Osborne Collection - selected items

Clockwise, from top right: Andrew Lang, Violet Fairy Book, 1901; The Cries of London, E. Newbery, ca. 1750; Imperial Battledore, J. Newbery, ca. 1750; Hornbook, ca. 1750; Hornbook, ca. 1800; Book Case of Instruction, 1813; A Pretty Book for Children, ca. 1745; Waterson Cot, ca. 1873.

The Osborne Collection of Early Children’s Books had its beginnings in a visit by a British librarian, Edgar Osborne, to Toronto Public Library’s Boys and Girls House in 1934. Osborne was impressed by the range and quality of children’s services established and flourishing under TPL’s first head of children’s services, Lillian H. Smith.

From this beginning the Osborne Collection of Early Children’s Books has grown to over 80,000 rare and modern children’s books. These are classified in three parts: the Osborne Collection of books published to the end of 1910; the Lillian H. Smith Collection of modern titles; and the Canadiana Collection of materials written, published, or substantially related to Canada.

Each of these collections includes book-related art, literary archives, games and ephemera. Most materials are English-language, with a few exceptions of classics of children’s literature published in original languages, and some foreign language materials.

The Osborne Collection of Early Children’s Books spans literary classics to popular culture, including novelties like movables and miniatures. The oldest artefacts in the Collection are cuneiform tablets dating from 2,000 B.C.E., while modern books fresh and pristine from the press are added today, to become objects of study, admiration and amusement by future generations.

The Osborne Collection encompasses the development of English Children’s literature, including:L'Empire De La Reine Des Fleurs [France?: 188-].

  • a fourteenth-century manuscript of Aesop’s fables
  • fifteenth-century traditional tales,
  • sixteenth-century school texts and courtesy books
  • godly Puritan works
  • eighteenth-century chapbooks, moral tales and rational recreations
  • Victorian classics of fantasy adventure and school stories, up to 1910 – the end of the Edwardian era

Within the collection are:

  • Florence Nightingale’s childhood library
  • Queen Mary’s children’s books
  • materials pertaining to members of the Taylor family of Ongar
  • the Pettingell Collection of periodicals and penny dreadfuls
  • extensive holdings of the works of G.A. Henty
  • the John Sullivan Hayes Collection, predominantly nineteenth and twentieth-century English Children’s books

A Day in the Zoo. [1900?]

A Day in the Zoo: Realistic Pictures of the Birds, Beasts, And Fishes: A Stand Up Toybook. London: H. Grevel & Co., (1900?)

Class visits and Group Tours

Teachers and instructors are welcome to contact the Osborne Collection to arrange group visits, subject to space and scheduling. Classes from grade 4+ may enjoy exhibits and talks, while high school, college and university-level students may be given subject presentations on Osborne material.

The Osborne Collection of Early Children’s Books
The Lillian H. Smith branch, Toronto Public Library
239 College Street, Toronto, Ontario M5T 1R5

Mon. – Fri. 10-6, Sat. 9-5; Closed Sundays and holidays.
Phone: 416-393-7753
Fax: 416-393-7635