Tommy Thumb's Pretty Song Book
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Tommy Thumb's Pretty Song Book

Tommy Thumb's Pretty Song-Book is the first anthology of English nursery rhymes, published in London in 1744. It contains the oldest printed texts of many well-known and popular rhymes, as well as several that eventually dropped out of the canon of rhymes for children. A copy is held in the British Library. In 2013 a facsimile edition with an introduction by Andrea Immel and Brian Alderson was published by the Cotsen Occasional Press.


With the full title of Tommy Thumb's Pretty Song Book Voll. [sic] II, this was a sequel to the now lost Tommy Thumb's Song Book, published in London by Mary Cooper in 1744.[1][2][3] For many years, it was thought that there was only a single copy in existence, now in the British Library,[4] but in 2001 another copy appeared and was sold for £45,000.[5]Henry Carey's 1725 satire on Ambrose Philips, Namby Pamby, quotes or alludes to some half-dozen or so nursery rhymes. As a result, this is the oldest printed collection of English nursery rhymes that is available.[6] The rhymes and illustrations were printed from copper plates, the text being stamped with punches into the plates, a technique borrowed from map and music printing. It is 3×1 inches and it is printed in alternate openings in red and black ink.[6]


The book contains forty nursery rhymes, many of which are still popular, including;

There are also a number of less familiar rhymes, some of which were probably unsuitable for later sensibilities, including:

Piss a Bed,
Piss a Bed,
Barley Butt,
Your Bum is so heavy,
You can't get up.

Some nursery rhymes turn up in disguise:

The Moon shines Bright,
The Stars give a light,
And you may kiss
A pretty girl
At ten a clock at night.

This is an earlier version of:

When I was a little boy
My mammy kept me in,
Now I am a great boy,
I'm fit to serve the king.
I can handle a musket,
And I can smoke a pipe.
And I can kiss a pretty girl
At twelve o'clock at night.[7]


  1. ^ Wolf, Shelby; Coats, Karen; Enciso, Patricia A.; Jenkins, Christine (2010). Handbook of Research on Children's and Young Adult Literature. Routledge. p. 188. ISBN 9780203843543.
  2. ^ "Tommy Thumb's Pretty Song Book". British Library.
  3. ^ Lynch, Jack. The Oxford Handbook of British Poetry, 1660-1800. Oxford University Press. p. 90.
  4. ^ British Library, "Tommy Thumb's Pretty Song-Book". retrieved 14 November 2009.
  5. ^ "Rhyme book fetches £45,500". 13 December 2001,, Retrieved 14 November 09.
  6. ^ a b H. Carpenter and M. Prichard, The Oxford Companion to Children's Literature (Oxford University Press, 1984), pp. 533-4.
  7. ^ William S. Baring-Gould and Ceil Baring-Gould, The Annotated Mother Goose, pp. 24-43.

See also

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