Through my career as a bookwoman, I have come across several of Arthur Henry Mee’s contributions to children’s literature. His is not a name you would notice often as a parent or from your childhood reading. It’s one of those more behind-the-scenes names that goes with tremendous effort to create a body of work that will enhance the learning experience of children throughout the English speaking world. And so Mee did for the first half of the 20th Century.
We are fortunate enough to have a beautiful and complete set of the North American version of his Children’s Encyclopaedia available for sale now. The original ten volume edition was first published in England in 1910, with this twenty volume American edition, entitled The Book of Knowledge, following in 1912.
The set was designed to draw the reader in. Children could start at the beginning and read through to the end, where they would find a letter of farewell from Mr. Mee. It’s treatment of the multitude of topics is engaging, educational, full of everyday applications, and each subject is linked to the one preceding it in some way, so that there is continuity throughout. It was so well done, and so popular that it remained in print to the 1960s, and was resurrected in the 1990s. The 1912 set is a work of art, profusely illustrated with borders to every page – a true product of the craftsmanship of the age. Later editions added colour but succumbed to the general trend in publishing toward plainer bindings, cheaper paper, and a ‘cleaner’ (less ornate) look.
Mee, Arthur & Holland Thompson, editors. The Book of Knowledge The Children’s Encyclodaedea (20 vols., complete). London, Grolier Society of London, 1912. 3/4 black leather over forest green silk, title and decorations gilt-stamped to spine, raised bands, t.e.g. Cover edges show minimal wear. Pages clean. Bindings tight. A VG+ to Near Fine set. ECB10764 $550.00
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