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The Jolly ABC

By Blam [Edmund Blampied]

This is the first of two alphabet books that Edmund Blampied designed for Thomas Nelson and Sons. Edwin Jack wrote to Blampied on 26th June 1919:


We are sending you herewith an old alphabet book and we should like you to sketch out very roughly a new alphabet book. It might be as well, we think, to take the old alphabet, 'A was an archer', which you will find in the little nursery rhyme book sent herewith as the letter press basis for your work. The alphabet should, as you see, extend to 16 pages in colour inside, colour designs for the front and back, and end papers in black and white. In planning out the alphabet we should like to leave you quite free to make it as varied as possible. There should be, we think, 2, 3 or 4 full page pictures, one or two might be half pages, and a few four pictures on a page. These alphabet books are for very young children and it seems to us we might in this case print in five flat colours. You did some very successful drawings for us recently in this style. If, however, for any reason you think you could make a more successful book by working out your drawings in a different style viz. more fully modelled for reproduction in 3 or 4 colour process, we are quite willing that you should adopt this method.

The rhymes dated back to the 18th century at least, and was called Tom Thumb's Alphabet. According to the Encylopaedia Brittanica the earliest printed version is dated 1712. Several of the verses have been modified to remove references to drunkards, robbers, vintners and usurers, which would not be appropriate for young children. The version sent to Blampied is not known but it had been edited for children.

Image of illustration

Illustration from the book (click to enlarge)


Blampied must have done the many designs quickly as Edwin Jack wrote to him just under two weeks later, on 8th July 1919:

We are delighted with the layout of the alphabet. It is bright and happy and the humorous touch you impart will charm the bairns. In every way the book is a long step in advance of the deadly dull ABCs which are usually put out. We only have one criticism to make. We don’t think the cover is as effective as it might be. Decoratively it is striking perhaps but it is not interesting to a child. There ought to be a striking picture on the cover. A good drawing of the archer or one of the characters in the book might be as good as any other subject. Would it hamper you in any way to give us first the outline drawing in black of the colour subjects. We would then make blocks and send you pulls to colour up. If you wish to alter the proofs, the black and white, before colouring, this could be done. There would be no objection to having both pairs of end papers, it would give variety. Kindly let us know what you consider a fair fee for this book.

This book was printed in flat colours so each colour required a separate printing on each sheet of paper to lay down a different colour. Blampied was sent a print with just the outlines of the features in black on white paper which he then coloured in, to show the publisher how it was to appear. A maximum of five colours were used on each page, as suggested by Edwin Jack, but more colours were used in the whole book or two colours on the same area were used to achieve a third colour.

The next letter, written on 15th July 1919, refined the style of the book and stated what Nelson's were willing to pay:

We are obliged by your letter. Regarding the title we must have a livelier title than The Alphabet Book. Our suggestion is The Jolly ABC. We much prefer the ABC to Alphabet. We had not thought of asking you to do all the lettering inside. If you do the initial letters we can set the rest in type if you leave space for it. It might be well to send on the first two drawings so that we can make sure that everything is in order i.e. that space is sufficient for a good bold type. The fee you named is considerably more than we had contemplated. We had thought of 60 guineas. Will you kindly reconsider the matter and, taking into consideration that there is very much less lettering required that you thought when quoting your fee, let us know to whether you could see your way to do the book for us on these terms. In order to lessen the amount of work still further we could do with two pages of end papers instead of the four proposed. The back board too can be treated quite simply.

Blampied submitted a revised cover for the book and Jack replied on 5th August 1919:

The cover for THE JOLLY ABC, I think is delightful, both the front and the back. Kindly send us drawings of the black. By all means, let your name go on the book. I do not like the formal words illustrated by. It would be better simply to say by Blam I think, or pictures by Blam. I think the whole alphabet is very good indeed.

In terms of purchasing power parity the fee of £65 is equivalent to just under £3,000 in 2019, or in terms of labour value it is equivalent to £10,500.


Dating editions. There are two editions of this book: one printed on 16 pages of thin card with decorated end papers; and one printed on 14 pages of heavy boards backed with cream cloth, without endpapers. The British Library has three copies with accession dates of 24 Mar 1921 (16 pp card lined with linen); 25 Jun 1921 (16 pp glossy paper); and 30 Jan 1936 (14 pp boards, no end papers, backed with cream cloth). The Bodleian Library has a copy of 14 board pages, no endpapers, backed with cream cloth, with an accession date of April 1921. This indicates that the edition on card with endpapers is the first; it was reissued soon after publication on printed boards with no endpapers and reprinted in the same format in the middle 1930s. This explains why the board book is more common than the book printed on card. I suspect that the book was issued for the Christmas market in 1920 and Nelson's sent copies to the copyright libraries in early 1921.




●  First edition

Bibliography code: NEL-20.2i

Publisher: Thomas Nelson and Sons

Series: none

Year: [1920]

Format: 4to

Pages: 16 pp

Binding: printed thin boards, sewn; a version printed on glossy paper has been seen in the British Library

Size: 282 x 218 mm

Cover signed: no

Internal illustrations: decorated endpapers signed Blam and 16 pages of illustrated letters of the alphabet, 6 full page, 10 pages with two letters to a page, all printed on thin card

Source of illustration: original

Price: 2 shillings 6 pence in 1926 according to a trade order list of books

Printing history: not stated

Printed by: Printed in Great Britain by Thomas Nelson and Sons, Ltd.

Notes: This is the first edition: a sewn book printed on thin card with decorated endpapers.

Image of dust jacket

Cover (click to enlarge)




Image of cover

Cover (click to enlarge)



●  Second edition

Bibliography code: NEL-20.2ii

Publisher: Thomas Nelson and Sons

Series: none

Year: [193?]

Format: 4to

Pages: 16 pp

Binding: printed thick boards, backed with white cloth with the title, a small image of two mice and the published in black on the spine; illustrated rear boards

Size: 289 x 219 mm

Cover signed: no

Internal illustrations: letters printed inside covers, 14 boards of illustrated letters of the alphabet (6 full page, 10 pages with two letters to a page)

Source of illustration: original

Price: unknown

Printing history: not stated

Printed by: Printed in Great Britain by Thomas Nelson and Sons, Ltd.

Notes: This is the second edition: a bound book printed on boards backed with cream cloth.


Image of illustration

Illustration from the book (click to enlarge)



The Jolly ABC: first edition with endpapers and 16 pages of letters.


Image of coverImage of endpaperImage of letters A and B


Image of letters C and DImage of letters efImage of letters G and H


Image of letter IImage of letter JImage of letters K and L


Image of letters M and NImage of letters O and PImage of letter Q


Image of letters R and SImage of letter TImage of letters U and V


Image of letter WImage of letters X and YImage of letter Z


Image of rear endpaperImage of rear cover



Post script. In the early 1990s Oxford Games Limited were working with the Opie Collection of Children's Literature at the Bodleian Library at Oxford University looking for illustrations for a children's board game using letters of the alphabet. Blampied's illustrations were re-drawn, without knowing who 'Blam' was, and used them on a board game called Bookworm (ISBN 1-89971-271-2, 1994).