The Average Boy

“When stress of weather, or the coming of long winter evenings, or any other reason gives the indoor part of life a larger importance, this indoor handy book will be found an invaluable companion.”

If your children are bored being cooped up at home under the current lockdown, this may well be the book for you. You may think “Harper’s indoor book for boys” by Joseph H. Adams old fashioned, published as it was in 1908, but the scope of its ambition is impressive. No egg boxes and pipe cleaners here, oh no, this is on an altogether grander scale. Projects include making a bird cage, a candelabra, a stereopticon (double magic lantern, in case you were wondering), a settle and “nooks for books,” not to mention trying a spot of pyrography (fire-etching on wood – is this wise?), bookbinding, Venetian metalwork, even clock making, for goodness’ sake.

What a joy parenting must have been in 1908, when “the average boy” (as he is constantly referred to in this handy tome) would tackle “fitting up a boy’s room” at the drop of a hat, assembling “an indispensable clothes press” along the way, while constructing a “curved-back window seat” at a moment’s notice. Where have we gone wrong? To think that your sons could furnish your entire house for you if only they didn’t spend all their time sitting comatose in front of a screen.

An exercising weight

Heaven knows it’s easy enough to feel inadequate as a parent, but I can see that I have fallen lamentably short:

“Nearly every boy has had, at one time or another, a desire to make scroll-brackets, fretwork-boxes, and filigree wood-work of various sorts.”

Oh dear. I failed to nurture this enthusiasm while my boys were growing up – neither of them could build a whatnot* to save their lives.


This book was originally published in America, and is a testament to the self-reliance and energetic spirit of our pioneering cousins across the water. Perhaps this explains the book’s assumption that one has sufficient space at home in which to construct what has to be the most ambitious project in this frankly daunting volume, a “house gymnasium,” featuring an “adjustable flying trapeze.” Yes, that’s right, a flying trapeze.

The high expectations of the average boy expressed in this “indoor handy book” beg the question as to what constitutes average. I wonder how many botched whatnots and wonky settles cluttered up Edwardian family homes? As for the consequences of pyrography and flying trapezes, we can only hope that the emergency services in 1908 were up to the task.

* ”For trinkets, books, and the general assortment of odds and ends that a boy is sure to possess.”


  1. I am happy to report that no boy I have ever met has expressed any desire to make a scroll-bracket, whatever one of them may turn out to be. And I’m sure the world is no worse for it! This 1908 book sounds like a recipe for assorted disasters, or, as Just William put it: “sounds more like things a boy CAN’T do”.

  2. The ‘average boy’ in 1908 would be an internet sensation today. I can only imagine the number of likes and comments on the Facebook Family Lockdown group, or DIY on a Budget, if a child had successfully built a home gymnasium complete with flying trapeze! This really makes me question the monsters from tissue boxes project that we embarked on last year.

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