Children's Books and Illustrators

This collection numbers more than 20,000 items, from the 1680s through the early 20th century.

The New England Primer Enlarged, Germantown, PA: 1771. This image shows the frontispiece of the book, featuring a woodcut of King George III of England.  It has been changed to George Washington by the book's owner. RBD ROS 69

Early American Children's Books

Influential rare-book dealer A.S.W. Rosenbach set the stage for the current union of The Rosenbach and the Free Library in 1947 when he donated 816 early American children's books. This collection now numbers more than 20,000 objects from the 1680s through the early 20th including more than 100 hornbooks, traditionally wooden, paddle-shaped primers for children.

This collection encompasses a full range of books produced for children: catechisms and primers, moral tales, hymns, poetry, nursery rhymes, school books, history, travel books, popular science, fiction, folk tales, and toy books. The collection also includes children's books produced in the frontier settlements of the United States. The 816 volumes in the original Rosenbach gift are described in his Early American Children's Books.


Augustus Kollner, illustrator. Waiting for a job.

American Sunday-School Union Collection

Complementary to the Early American Children's Books is the archive of American Sunday-School Union publications, presented by the Union to the Free Library in 1962. Founded in Philadelphia in 1824, this non-sectarian missionary society was the most prolific publisher of youth literature in 19th-century America. The Union's publications were American in spirit and moral in tone. They cover a wide range of subjects including history, geography, biography, natural and physical sciences, poetry, catechisms, primers, and hymn books. This collection consists of the file copies retained by the Union's Committee of Publications. Many of the 20,000 volumes in this collection bear evidence of the Committee's editorial work for subsequent editions.


Meggendorfer, Lothar (1847-1925). Der Holzhauer from Neue Lebende Bilder. [Munich, 187_?]. RBD CB G [1870] M472n

European Children's Books

While the primary focus of the Free Library's collection of historical children's books is on American children's books, a variety of gifts have brought many English and Continental children's books to our shelves. These volumes help to document the relationship of early American children's books to their English and Continental counterparts. In addition, the collection includes some of the modern classics of children's literature by Lewis Carroll, A. A. Milne, and others. The Frederick R. Gardner Collection forms the core of this group of children's books, with notable donations from Elisabeth Ball, Emerson Greenaway, Mrs. William H. Allen, and others complementing it.


Watercolor signed KG. Capture of a merchantman, from The Queen of the Pirate Isle, by Bret Harte, illustrated by Kate Greenaway, ca. 1886.

Kate Greenaway

The idyllic vision of childhood and nature created by one of the most beloved illustrators of the Victorian era is represented in this collection of watercolors and drawings, first editions, autographed letters, and ephemera. Acquired with trust funds and augmented by the gifts of Mrs. Goran Holmquist, this collection includes a complete set of the Almanacks, the original drawings for Bret Harte's Queen of the Pirate Isle, and the copy of The Pied Piper of Hamelin inscribed by the illustrator to Robert Browning.

Finding Aid Digital Collection Catalog

Weatherley, Frederick. A Happy Pair. Illustrated by HBP. London: [1890]. RBD BP POST-Q H211P [1890]

Beatrix Potter

The creator of Peter Rabbit and his friends is well represented at the Free Library.

This collection includes:

  • The autographed manuscript, with the original watercolors, of The Tailor of Gloucester
  • The autographed manuscript and drawings for Little Pig Robinson
  • First editions, presentation copies, piracies, adaptations, ephemera, and over 100 watercolors and drawings from Potter's own portfolio
  • More than 60 autograph letters
Finding Aid Digital Collection Catalog

Arthur Rackham. Original illustration for Hansel & Gretel & Other Tales. New York: [1920]. RBD RA ART M6

Arthur Rackham

Rackham was a superb visual interpreter of myth, legend, and fairy tales. This collection embraces his entire working life, from the modest guidebook To the Other Side, issued in 1893, to the delightful illustrations in Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows, published in 1940, the year after Rackham's death.

Items in this collection include:

  • Watercolors and drawings
  • First, limited, and variant editions
  • Periodical appearances of Rackham's illustrations
  • Autographed letters
  • Ephemera

The original collection was assembled by Grace Clark Haskell, one of the bibliographers of Rackham, and purchased by the Free Library with trust funds. A number of drawings were added to the collection by Frederick R. Gardner.

Finding Aid Digital Collection Catalog

Robert Lawson. Unpublished illustration of a mouse with a flag, for Ben and Me, ca. 1939.

Robert Lawson

Winner of both the Caldecott and Newberry awards, Lawson's work as an illustrator and author is thoroughly documented in this collection of 1,100 drawings, early etchings, first and later editions (including personal copies of his books), and papers. The gift of Frederick R. Gardner, the collection contains the "dummy" for Munro Leaf's The Story of Ferdinand, and Lawson's drawings for Ben and Me, The Tough Winter, and many other works.

Finding Aid Digital Collection

Illustrator's dummy for The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf (illustrated by Robert Lawson). New York: 1936.

Munro Leaf

Complementary to the Lawson Collection is the archive of his colleague and frequent collaborator, Munro Leaf. The gift from Mrs. Munro Leaf includes the original manuscripts of The Story of Ferdinand and Wee Gillis, as well as books, photographs, and memorabilia relating to his career.

Finding Aid Digital Collection

Ethel Pennewill-Brown. A Life Class. Pastel, undated.

The Brandywine School

Assembled by Thornton Oakley and presented to the Free Library in 1951, this collection focuses on the work of Howard Pyle and his students of the "Brandywine School." It contains first editions and periodical appearances of works illustrated by Pyle and his students, as well as letters and notebooks. Paintings and drawings by Pyle, N.C. Wyeth, Maxfield Parrish, Elizabeth Shippen Green, Jessie Wilcox Smith, Thornton Oakley, and other students are also represented.

Finding Aid

A. B. Frost No. 1, The backward roll— Pen and Ink Drawing, n.d.

A.B. Frost

The work of the American illustrator and humorist is represented in this comprehensive collection, which was a gift from Mrs. C. Barton Brewster in memory of her husband. Among the many works illustrated by Frost contained in the collection are the "Uncle Remus" stories of Joel Chandler Harris. Also present are the original drawings for The Bull Calf and Other Tales, Stuff and Nonsense, and Skating Series.