Last Friday afternoon I was looking for something in our library's online catalog and stumbled across the title THE NEWBERY MEDAL BOOKS, 1922-1933 : THEIR AUTHORS, ILLUSTRATORS, AND PUBLISHERS by Muriel E. Cann. It was published in Boston by the Trustees of the Public Library in 1934. This book surprised me, as I thought I was already familiar with most of the "Newbery" works in our collection. I went to the shelves and found this unprepossessing volume:
However, I found the text to be quite fascinating. Written and published before the Newbery Medal had entered its "teenage years," the volume gives us an immediate and thought-provoking look at the then-new award. We are told that Hugh Lofting's THE VOYAGES OF DOCTOR DOLITTLE is "easily termed the most popular of the Newbery Medal Books." The cover design of Charles Boardman Hawes' THE DARK FRIGATE is criticized: "It is a great pity that the outward form of the book is not more compelling. Both in the bookstore and in the library it is too often passed by, because there is nothing about its exterior to mark it as a 'distinguished' contribution to children's books." And when it comes to SMOKY by Will James, we are assured: "The slang is such that there is little danger of its being adopted by the boys." (Oh thank goodness!)
Looking at the book, I decided I'd really love to have a copy for my own collection. I checked online and saw that only one copy was available. The price was right (using today's method of budgeting, it cost half the price of a tank of gas: $23.) I ordered the book and it arrived in yesterday's mail.
I knew right away that I had stumbled onto a very special copy. Since the library's copy was rebound, I don't know what the original binding looked like, but I can't imagine it was bound in leather and marbled boards like this copy:
Or that the spine would be embossed in gold:
Or that the endpapers would be printed on marbled glossy stock:
It turns out that the book I found is a one-of-a-kind volume. It was specially made and presented to the author by the director of the Boston Public Library, Milton C. Lord "in appreciation of the interest which brought this study of children's books into being."
One unusual aspect of this book is that, although it contains only 37 numbered pages, there are 27 blank leaves bound at the end of the volume. I'm not sure why that is, but I'd like to think those blank pages somehow represent the future of the Newbery Medal and all the books yet to be written that would someday win this award.
As for Muriel E. Cann, the only things I've been able to find out about her is that "E" stood for "Evadne" and that she was born in 1906. I'm sure she treasured her special leatherbound copy of THE NEWBERY MEDAL BOOKS, 1922-1934 for the rest of her life. Yet somehow it ended up at a bookstore in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, where it sat -- just waiting to be found -- until last Friday when I came along to give it a new home.