Between August of 2014 and January 2015, a significant portion of Arne Nixon Center's collection of cloth books was digitized. These works are now viewable online. A sampling of the e-collection is accessible from ancclothbooks.org, and the full e-collection may be accessed via Henry Madden Library's Digitized Collections directory.
Made of muslin, linen, and “linen-like” paper, with publication dates spanning the nineteenth century and much of the twentieth, the cloth and cloth-like books in Arne Nixon Center’s collection represent an important but largely forgotten era of children’s publishing. Specifically, these books are important because their design and content reflects changing attitudes toward children and the concept of “childhood” within the Western world. Whereas many early children’s books were made to be shown to children but not touched or handled by them, beginning in the mid-1800s children’s publishers began to create books children could manipulate on their own. Many of the earliest designs were printed on thick, “untearable” papers, but by the turn of the twentieth century most children’s publishers used linen-mounted paper, linen, and muslin. The muslin texts, sometimes called “rag books,” were especially well-designed for use by children and families in that they were resistant to tearing and could be washed. Alongside such innovations, content and illustrations evolved to shape children’s experiences of reading in more constructive ways.
Attractions of the cloth books e-collection include Routledge, Warne, and Routledge’s 1861 Routledge’s Spelling & Reading Book (now over 150 years old), beautifully-illustrated ABC books, and a rare French-language muslin nursery rhyme book by Dean’s Rag Book/Hachette.