Tommy Thumb's Pretty Song Book

Chapbook/Children's book/Illustration/Image



This is the earliest surviving collection of nursery rhymes. There is evidence that Volumes I and II were advertised for sale in early 1744, but no copies of the first volume are still in existence, and only two copies of this second volume are known to have survived. The book represents one of the very first attempts to make books in which children would delight. It has been carefully designed to appeal to its young target audience – it is satisfyingly small and child-sized at 3 x 1¾ inches; it includes an illustration, in alternating red and black ink, on each page; and the rhymes it contains are great fun. 

Many of these 39 rhymes are still familiar to children today, such as ‘Bah, Bah, a black sheep’ and ‘Girls and Boys, Come out to play’, ‘Lady Bird, Lady Bird’ and ‘Hickere, Dickere, Dock’. Others have been forgotten – perhaps due to their frank and earthy nature. ‘Piss a Bed’, for instance, is a rhyme about bed-wetting. Evidently toilet humour has been popular with young children for centuries, although this is rarely acknowledged in histories of children’s culture.

The author is described as ‘Nurse Lovechild’. Only one real name appears on the book’s title page: Mary Cooper who is said to have sold the book. Cooper was the widow of the publisher Thomas Cooper. After Thomas’s death, Mary continued the business, producing works by Gray, Fielding, Pope, Richardson, Young and others. She probably had a hand in publishing Tommy Thumb’s Pretty Song-Book and may even have been its author. The illustrations are by George Bickham Jnr., an engraver sued by the government of the day as a purveyor of pornographic and seditious prints!

Full title
Tommy Thumb's Pretty Song Book
estimated 1744
Chapbook / Children's book / Illustration / Image
Held by
British Library
Usage Terms
Free from known copyright restrictions

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