[To "Voices from 19th-Century America"]

The Token (1828-1842)

Table of Contents
Extracts
Reviews

The Token, edited by Samuel Goodrich, was one of many gift annuals available to early 19th-century readers. These lavishly bound, lushly illustrated collections of poetry and prose were published annually and intended as Christmas and New Year's gifts -- reminding us that in early 19th-century America New Year's was a gift-giving holiday. Gift books were published both for children and for adults, though the audiences often overlapped: some pieces by Goodrich printed in The Token were reprinted in his works for children, including Robert Merry's Museum. Goodrich saw in The Token a chance to promote American writers and engravers. He succeeded very well, especially with the writers, who included John Neal, Catharine Sedgwick, N. P. Willis, Lydia Sigourney, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and -- in retrospect, most significant -- Nathaniel Hawthorne. The first volume of The Token appeared in 1828; the last was published in 1842. Almost always, it was a decorative volume, with a handsome binding, fulsome end papers, and contents that were -- well -- decorative. Scenic views and scenic ladies were staples in the poetry; the prose tended to be lightly humorous and delicately edifying. Most of what appeared in The Token was innocuous.

The table of contents, oddly enough, is instructive and sometimes amusing. While the book was intended to be read by its recipient, more important was that it be attractive to the purchaser, who, like anyone buying a collection of pieces, was judging the book by its tables of content. Thus, because the illustrations were so important, the list of "embellishments" was luxuriously detailed -- and appeared ahead of the list of poems and stories, where purchasers considering the volume were sure to find it easily. The list of stories and poems often included only a handful of authors' names -- usually the most prominent writers of the time. Other pieces were attributed to "the author of" some work which had appeared elsewhere, or not attributed at all. The "author of" attributions often were designed to make it less evident to the would-be purchaser just how much of the book was written by a single, lesser-known and perhaps lesser-talented, author.

A case in point is Nathaniel Hawthorne, who contributed over 25 pieces to various volumes of The Token -- eight in the 1837 volume alone. It was in The Token that "The Minister's Black Veil" and "My Kinsman, Major Molineux" were first printed, a little tartness to cut the sugariness of much of the rest of the volume. His works weren't signed, but often they were attributed to "the author of" some work which had appeared in an earlier volume. The table of contents, for example, might list a story as "By the author of The Gentle Boy" or "By the author of Sights from a Steeple" (actually, "Lights from a Steeple" in the 1832 Token!), though not always; the attribution also might appear at the story itself -- though not always. The table of contents for the 1838 volume comes close to identifying Hawthorne, attributing his pieces to "the author of Twice Told Tales" and thus providing an advertisement for Hawthorne's new book -- a collection of pieces originally appearing in The Token. Usually, if Hawthorne's pieces were attributed in the table of contents, it was to a variety of works: in the table of contents for the 1837 volume, three stories are attributed to "the author of Sights from the Steeple," "the Wives of the Dead," and "the Gentle Boy" -- which hints that three different authors are described. But there are eight works by Hawthorne in the volume; and only attention to the stories themselves might give the purchaser the information that an additional two stories are by "the author of the Gentle Boy." The rest are unidentified. It's doubtful many thinking of buying the book realized just how many of the stories (eight of 52 pieces) were by an author then relatively unknown.

He's better known now; and later Hawthorne scholars haven't been kind to Goodrich, taking their cue from Hawthorne, who began to mistrust his editor's motives and to feel himself ill used. Today, Goodrich is accused of lining his own wallet and boosting his own fame at Hawthorne's expense, with the lack of attribution part of the argument against him. It was likely a combination of business -- promoting American writers was important, but selling The Token was essential, since it would be difficult to promote the writers if their book didn't turn a profit -- and Hawthorne's own reserved nature. And quite a few of Goodrich's own poems in The Token are unsigned.

Either way, The Token provided Hawthorne an arena and an audience for some of his earliest writing. His pieces ranged from the humor of "Mrs. Bullfrog" to the complex psychology of "The Minister's Black Veil." Here many appear as they did in the volumes of The Token, with samples of other pieces. The extracts should give a flavor of a time when $2.50 bought heartfelt poetry by Lydia Sigourney, stories by Nathaniel Hawthorne, and the thanks of a loved one.


I'm working on an exhaustive, table of contents for the 14 volumes. It includes bibliographic information for the copies indexed, identification of some of the authors, first and last lines of poems, first sentences or phrases of prose, & information on & images of the plates. I've included information from two differing editions of the volume for 1838, and from the book produced by Leavitt & Allen after they bought the title in 1842. The table of contents is a work in progress.


Reviews of the Token are organized here by year.


Transcriptions here include selections, with complete tables of contents. Unfortunately, scanning illustrations would damage the books; however, I am attempting to include scans of the covers and of certain decorative elements of each volume.

The Token, 1836: Pieces by Lydia Sigourney ("The Bride"), Sarah Josepha Hale ("The Three Sceptres"), Catharine Sedgwick ("New Year's Day"), B. B. Thatcher ("I Will Forget Thee"), Samuel Goodrich ("The First Frost of Autumn"), Nathaniel Hawthorne ("The Wedding Knell"; "The May-Pole of Merry Mount"; "The Minister's Black Veil"), John Neal ("The Young Phrenologist"), C. W. Everett ("Life; Its Seasons"), J. H. Mifflin ("I Love You, Flowers"), and anonymous authors ("Wealth and Fashion"; "Life Beyond the Mountains"). With a scan of the cover and of a section of the floral-patterned fabric end papers; the presentation page, and the illustration from the engraved title page. (227 kb)


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