A peg-top is a type of toy, also known as a spinning top or whipping top, and Memoirs of a Peg-Top is an early example of a story in which the main character is an inanimate object. Such stories had become popular in the mid-18th century, and were quickly adapted for children. Mary Ann Kilner had previously written The Adventures of a Pincushion (c. 1780), for instance, and in her preface to Memoirs of a Peg-Top she explains that while her earlier book was most likely to appeal to ‘young Ladies’, she has written the present book about a spinning top in order to appeal more to ‘young Gentlemen’. Clearly, the market for children’s books had developed to such an extent by the 1780s that publishers and authors could risk producing different books for girls and boys.
Kilner’s works are didactic tales, intended to teach moral and behavioural lessons but also to be pleasurable to the reader. As explained by the author, the stories aimed ‘to blend the hints of instruction with incidents of an amusing nature’, which she does by using familiar and realistic scenes such as children playing at home.
Kilner wrote under the pseudonym ‘S S’ (after Spital Square in London, where she lived for a time) and was published by John Marshall.