Victorian-Era Shape Books

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Only A Doll

Author: Helen Marion Burnside
Publisher: Raphael Tuck & Sons, London
Circa 1890

Proving the adage that everything old is new again, this colorful book was reprinted in 1980 by Merrimack Publishing. The original was probably printed almost 100 years earlier by Raphael Tuck & Sons of London. The narrator Polly tells of her doll Sylvia Jane (“Jenny” for short) and her friend Bell, and Bell’s doll Molly. Polly’s revelation at the end of the book is that she loves her doll Jenny more than the doll loves her. Written by prolific children’s poet Helen Marion Burnside, this shape book was, like many Raphael Tuck & Sons’ titles, designed in England and printed in Germany.

Raphael Tuck & Sons was awarded its first Royal Warrant by Queen Victoria in 1893, and thereafter its imprint included a phrase such as “Publishers to Her Majesty the Queen;” “Published by Appointment to …; or “Publishers by Royal Warrant to …”. This book carries no such imprint and therefore probably was published between 1881 (when the publishing firm became “Raphael Tuck & Sons”) and 1892.

Born in 1844, Helen Marion Burnside originally wanted to become a musician. An attack of scarlet fever at the age of thirteen resulted in deafness, and Miss Burnside turned to writing verse. As she had desired to write words for music, writing rhyming verse became another way of making music. Her first book of poems was published in 1864 and during her lifetime she wrote lyrics to hundreds of published songs.

According to the 1910-1912 “Every Woman’s Encyclopaedia,” Burnside wrote over four hundred verses a year for many decades. From 1880 to 1889 Miss Burnside was a designer for the Royal School of Needlework (a hand embroidery school in the United Kingdom, founded in 1872); from 1889 until 1895 she worked as an editor for Raphael Tuck & Sons.