We’ve been spending lots of time these last few weeks oohing and aahing over an unusual new collection – so I thought I’d share it with you!

nelsonbros013These tiny books, magazines and newspapers were created by the brothers Elmer, Arthur and Walter Nelson in the early 1890s, when the boys ranged in age from 10 to 20 and lived on a farm in Goshen, New Hampshire with their parents and much younger brother. A few of the items seem related to their real identities (the gorgeous Nelson Bros. Seed Catalog, for instance) but the majority of them compose a literary corpus for an imaginary world created by the brothers. They wrote and illustrated geographies, histories, biographies, novels, magazines, newspapers, even a bank deposit book.

In addition to being a delightful example of childhood creativity, this collection can be used as a lens to view late 19th century society. The boys distill and present their understanding of what a world is – in politics, gender, race, colonialism, commerce and (especially) military power. The works are also a clear reflection of the literary forms that the boys would have encountered – from Chit-Chat magazine to the “American Family Robinson”.

The finding aid for the Nelson Family Juvenilia collection provides a title listing. [update: Student in the “Archives of Childhood” seminar, taught by Professor Karen S├ínchez-Eppler, have created a wonderful website on the Nelson brothers, The Worlds and Works of the Nelson Brothers, that uses these items, as well as photographs taken by the Nelson brothers and shared by the Goshen (NH) Historical Society, to explore these subjects in great depth.] You can enjoy a taste of the brothers’ works below! (click to view larger)

Additional children’s publications and scrapbooks can be found in the George Bellows Papers (his daughter’s magazines in box 4, folders 17-19) and the Emily Dickinson Collection (a scrapbook made by her nephew and niece in Box 28, folder 36).