Bibliophile essay contest – Entrant #12

in from Gwen Foss @ Alan’s Used Books

Old King Cole Rises Again

One of the most bizarre things happened to me a few months ago while I was out hunting the local garage sales for used books to resell.

I picked up an remarkable Mother Goose book. I have a special interest in folklore and collect nursery rhyme books. This book was not old, not nicely bound, and
not in good shape. I was going to thumb through, see it there were any rhymes that were unfamiliar, and if
so, buy it. I expected to put it down and walk away, but–

There on the front endpaper was an illustration I had known since I was about three years old. But the book was completely unfamiliar.

I looked again and realized that no, this was not quite the illustration I knew. But it was a very close match. I realized suddenly that it was the original on which “my” illustration had been based.

Some background here. All but one of my grandparents were artists. When I was about three years old, my maternal grandfather made me an original illustration of my favorite nursery rhyme, “Old King Cole.” Then he framed it, and has hung on my wall ever since.

My grandfather passed away when I was about five years old. I don’t remember him very clearly but I have always treasured his illustration which I can remember him by.

Imagine my surprise to learn, some forty years later, that my grandfather had actually copied someone else’s work! That sneaky man!

(The book is: _Mother Goose: A Random House Book_,
with artwork and claytoons directed by Maxwell Dorne and Bill Sass, color photography by Maxwell Dorne, copyright 1949.)

The full front endpaper is actually pretty striking: it depicts not only the Merry Old Soul but also his Fiddlers Three.

After I got over my initial shock and surprise, I found that I enjoyed having the original as well as the copy in my collection. My grandfather embellished the original with many clever details like the decorative features along the king’s collar and hemline and his very stylized hair.

It may be a cliche but you never know what you’ll find when you’re out book scouting. And no, although the book is pretty beat up and part of the backstrip is gone, it is not for sale!

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