The Children's Books History Society was founded in 1969 by Brian Alderson following a visit to London in 1967 by Judith St. John, then Librarian of the important Osborne Collection of Early Children's Books at Toronto Public Library. Edgar Osborne, county librarian of Derbyshire had assembled his impressive collection of early children's books with his first wife and, on her death, had offered it to libraries over here, but none would meet his conditions that it would be properly housed and described in a published catalogue. Toronto agreed to these conditions, and Judith St. John prepared and published the first volume of the catalogue in 1958. A second volume was published in 1975.
In 1967 Judith St. John came to England to attend the sale of the Albert Wevv Collection at Sothebys to buy as much as she could for 'Osborne' and she was invited to talk to Brian Alderson's students at the North Western Polytechnic (now The Metropolitan University of North London). When introducing Judith St. John to his students he expressed some vigorous criticism over the removal of the Osborne Collection from England to Toronto. In response, she defended the action with such passion that he became a member of the Canadian 'Friends of the Osborne Collection' on the spot. As it was easier to receive membership fees from British 'Friends' and money for the sale of the catalogue over here in sterling (it was discounted to 'Friends'). Brian suggested in the following year that some sort of sub-committee should be formed. This eventually became the British Branch of the Friends of the Osborne and Lillian H. Smith Collections.
The Inaugural meeting was held at the Royal Overseas League on 7th November, 1969, when Brian Alderson intimated that the British Branch might act in parallel with the parent body, not just serving as a clearing house for subscriptions, but stimulating or fostering other activities connected with the history of children's literature and the formation of collections. By January 1970 there were 32 members, including the Opies, Mrs Renier, Mrs Moon, Miss M. Weedon, Peter Stockham, Judy Taylor, Pat Garrett and Lance Salway, most of whom were at the original meeting and are still members today. Lance Salway became the first Secretary of the Society and Brian Alderson the first Chairman.
In November 1974, when the draft Constitution was ratified, a sub-title of Children's Books History Society was added which could be used to give an immediate definition to the aims of the Branch and, while not perfect and a little unwieldy, was thought to be more self-explanatory than the original one to people over here. The strong link with Toronto continued and this was felt to be very important. It has dimished a little over the years, but most of us, particularly the founder members, feel it is very important to support the Osborne Collection, together with all other early children's books collections, which have become increasingly vulnerable in the present economic climate.
In 1990 the CBHS established its biennial Harvey Darton Award for a book, published in English, which extends our knowledge of some aspect of British children's literature of the past.
With the increasing difficulty of finding suitable venues to hold our meetings, in 2007 we decided to hold a themed day conference which we held on a Saturday in October, on Scotland and its influence on Children's Literature. A Conference or Study Day has now become an annual event and in 2012, we celebrated the Two hundred years of the Grimm Brothers Fairy Tales, and in 2013 A Symposium on Children's Book Publishing in the Hand-Press Period: progress in research. At St Paul’s Girls’ School, Brook Green, Hammersmith.
Visits to collections are sometimes arranged, as well as the Society’s annual one day conferences on some aspect of the history of children's books. Three substantial Newsletters are issued to members annually, containing news of exhibitions, auctions, etc; also reports of meetings, book reviews, articles and other matters.