Babies, By the Book
Published Oct 1, 2010 9:15 AM
In 1898, famous illustrator Maud Humphrey published a baby book called Baby's Record. The color illustrations she drew and included in the book often get cut out and sold at $100 a pop. Ironically, Humphrey herself had a little bundle of joy the very next year, a boy she named by combining her surname with that of her surgeon husband, Belmont Bogart.
Yes, Maud's kid was that Humphrey Bogart.
Baby's Record and about 1,200 other pieces are part of the Baby Book Collection, one of the more wonderful collections in UCLA's Louise M. Darling Biomedical Library. The seven-year-old collection, launched with a book donated by antiquarian bookseller Barbara Rootenberg, includes books dating back to 1882 and doesn't merely aggregate memorabilia about baby's first tooth, first words, doctor's visits or favorite foods. The collection also opens a very personal window into the history of American childhood and family, medicine, art, architecture and other disciplines. As such, the collection attracts researchers from around the country and the rest of the world.
These scholars "are faculty and grad students in history, the history of medicine, public health, sociology, library and information studies, linguistics and material culture," says Russell Johnson M.A. '83, M.L.S. '93, UCLA librarian for history and special collections for the sciences. "It's really gratifying to see the range of uses."
Books for the collection are acquired through donation or purchased with funds donated by Bruin philanthropists. To find new additions, Johnson scours such disparate sources as swap meets, booksellers, even online auctioneer eBay.
"They come in unusual ways," Johnson explains. "I've bought most of them. When I give baby-book lectures at a public library or conference, I generally get donations. One [book donor] went to a swap meet in Long Beach and found a South American baby book published just after World War II in Portuguese."
But in particular, the digital age has been very good to this baby-book hunter, who admits that "I could not have built this collection without eBay. Most of the baby books are very inexpensive and book dealers are not going to handle or describe inexpensive books. But people on eBay will give incredible descriptions and half a dozen photos for an auction starting at $5. I buy from all over the country and Europe."
The bulk of the collection predates 1950, but the period after World War II saw an explosion of baby books, probably not surprising given the boom in infants at that time. But there's an interesting distinction between the older items, which hew strictly to the historical majority in terms of ethnicity, religion and culture, and those of more recent vintage.
"When we get into the '60s and '70s, we start to see things like the Jewish baby book, books for adopted children, and books specifically for African-American babies," notes Johnson. "And in the '80s and '90s, humorous ones like the middle-aged-baby book and baby books for dogs, cats and horses."
Eventually, the collection search will expand into online scanned books, depending on copyright. So there is much more baby-book business to be done. And Johnson is tireless in his quest. There is, however, one baby book that eludes him — if it even exists at all.
"What I'd love to find is Humphrey Bogart's actual baby book," Johnson says. "The other baby book I'd love to have is my own. But since I'm a third child, I didn't get one."