This collection of more than 2,000 early British and American children's books was given to the library in 1978 by George M. Fox of East Charlemont, Massachusetts. The collection is notable for the pristine condition of its mostly nineteenth century books which include many early color illustrations—including color wood engraving, chromolithographs and hand-painted books. Many of these books are fragile, paper pamphlets that reveal vivid color when opened—still brilliant after more than one hundred years. They would not have survived routine handling by children, and we are fortunate they were preserved. Highlights of the collection include “toy” and “moveable” books; examples from the shop of Edmund Evans, the premier nineteenth century printer of color wood engravings (whose most notable artists were Walter Crane, Kate Greenaway and Randolph Caldecott); and many examples of fine British printing from the firms of Thomas Nelson & Sons, Frederick Warne, Dean & Son and George Routledge & Sons.
Click to see the catalog record and link to the digitized book.
In 1923, my father George Marshall Fox joined the Milton Bradley Company, where his father, George Albert Fox had worked since 1891. By that time Bradley had lost interest in maintaining the old archives of the McLoughlin Brothers publishers which they had acquired in 1920. In the process of disposition, the archive was divided up between Charles Miller and my father — Miller retained much of the original artwork and my Dad acquired the books and woodblocks.
Having this as a nucleus, my Father began collecting. Throughout the 1920’s, 1930’s and 1940’s he purchased many early children’s books and continued being a good steward of the McLoughlin collection. Invoices show him buying from the major dealers in juvenilia of the day. He became friends with collectors Wilbur Macy Stone and James D. Henderson and correspondence between them indicates a certain amount of friendly horse-trading between them.
In 1938, the Connecticut River overflowed its banks, and flooded downtown Springfield and the basement of Milton Bradley’s warehouse where the McLoughlin woodblocks were stored in wonderful old dovetailed wooden boxes. The blocks floated out of the basement like little toy boats. Fortunately my Dad quickly hired a truck and with helpers saved the majority of blocks and removed them to the garage at our nearby residence on Maple Street.
In the 1970’s after my father’s retirement, the book collection and the woodblocks were removed to our Seldom Farm in East Charlemont, Massachusetts as we considered the future of the collection. After considerable discussion it was decided to gift the collection to the San Francisco Public Library and the New York children’s book specialist Justin Schiller was engaged to do the inventory and appraisal.
I, of course, was living here, the Library had recently acquired the Robert Grabhorn Collection on the History of Printing and the Development of the Book and it was a wonderful period of conviviality and spirited devotion to the printed book. I realized then, that the Fox Collection would make a great addition to the Grabhorn Collection, as it would fill a gap covering the history of color printing.
Meanwhile most of the blocks were sold to dealer Justin Schiller in New York, who pulled proofs of many and then began selling them. Muir Dawson, of Dawson’s Book Shop in Los Angeles, bought the remaining blocks, continued to pull proofs and published a portfolio of the prints in an edition of 30. We gave one of the portfolios to the Fox Collection along with a selection of woodblocks including the Mother Goose’s Melodies woodblock which is on display.
On January 24, 1978, after the books arrived in San Francisco, the library held an exhibition and reception in the old Main library at which James Cushman presented a lecture. My father passed away in 1985 and in December 1986 the library honored him with an exhibition and a related lecture by James Silverman. Many thanks to Lisa Dunseth and the present curatorial staff for this first retrospective exhibition of the Fox Collection since that time.
George King Fox, San Francisco, December 2012