American Treasures of the Library of Congress: Memory, Exhibit Object Focus

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"Read, and Be Wise"

Ivory Hornbook
Ivory Hornbook,
eighteenth century, English.
Gift of Leonard Kebler, 1959
Rare Book & Special
Collections Division
(102A)

Wood Hornbook
Wood Hornbook,
eighteenth century, possibly American
Rare Book & Special
Collections Division
(102.3)

Uncle's Present, a New Battledoor
Uncle's Present, a New Battledoor
.
Page 2
Philadelphia: J[acob] Johnson [ca. 1810]
Rare Book & Special
Collections Division
(103b.2)

A constant companion to beginning readers in Colonial America, the hornbook was a popular teaching aid in England during the sixteenth through the eighteenth century. Typically, hornbooks were composed of a printed alphabet sheet tacked or pasted to a wooden bat-shaped board and covered with a thin sheet of translucent horn, but there are specimens in ivory, silver, leather and even gingerbread. Printed sheets usually included both lower case and capital alphabets, vowels, and numerals, accompanied by a cross ornament, the Benediction, and Lord's Prayer. Often attached by string to the owner's belt, the hornbook was readily available to serve as a bat during play.

However there are unusual specimens like this luxurious example (pictured below) on a silver sheet incised with the alphabet, complete with all twenty-six letters and two dipthongs and ten numerals, and framed in ivory and silver.

By the late eighteenth century, the battledore, a secondary term for hornbook, reproduced the alphabet on a stiff paper card, folded wallet style, with the flap on the left. Letters were often paired with pictorial mnemonics. Although printed in Philadelphia, this Johnson battledore is illustrated with familiar street cries of London. Printed twelve to sixteen to a sheet, battledores were sold by chapbook vendors for a penny each.

Ivory hornbook
Ivory hornbook,
eighteenth century,
possibly American
Rare Book & Special Collections Division
Gift of Brian and Darlene Heidtke (102A.1)

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