Newbery’s first children’s book, it was initially published in 1744, but no copies of any editions before 1760 have surfaced, said Toovey’s (24.5% buyer’s premium) of Washington, West Sussex, which sold a rare example for £6500 (guide £200-300) on December 13.
Lacking a title-page and a number of the earlier and end leaves, it also showed some browning and loss to some early leaves and had later wrappers, but it is a rare work, and one that that in the spread reproduced above is found the first mention of ‘base-ball’.
The work’s special appeal is said to derive from its then new approach of attempting to instruct and amuse children in a way that would lead to the ‘invention’ of childhood as a distinct phase of development in the 19th century.
The publisher observed: “If children were no longer considered as having been born innately sinful, then moral behaviour had to be learnt.”
To this end, Newbery had published the work with a promotional tie-in: the option of buying either a ball for a boy or a pin-cushion for a girl. As a marker in the art of moral behaviour, a child could push a pin into the ball or cushion on having accomplished, or at least felt that they had accomplished, a moral act.