Three Hundred Things a Bright Boy Can Do

identifier: 2014042 THREEHUNDRED

In the late 1950s and early ’60s, I was fascinated by many projects in the ‘Things a Boy Can Do / Make’ genre of boys’ books, ancient and modern. Edwardian examples came from church jumble sales at a penny or tuppence each, more modern books – Hundreds of Things a Boy Can Make, and a host of variants – were presents. I didn’t distinguish between them, though some of the projects I attempted came unstuck due to non-availability of period materials. An early design for a model aeroplane called for a ‘whalebone from a corset’. My mum just shook her head, and I never did find a suitable substitute. Sofia on Yahoo! Answers says of whalebone for corsets: ‘I’ve read that the average pressure on a corset, even from the tiniest teenage waist, would be about 80 lb (about 40kg I think). Before, they used wood in the corsets, the whale bone must have been a better material to withstand the unbelievable forces when the corsets were tightened so much, and to make it as comfortable as possible at the same time. I read a lot about corsets and history.’) As someone who currently builds model aircraft, I have no idea what part a corset whalebone could have played in such a construction.

I remember, too, a more modern book that described how to make a raft from some scrap timber lashed to two oil drums. The author stated that he wouldn’t explain how to do the knots, as it would be more fun for each boy to discover the best method for himself. Even at the time I thought this highly irresponsible, and had a vision of the happless boy boatbuilder sailing downstream as his raft fell apart and the pieces floated away while he drowned. Which would have livened up a dull day, but there was no chance to try it out, as our local South London ‘river’ (the Graveney) wasn’t much more than a flooded ditch. Other experiments with chemicals were more successful. I was fond of the one we called Smoke From The Devil’s Fingers. You just take a saucer and a box of matches…. but I dare not give descriptions here. These were truly dangerous books for boys. Three Hundred Things… seems to have been in part the Inspiration for that modern ‘retro’ publication (The Dangerous Book for Boys, 2007), a huge seller crammed with interesting stuff, but disappointingly wimpy – the most dangerous item being ‘Making a Bow and Arrow’. The modern 211 Things a Bright Boy and Do, and 211 Things a Bright Girl Can Do (not to mention 211 Things a Clever Girl Can Do) were evidently also inspired by this book.

I’m offering here an example of the original Edwardian book, which I’m fairly sure I never did own, until recently.

Three Hundred Things a Bright Boy Can Do, by Many Hands.

(Title on cover: 300 THINGS A BRIGHT BOY CAN DO). Sampson Low, Marston & Co., Ltd., London. 1910.  [iv] + 438 pages, size 140 x 210mm.

Contents range from Paperchasing (chucking bits of scrap paper all over the countryside) to Ventriloquism and Polyphony, Pets, plus Things Boys Can Make, and a final chapter Concerning Many Things (make your own toffee, or imitate a nightingale). The Editor explains that ‘Too many youths fall into mere aimless dawdling,’ and promises that following the techniques outlined in this book ‘inculcates patience, exactitude, and perseverance’.

Rather too much sporty stuff for me, though I was rather taken with the idea of Sailing on Skates. If I’d eaten the diet listed for a champion walker, I don’t think I’d be able to get up off the sofa. The magic tricks are more appealing, especially Cremated Alive.

Examples of Three Hundred Things a Bright Boy Can Do are quite scarce. The first English edition by Sampson Low & Co., 1910, seems to be held only by the Bodleian, which considered it sufficiently iconic to feature on one of their gift cards. (There was also a 1910 edition published in Toronto by Musson, and not widely held.) Editions of 1911, 1914 and 1919 – probably reprints of the original – are also quite scarce as books (microforms abound) in institutional libraries. A later edition, c.1929 and credited to Harold Armitage, is not common.

As I write, copies of the first edition on Abe, in red/orange decorated cloth, are offered for an optimistic £525.75, and £368.01.

The example offered here, is the first edition (1910) in blue decorated cloth. Condition: Generally good, binding somewhat loose. Age stains to endpapers. Foxing to first few leaves. There is some minor staining to some pages, and small closed tears to the lower margins of several. One page has been re-attached with repair tissue. Some minor wear to the gilt on the cover, and cloth corners. Internal repair to the top of the spine cloth. Prize plate on front board interior.

Price: £95.00, plus postage.

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One thought on “Three Hundred Things a Bright Boy Can Do

  1. Tony says:

    Regarding whalebone in corsets. I understand it was actually “baleen” that was used rather than bone. Baleen is flexable.

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