A volume with 16 rare Scottish chapbooks (AB.1.215.52) has been added to our collections. 15 of them were printed in Kilmarnock and one in Ayr. Among the chapbooks are four unrecorded printings (nos 3, 6, 7 and 12 in the volume). All items in this volume  contain versions of popular ballads and songs of the early 19th century.

ship 1

ship 2

Chapbooks were the poor people’s reading material from the 17th to the 19th centuries. They covered all sorts of subjects, from poems and songs to sermons and news. But chapbooks are also interesting because of the woodcuts used on title pages. They were often generic so that they could be reused for all sorts of different chapbooks. In this volume, the same woodcut of a sailing ship appears on two chapbooks.

Occasionally, a woodcut image is only vaguely if at all related to the story or poem it illustrates. There is a nice example in this copy. The title gives the name of one of the songs as ‘Allan’s love to the farmer daughter’, and the illustration shows a zebra! I assume this was as close a picture to a farm animal the printer had.


Find out more about chapbooks and the Library’s most important collection of chapbooks, the Lauriston Castle Collection.