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“Pop! Goes the Weasel”

‘And that night, for a special birthday treat, Pa played ‘Pop Goes the Weasel’ for her…… — Little House in the Big Woods, Chapter 5, “Sundays”

Pop! Goes the Weasel is one of the few songs Laura Ingalls Wilder mentioned in Pioneer Girl, yet it is not included in the existing manuscript of Little House in the Big Woods. In Pioneer Girl, Pa doesn’t play the song as a birthday treat for Laura; he plays it after the “two big bears” story.

Now a nursery favorite, “Pop! Goes the Weasel” is considered a traditional American song, and sheet music for it was published a number of times in the 1850s. The song dates back to the 1700s, with lyrics in Cockney slang. For example, “pop” meant “to pawn” – and “weasel” is derived from “weasel and stoat,” meaning “coat.” It wasn’t uncommon for men to own one dress coat, which they would pawn for money and then buy back when possible. “Pop goes the weasel” thus means to “pawn one’s coat.” The Eagle is said to refer to The Eagle Tavern in North London, later a music hall. In the second verse below, a “weasel” refers to a weaver’s shuttle, often pawned in the same way clothing was. In some versions, including the one in Little House in the Big Woods, the monkey chases the weasel around “the cobbler’s bench.” And in Laura’s version, the “preacher kissed the cobbler’s wife.” Obviously, there are countless ways to say “easy come, easy go”!

POP! GOES THE WEASEL (one version)

All around the mulberry bush,
The monkey chased the weasel.
monkey thought ’twas all in fun,
Pop! Goes the weasel.

A penny for a spool of thread,
penny for a needle.
That’s the way the money goes,
Pop! Goes the weasel.

Up and down the city road,
In and out of the Eagle.
That’s the way the money goes,
! Goes the weasel.

Half a pound of tuppeny rice,
a pound of treacle.
it up and make it nice,
Pop! Goes the weasel.

(from Little House in the Big Woods)

A penny for a spool of thread
Another for a needle,
That’s the way the money goes.
! Goes the weasel!

All around the cobbler’s bench,
The monkey chased the weasel.
The preacher kissed the cobbler’s wife,
Pop! Goes the Weasel!

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Click on the above images to view a copy of original sheet music for “Pop! Goes the Weasel.”    


“Pop Goes the Weasel” (BW 5; PG)
     “All around the cobbler’s bench”
     “A penny for a spool of thread”