Introduction by Lorraine Lee Hammond
February’s song is a traditional children’s song that is fun to sing and easily turned into a game or simple theatre production. Good entertainment for a wintry afternoon. Perhaps you know a version already. I learned this one from Oscar Degreenia when I was a child in West Cornwall, Connecticut. I give his verses here, but I have changed them many times through the years. I encourage you to do the same. This song is a great vehicle for banter and improvisation – friend to friend, parent to child, sibling to sibling. A simple song of bribery!
Oscar DeGreenia (the song's composer) and his sister Almeda Bray) singing "Paper of Pins:"
Oscar was born in Sheffield, Vermont in 1878. He worked as a farmhand in the region until he moved to Cornwall, Connecticut in 1932 with his wife Etta and Etta’s father and brother. They came to work as tenant farmers on the long established Gold farm on Cream Hill. Later Oscar and Etta moved to West Cornwall, and Oscar worked as a farmhand with my father on our little farm on Sharon Mountain. Oscar had learned his songs from his mother Zoya LaClair when he was growing up in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. We have included an MP3 of a field recording made by Helen Hartness Flanders in West Cornwall in 1949. Oscar is singing with his sister Almeda Bray of Derby, Vermont. A Google search will bring you many other versions of the song.
"Paper of Pins" is likely derived from the English folk song “The Bells of Canterbury." Cecil Sharp names it "The Keys of Heaven" in his Folksongs of Somerset collection, third volume, published in 1906. In this version, the one being courted refuses even the treasure chest, succumbing instead to an embroidered silken gown:
O Sir, I will accept of you
A broidered silken gownd,
With nine yards a-drooping
And training on the ground :
Then I will be your joy, your sweet and only dear,
And walk along with you, anywhere.
Sharp commented, "From what the old singers have told me, I gather that the ballad was generally sung by a man and woman, with much dramatic action." He collected his version from Mrs. Susan Williams, of Haselbury-Plucknett, and Mrs. Harriet Young, of West Chinnock, in Somerset.
Lorraine Lee Hammond is a member of the CDSS Board and a lifetime folk singer, performer and teacher. She and her husband Bennett Hammond live in Brookline, Massachusetts.