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Rare Book of the Month: A Billedbog to a Boy

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

Sample page of “Billedbog til Jonas Drewsen,” by Hans Christian Andersen, with Andersen’s handwriting describing the events depicted. Rare Book and Special Collections Division.
Sample page of “Billedbog til Jonas Drewsen,” by Hans Christian Andersen,
with Andersen’s handwriting describing the events depicted. Rare Book and Special Collections Division.

“Billedbog” is a Danish word for picture book, and one lucky boy by the name of Jonas Drewsen was gifted this picture scrapbook by the very famous children’s author Hans Christian Andersen. This one-of-a-kind book is not the product of any printing press but was instead handcrafted in Kjøbenhavn, Denmark, in 1862 by Andersen and his Councilor of State friend Adolph L. Drewsen. Andersen and Drewsen both applied their handiwork by pasting fanciful pictures in this album and writing stories, poems and rhymes about the pictures in and around the margins. The book was then presented to Drewsen’s grandson, Jonas, who was around eight years old at the time.0103q

The pictures are hand-colored and are taken from American, English and German papers and from books and periodicals – all pasted in a collage form. Andersen himself contributed poems and rhymes for 19 of the pictures. They can be viewed in the margins or around the illustrations.

Hans Christian Andersen. Prints and Photographs Division.
Hans Christian Andersen. Prints and Photographs Division.

In total, this 140-page book features hundreds of illustrations that appeal to a young boy’s imagination. Many of the scenes include soldiers from various time periods, the cavalry, sword fights, boxing matches, tropical forests, various modes of transportation and many different scenes of children at play. Animals also play a large part of this scrapbook, including various depictions of snakes, lions, gorillas, pigs, cows, horses, bears, insects, fishes and birds of prey among others. Leafing through the pages offers nearly endless possibilities for conjuring up story after story to please the fancy of a young boy.

This scrapbook is part of a the Jean Hersholt Collection, which is comprised of Andersen’s early writing and papers, as well as first editions of the writings of his personal friends including Hugh Walpole and Sinclair Lewis. Hersholt was a Danish-born actor who moved to the United States and became a leading film and radio talent.

In the early 1950s, Hersholt and his wife presented their collection of Anderseniana to the Library of Congress. It is likely the most comprehensive collection in America of first editions, manuscripts, letters, presentation copies and pictorial material relating to Hans Christian Andersen. Formed by the collectors over a 30-year period, it chronicles Andersen’s publications beginning with his first book, “Ungdoms-Forsøg (“Youthful Attempts”), published in Copenhagen in 1822 under the pseudonym William Christian Walter. Among the first editions in the collection are the six pamphlets published by C. A. Reitsel of Copenhagen between 1835 and 1842 titled, “Eventyr, Fortalte for Børn” (“Fairy Tales Told for Children”). These contain the earliest printings of 19 of Andersen’s fairy tales, among them “The Emperor’s New Clothes” and “Thumbelina.” The collection also includes manuscripts of several other fairy tales, Andersen’s correspondence (1868-74) with his American publisher Horace E. Scudder, volumes inscribed by Andersen, early translations, significant posthumous editions and works about Andersen.

“Billedbog til Jonas Drewsen” joins many other rare children’s books available on the Library’s website.

Comments (2)

  1. I surely hope these wonderful collections are captured on microfilm. True preservation.

  2. How exciting!
    I am a NJ State Ambassador for USBBY. “The United States Board on Books for Young People (USBBY) serves as the U.S. national section of the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY), which was founded to promote international understanding and good will through books for children and adolescents.”

    This announcement was just made:
    “We’re excited to share that the International Board on Books for Young People has just announced that Rotraut Susanne Berner of Germany and Cao Wenxuan of China are the winners of the 2016 Hans Christian Andersen Award. ”

    As a State Ambassador, one of the roles is to promote International Children’s Book Day. “Since 1967, on or around Hans Christian Andersen’s birthday, 2 April, International Children’s Book Day (ICBD) is celebrated to inspire a love of reading and to call attention to children’s books.”

    To learn of this amazing history and items housed at the Library of Congress was more than thrilling!

    I cannot wait to pass this rich find on for, USBBY State Ambassadors, fellow teaching colleagues, librarians in my school district, my kindergarten students, and my family, to enjoy and use in their teaching, profession, or just personal learning and enjoyment.

    Thank you for this blog!

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