Rare Books

To all the Little Masters and to all the Little Misses

The Morgan Collection

The nucleus of the Morgan Collection of Children's Books in the Baillieu Library, University of Melbourne, was donated in 1954 by Mr. Frederick Morgan (1878-1978), former City Librarian in Hereford, England and in his retirement Librarian of the Hereford Cathedral Library.

The original collection, comprising 1086 items, was gathered over much of his very long life - he lived to the age of 100. The earliest item in the original collection dates from 1729, the bulk of the collection is from before 1900.1,2 Most of these books were collected by FC Morgan and his daughter Penelope.3 As so many other dedicated book collectors, they went around the countryside gathering books. These children's books had often been quite heavily used by their former owners. The cost of each individual item may not have been great, particularly since children's books were not at that time considered collector's items. The value of the collection is now very great, as many children's books perished through over-use and subsequent neglect.

The Morgan Collection came to the University of Melbourne as Mr. Morgan felt that his collection would not be outstanding in English libraries since it would not be noticed amongst the other riches in their collections He therefore decided to donate his collection to a 'colonial' university, where it might be of more research value. His choice of Melbourne University can be explained by his friendship with Lord Rennell of Rodd, who was also a friend of Sir John Medley, former Vice-Chancellor of Melbourne University. Lord Rennell acted as intermediary, corresponding with the Vice Chancellor on Mr. Morgan's behalf.

During the lifetime of Frederick and Penelope Morgan additions to the gift were frequently received. The University also adds to the collection, with a small portion of the budget dedicated for that purpose every year. The University of Melbourne now has a collection of about 4000 children's books published between the mid-18th century and about 1900, including a few toys and some manuscript material.

With the original collection came a catalogue, compiled by Penelope Morgan. This catalogue still exists. It is a sequence of main entries filed in classified order, following a restricted Dewey scheme, and an alphabetical index of authors, titles, editors, illustrators, publishers, printers and subjects. This system was continued until early 1969 when the cataloguing of new items was modified to follow standard library practice. However, the entire collection is now catalogued and available through the University's online catalogue, which makes the task of preparing an exhibition much easier.

The collection is of both literary and historical interest. Much can be learnt of the social history of the 18th and 19th centuries by looking at the types of books which adults thought were suitable reading material for children. The books range across all Dewey classes. Religion is fairly prominent as one would expect from any subset of literature from the 18th and 19th centuries.

The collection has in the past been little known and little used but this is now changing. Many of the books are extremely fragile and the increased usage of course leads to potential conservation problems. As always, one has to balance the needs for usage and conservation.

The Morgan Collection has its strength in English children's books from the 18th and 19th centuries.4 There are books from other parts of Europe and there are earlier and later books, but the collection gets its character from the English children's books of an era seminal to children's literature and to the growth of the concept of childhood.

1 Comenius, Orbis sensualium pictus 1729.

2 Many of the books in the collection were included in an exhibition at Malvern Public Library (England) in 1911. The exhibition was curated by Frederick Morgan and a published catalogue was compiled many years after the event: Children's Books Published Before 1830 Exhibited at Malvern Public Library in 1911. Edited by F. C. Morgan (Librarian Malvern 1910-1925). Malvern: The author, 1976).

3 Penelope Morgan died in 1990.

4 The Australiana and School Fiction Collections in the University of Melbourne Library also have rich holdings of children's books. These collections will form the basis for future exhibitions.

Selected Bibliography

Darton, F. J. Children's Books in England: Five Centuries of Children's Books. 3rd ed. revised by Brian Alderson. Cambridge; Melbourne: Cambridge University Press, 1982.

Muir, Percy. English Children's Books 1600 to 1900. London: B. T. Batsford, 1954.

Osborne Collection. The Osborne Collection of Early Children's Books 1566-1910: A Catalogue. Prepared at Boys and Girls House by Judith St. John. Toronto (Ont.): Toronto Public Library, 1958 (2 vols).

Opie, Iona and Robert, and Brian Alderson. The Treasures of Childhood: Books, Toys, and Games from the Opie Collection. London: Pavilion Books, 1989.

Humphrey Carpenter and Mari Prichard. The Oxford Companion to Children's Literature. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984.

The Dictionary of National Biography and other biographical tools have also used, as have various internet sites on children's literature. Several articles have been written about F. C. Morgan. Good summaries of the collection are in:

McVitty, Walter. 'Mr. Morgan's Hidden Treasure' and Barker, Geoffrey. 'I Would Pick Them Up For a Penny or a Tupenny ...' The Age, June 29, 1978, p. 9. (Feature article at the time of Mr. Morgan's 100th birthday.)

McVitty, Walter. The Morgan Collection of Children's Books: an Appreciation. Melbourne: Hawthorn Press, 1978.

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