[ORIGINS] Abbott’s “The Young Astronomer” (Shaw’s Pet Book)

Looking inside The Young Astronomer for information about its origins, we can see much about its publication. It was published in 1875 by T.J. Allman Publishing Co. in London. The front material of the book tends to focus more on the publisher than the author.

The only detail about the author provided not in relation to the subject matter of this book is the fact that he’s also the author of Mother at Home and Child at Home. Instead, we’re given more publisher’s details. The cover page provides the street address of T.J. Allman: 463 Oxford Street. The Allman seal is displayed prominently on the title page. The flyleaf and endpaper list other works and textbooks published by Allman.

There are several things I noted from my online research of this book. From what is known of T.J. Allman’s published works, most of them were published in the latter half of the 19th century. Most books published by T.J. Allman seem to be books for children, including both textbooks and short stories.  Abbott, our author, writes mostly informational and historical texts and textbooks, seemingly focusing on documentation of battles and wars, and biographies of prominent historical figures. Here is where we find the overlap: an informational task that is focusing on presenting known astronomical facts in a manner simple enough for children to understand. In the author’s statement at the beginning of the book, Abbott states that his purpose in writing this book came from not seeing many texts on astronomy that simply present what is known. He wanted to fill that gap, so he “Collected [information] for the use of schools and the general reader.” This would suggest that it was not a commission for Abbott, rather something he was simply interested in writing about, although it could still very well have been a commission. I believe this solves the question of author’s intent and the original reason for the book’s creation.

In regards to the edition of this book, the title page reveals this to be the “New Edition” corrected to the present time by Barbara R. Bartlett. There’s no numbering of the edition and no mention of any editor besides Bartlett. Searching online proved fruitless to finding any other edition that was ever published.

Printer’s information is scarce in the text. All that is stated of the printer is on the very final page of text: “Billing and sons, printers, Guildford, Surrey.” However, my research online quickly lead me to a website called “Exploring Surrey’s Past“, which has a detailed account of the formation and workings of Billing and sons. In 1843, Joseph Billing purchased an establishment in Woking and later relocated to Guildford. They quickly expanded in size, constructing many more buildings and facilities with extensions occurring in December 1874, close to the time of The Young Astronomer‘s initial printing. They had also shifted to steam power before printing Abbott’s text. The rest of the recorded history details expansions, the passing of company ownership between generations, loss of materials at the start of the 20th century, and major acquisitions by the company.


In regards to the physical manufacturing of the book, it’s small and made somewhat cheaply. On almost every page you can see the stitching in the binding, which has 14 stitches. The cover has simple red blind stamping with a gold vignette on the front. The paper is low quality. The book also contains signature marks throughout, signifying where the pages fell on sheets before they were cut. Sections are numbered, and when we physically separated by holding pages we can see exactly how the sheets were divided.  All of these details convey that this book was mass produced, which should seem obvious since it’s a textbook meant to be used in classrooms by many students. This particular copy, however, seems unused. I know this text belongs to the Eastman collection and that there are several sections of this collection comprised solely of books by Abbott.

In summary, when observing the origins of The Young Astronomer we see many factors of 19th century book production in play: Abbott writes the text with children and general audiences in mind, Allman publishes it while representing their company and other works heavily, and Billing and Sons prints the book adhering to standards of the time in a cheap but still elegant manner. This particular copy maintains little to no wear from use and ends up in a private collection at Colby College. I will detail this collection and its use in a later blog post.



Works Cited

  • Abbott, John S. C. The Young Astronomer, Or, the Facts Developed by Modern Astronomy: Collected for the Use of Schools and the General Reader. , 1858. Internet resource.
  • Billing, H. S. “BILLING & SONS, PRINTERS OF GUILDFORD: BUSINESS RECORDS.” Exploring Surrey’s Past, Surrey History Centre Collections Catalogue, www.exploringsurreyspast.org.uk/GetRecord/SHCOL_1366.
  • OpenLibrary.org. “T. J. Allman Publisher.” Open Library, Internet Archive, openlibrary.org/publishers/T._J._Allman.