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‘Little Tom Tucker’, ‘Bah, Bah, Black Sheep’ and ‘Who did kill Cock Robin’ are pretty much as we know them today, but others, such as ‘Sing a Song of Sixpence’, in which four and twenty naughty boys, not blackbirds, are baked in a pie, and ‘London Bells’ [Oranges and Lemons] which kicks off with the line “Two sticks and an apple” have changed considerably over the years.

Published, or sold by Mary Cooper in 1744, Tommy Thumb’s Pretty Song Book is the earliest English book of nursery rhymes, but no copy of the first volume is recorded and until this year the example in the British Library was the only known survivor of the second volume.

At Bonhams on December 12, a newly discovered copy of Vol. II, lacking one leaf and in modern morocco backed boards, was sold for £40,000. Engraved throughout and printed alternately in black and bistre, it has a frontispiece and pictorial title (right), each backed by large illustrations, together with 38 smaller illustrations and 11, mostly pictorial tailpieces.