A request for help from Jill Shefrin
Jill Shefrin is a Canadian independent historian and bibliographer of children’s books and ephemera published in Britain in the long eighteenth century. She’s currently preparing a descriptive bibliography and historical study of “school pieces” or writing blanks, and she’d love to hear from anyone holding any English, Irish or colonial American examples. Although they are today called writing blanks or writing sheets, in the long eighteenth century they were most often described as “school pieces”.
Elegant engraved sheets published between about 1660 and 1860 and filled in by children with examples of their best handwriting, often at Christmas (accounting for their alternative name of “Christmas pieces”). Relatively few examples survive, but there appears to have been a longstanding and thriving market for school pieces. Jill has identified over fifty English and Irish printsellers who offered them for sale over two centuries, but only a few have survived in more than single copies. Attractive and often colourful, one would think they were the preserve of wealthy and aristocratic children, but in 1840 the Morning Chronicle reported that on Christmas day in the Clerkenwell workhouse “one of the overseers, has generally supplied the children with Christmas pieces to write for prizes”.
Jill’s The Dartons : Publishers of Educational Aids, Pastimes & Juvenile Ephemera, 1787-1876 (Cotsen Occasional Press, 2009), was awarded the Justin G. Schiller (Bibliographical Society of America) & the F. J. Harvey Darton Award (Children’s Books History Society). She has taught the Children’s Books course at the London Rare Books School since 2008 and is a Senior Research Associate at Trinity College, University of Toronto. She’s currently also an RBC Foundation Visiting Fellow at the Bodleian Library, working with their extensive holdings of school pieces, but she’s interested in seeing any and all examples.
You can contact her—and find out more about her work—through her website www.teetotum.ca
Jill Shefrin / firstname.lastname@example.org /Senior Research Associate in Arts, Trinity College, University of Toronto