NINETEENTH CENTURY HORNBOOK -surviving examples are rare, as most have been destroyed or lost.
8 x 16 cm. Original paddle shaped horn-book with printed paper on both sides. Judging by the grain, weight, colour and strength this appears to be a piece of sitka spruce, introduced into the UK in 1831 and commonly used for boxes/crates, furniture, millwork at that time. Alphabet in alternating horizontal lines of 5 or 6 letters of lower and upper cases in a Fat Face type (Designers of such new display faces distorted the Bodoni and Dido types, making them larger and blacker. These type designs, called Fat Face, are now recognized as quintessentially Victorian and one of the most original typographic forms of the century). On the verso are six blocks of 12, 24 or 36 words or phonetics for training young readers in a phonetic system and an italic lower case alphabet at the bottom- each section divided by double lines. The sitka spruce paddle and its paper coverings have been damaged and are worn and exhibiting handling marks from young London schoolchildren, nearly 190 years ago (please see photographs for detailed condition). One of the phonetic words is "POX" (Smallpox is widely considered one of the most lethal of all human pathogens & appears to have become a more common cause of death over the course of the seventeenth and early eighteenth century in London - as its incidence increased, Southern English parishes responded with communal measures that prevented endemicisation; this horn-book provides a testament to the use of early-years education as a continuing and key communal measure. Fortunately, vaccination was developed by Edward Jenner at the very end of the eighteenth century, and reduced smallpox to a relatively minor cause of death in Europe by the mid-nineteenth century). Back in the sixteenth century, English monks began to make hornbooks to help their pupils learn to read. Usually a wooden paddle with an alphabet and a verse glued to the surface, hornbooks derived their name from the piece of transparent horn protecting the verse. We know of hornbooks being in use until the mid-nineteenth century but their heyday was over. By the end of the nineteenth century the hornbook had not only gone out of fashion but surviving examples were extremely rare, as most had either been destroyed or lost. The few that did survive were mainly in the hands of collectors. “The humble hornbook was treated with the full measure of contempt lavished on a thing which has served its purpose. ‘Destroy and forget,’ said everybody, and alas! Everybody did. That a tool which was used by so many generations of children over hundreds of years could be forgotten so easily seems almost impossible, yet it was.” -Andrew W. Tuer History of the horn-book. In 1832 there were 3,339 Methodist Sunday schools in England, with 59,277 teachers and 341,442 pupils. There were also several Wesleyan Methodist day schools in London in 1836 such as Great Queen Street Chapel, Weslyan Methodist School, Lincoln Inns Fields or Great Queen Street Methodist Infant School, 1829-1861. It is certain that this horn-book was once in use at just such an institution.