army, 3/3.

29. 7/9 prizes in Adult Learning and 3/4 prizes in Boy Scouts are for attendance/good conduct.

30. Iona Opie and Peter Opie, The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), 100–101.

31. Entwistle, "Embossed Gilt and Moral Tales: Reward Books in English Sunday Schools," 94–95.

32. Semantic prosody was a term coined by John Sinclair in his 1991 book Corpus, Concordance, Collocation (Oxford: Oxford University). It describes the way in which seemingly neutral words are often perceived with positive or negative connotations.

33. Sally Mitchell, The New Girl: Girls' Culture in England, 1880–1915 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1995). Andrew Stuttaford, "Never Such Innocence Again," The New Criterion, 10 (2009), 11–16.

34. The top five genre categories of prize-giving books were as follows: Religious Fiction, 252; Adventure Fiction, 131; Historical Fiction, 64; History, 43; School Fiction, 33.

35. The top five most frequently occurring authors were as follows: Evelyn Everett-Green, 13; W. H. G. Kingston, 13; Lord Tennyson, 9; G. A. Henty, 7; R. M. Ballantyne, 7.

36. Dennis Butts, "Exploiting a Formula: The Adventure Stories of G. A. Henty (1832–1902)," in Popular Children's Literature in Britain, Julia Briggs, Dennis Butts and Matthew Grenby, eds. (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2008), 149–65.

37. Entwistle, "Embossed Gilt and Moral Tales: Reward Books in English Sunday Schools," 89.

38. The top three most frequently occurring History books given by Faith schools were The Story of Westminster Abbey, Missionary Pioneers, and Heroines of Mercy and Daily Life. The top three most frequently occurring biographies books were Florence Nightingale, David Livingstone, and Browning as a Philosophical and Religious Teacher.

39. The top three most frequently occurring science books given by Faith schools were Facts and Theories (Catholic Truth Society), Home Life in Bird Land (Religious Tract Society), and Gleanings from the Field of Nature (Religious Tract Society).

40. The top three most frequently occurring history books given by Board schools were The Empire's Children, Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World, and Napoleon. The top three most frequently occurring biographies books were Life of Gladstone, Farthest North, and Evelyn's Diary.

41. The top three most frequently occurring science books given by Board schools were The Earth's Beginning (Cassell), The Origin of Species (Grant Richards), and Sun, Moon and Stars (Seeley).

42. Symbolic capital was a term first coined by Pierre Bourdieu in Outline of a Theory of Practice (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977) and is used to refer to the resources available to an individual that demonstrate his or her value within a culture and gain them honour or prestige.

43. Charlotte Yonge, What Books to Lend and What to Give (London: National Society's Depository, 1887), 5. [End Page 528]

44. Price, How to Do Things with Books in Victorian Britain, 162.

45. Richard D. Altick used the term "self-made reader" in The English Common Reader: A Social History of the Mass Reading Public 1800–1900 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1957) to refer to a person who reads intensively, not only remaking the text for their own purposes, but also remaking themselves.

46. A term first used by Rolf Engelsing in Der Bürger als Leser: Lesergeschichte in Deutschland, 1500–1800 (Munich: Metzler, 1974). It was popularised in Robert Darnton, "What Is the History of Books?" Daedalus, 111.3 (1982), 65–83.

47. Price, How to Do Things with Books in Victorian Britain, 166.

48. Reynolds, "Rewarding Reads? Giving, Receiving and Resisting Evangelical Reward and Prize Books," 200.

49. Yonge, What Books to Lend and What to Give, 11.

50. Ibid., 10.

51. Reynolds, "Rewarding Reads? Giving, Receiving and Resisting Evangelical Reward and Prize Books," 204.

52. Ibid.

53. Erving Goffman, Interaction Ritual (New York: Pantheon, 1967), 22.

54. Clive Field, "The Faith Society? Quantifying Religious Belonging in Edwardian Britain," Journal of Religious History, 37.1 (2013), 39–63.

55. Turner, "Books for prizes: an aspect of the late nineteenth century book trade," 12. [End Page 529]