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Learning the ABCs

Take a look at the examples below of primers and early reading material for children that aimed to teach the alphabet. Do any of these seem familiar?

Hornbook containing alphabet, syllabary, and the Lord’s prayer c.1700-1750 (courtesy of Boston Public Library)

The Hornbook – an early primer dating back to the 1450s or earlier and in use through the 19th century. It consists of a sheet of paper or vellum mounted on a wood or metal frame with a handle and protected under a thin transparent layer of horn.

“Miss Campion” holding a hornbook, 1661. From Tuer’s History of the Horn-Book

As printing became more accessible and less cost-prohibitive, children were given access to cheaply bound and printed battledores and primers.

Skim through The New England Primer which was in use in the United States from approximately 1690 through the 18th and much of the 19th century. This printing is form 1800. What do you notice?

Now skim through this 1840 primer.

Finally, read through this 1886 Alphabet book with illustrations by Kate Greenway.

Which would you rather learn your ABCs from?

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