Rare Book of the Month: “King Winter” – A Book to Bring in the Season

(The following is a guest blog post written by Elizabeth Gettins, Library of Congress digital library specialist.) 

"King Winter," by Gustav W. Seitz. 1859. Rare Book and Special Collections Division.

“King Winter,” by Gustav W. Seitz. 1859. Rare Book and Special Collections Division.

You’ve heard of Jack Frost and most certainly St. Nicholas. But how about King Winter?

“King Winter,” a rare German children’s book written by Gustav W. Seitz and published around 1859 in Hamburg, borrows from Germanic and Norse traditions with a winter solstice figure like that of Father Time or Father Winter.

King Winter serves as the embodiment of the Christmas Spirit as he leaves his palace of snow to bring winter to the land and reward obedient children with holiday sweets. He also has helpers who are the personification of winter’s effects, including Queen Winter who “spreads all over the earth, a carpet of downy snow,” and Jack Frost who is the king’s right hand man and decorates the world in frost and ice.

It is said of Jack Frost: “Old Jack is a good and sturdy fellow, and serves their Majesties well; He’s here he’s there he’s everywhere. And does more than I can tell.”

The Scandinavian notion of King Winter who rewards good children with presents has undergone a number of transformations through time. In the third century, he becomes the Christian Saint Nicholas. And in modern times, we widely know this character as Santa Claus, the jovial bearded old man who wears a red suit and delivers presents to children on his sleigh driven by eight reindeer.

Jack Frost hanging his icicles.

Illustration from the book showing icicles being hung.

The charming illustrations throughout this book are rendered by process called chromolithography, which is a type of lithography. Lithography is a form of printing with oil and water that is impressed onto a plate made of metal or stone and then is stamped onto paper leaving a graphic image. With chromolithography, two or more applications of color are impressed individually on the same graphic image, creating a multi-colored print. Previous to the invention of this process, pages were hand-colored. The process was long, tedious and often expensive. The advent of lithography brought about mass production of prints in books, and chromolithography improved upon the visual richness of this medium.

This children’s book is from the Juvenile Collection within the Rare Book and Special Collections Division. Over time, the Library of Congress has assembled an immense collection of American children’s books, and the Rare Book Division has brought together approximately 15,000 volumes of particular interest. Though the overwhelming majority of books in the collection originated in America, there are distinguished British and continental books and American editions of works of foreign authors as well.

Other Resources at the Library of Congress

Digital Collection of Rare Children’s Books

Images from the Prints and Photographs Division of Jack Frost:

Sheet Music written about Jack Frost from the Music Division:

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