Fairy Tale books display from the Parker Collection
The core of the original collection was based upon the acquisitions of Mr and Mrs J.F. Parker of Tickenhill Manor near Bewdley who collected children's books published from 1830 up to the end of the nineteenth century. They collaborated in their collecting with Mrs Mildred Berkeley who specialised in pre-1830 moral stories and chapbooks. Her books were acquired by the Parkers on her death and are now one of the strengths of the collection.
In the 1950s after the death of Mr J.F. Parker, his widow donated the early children's books and about 70 educational games to Birmingham Central library. The Head of Children's Services at that time added a considerable number of school and adventure stories from the general library stock. Many finely illustrated fairy tales and other illustrated children's books were transferred to the collection and it now contains books dating from 1538 to the present day, including fiction, educational textbooks and picture books, giving a fascinating panorama of changing attitudes to children over four centuries.
Books are still being added to the collection. Donations of earlier materials from interested individuals enable unusual and interesting books and magazines to be preserved for future study.
Every year the library buys one copy of the children's book that has won the Carnegie Award and one copy of the Greenaway Award winner to add to the Parker Collection.
Highlights from the collection
Among the delights of the collection are the movable picture books, some of which are almost more toys than books. The earliest in the collection is Stacey Grimaldi's "The Toilet", 1821, a movable book designed to teach virtuous behaviour to children. He initially devised the idea by sketching articles from his daughter's dressing table as representations of specific virtues. The articles served as flaps, which, when lifted up, revealed scenes illustrating each virtue. The book enjoyed great popularity and inspired other publishers to release imitations. Many of the early ones date from around 1870 and are German. There are also some interesting modern examples. These have been carefully chosen to represent the range of mechanism and design in existence.
Picture books and illustrated books are one of the strengths of the collection and there are examples of the work of Edmund Dulac, Arthur Rackham and Charles Robinson. Beatrix Potter's books are represented both in standard format and in the concertina form in which some of her early books were first issued. There are also a few Orlando, Babar and early Ardizzones from the 1930s, together with examples of the work of early 20th century illustrators like Mabel Lucy Attwell, Ernest Shepard, Margaret Tarrant and Cicely Mary Barker.
The collection is housed in the Library of Birmingham in Archives, Heritage and Photography
Extremely early, rare, fragile and more valuable books are available by appointment only. The books in question will have a note on the catalogue indicating that staff should be consulted. Library staff will make every effort to arrange an appointment with you at a mutually convenient date and time, but access on demand to these particular books is seldom possible.
However all books in the collection published before the date of 1830 have been microfilmed so immediate access to a microfilm copy of an early edition is always available.
In addition to the extensive historical collection of children's books there is a small collection of over a hundred children's games. Many of these are Victorian and they are mostly educational.
There are jigsaws, card games, counting and mathematical games, historical games, travel and geographical board games and spelling games. Some of the games were made by Chad Valley of Harborne.
At present thirteen of the games have had conservation work and have custom-made boxes. It is hoped that funds can be raised so that more games can have professional conservation work done to protect them further.