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The Archer Collection: The History of Teaching Literacy


Literacy Education, the passing of the ability to read and write from generation to generation, is an important part of understanding civilization. The Archer Collection contains examples of teaching aids and texts for researchers to use in studying this aspect of culture.

Alphabet books

Alphabet books are one of the oldest literary genres available for the education of children. The alphabet books in the Archer Collection often contain more pictures than text. Parents used the phonetic arrangement to teach sound or language development, but it was the recognizable two dimensional forms of objects that would captivate children. Alphabet games and books were used to teach children that printed materials can be places to learn and to recognize the things they see in their world. In addition they provide environments for parents to teach knowledge and acquire word meanings, and afford children opportunities for wonder, speculation and to make connections to different worlds. The books also were used to teach basic logic, such as the concept that letters, though symbols, are different from numbers, as well as the recognition of conventional sound-symbol relationships.

A facsimile of a hornbook.
A was an Archer. Illustrated by E.S. Hardy. [London: Ernest Nister, 1895] This classic alphabet rhyme has been illustrated by many artists and was designed to be cut out letter by letter. It was first published by Mary Cooper in the 1742 reading rook entitled, The Child's New Play-Thing.


Linen and shape books

Linen books are rare today, but at the turn of the century they were popular with children because of their vibrant colors, as well as with mothers who like the fact that they could be washed after heavy use.

This French alphabet book printed on linen is another example of a one-syllable-word book.
A comparison of different editions of A Visit from St. Nicholas held in the Archer Collection. This story in rhyme was written in 1822 by Clement Clark to amuse his children, and played a large role in developing the modern image of Father Christmas for many generations. The center volume is a rare example of the first known edition with the title, The Night Before Christmas. The two volumes in the lower right corner are examples of shape books.
This calendar for 1902 is an example of a shape book.



The development of education in the United States has a long history, and the Archer Collection has a sampling of American textbooks ranging from the late eighteenth century to the twentieth century including McGuffey readers and textbooks from the California State Series. In addition to textbooks, the Archer Collection has a small collection of educational toys and games, which spawned multi-faceted learning, because they could be used to socialize and to facilitate learning. Educational games and toys were a popular way to expand and to test knowledge on various topics from ABC's to religion.

McGuffey Eclectic Readers were the most widely distributed American schoolbook from 1836 to about 1910. They consisted of a primer and reading books, graded in order of difficulty. Many children never progressed beyond the third. The readers include short passages and prose, some specifically written or selected from the works of celebrated writers.
The Pilgrim's Progress in words of one syllable. [New York: McLoughlin Bros., 1884] Lucy Aikin wrote this simplified version of the classic allegory adapting it for children. One Syllable word books were used like primers to teach children reading.
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