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American Primers and Readers

Featuring the Words and Collection of Richard L. Venezky

An online exhibition of the Cubberley Education Library, Stanford University

The Colonial Period (1639 - 1782)

Colonial Period Display Case
Detail of left side of exhibit case Detail of center section of exhibit case Detail of right side of exhibit case
Image of New England Primer cover from approximately 1830

The New England primer: improved for the more easy attaining the true reading of English: to which is added the Episcopal and the Assembly of Divines' catechisms: embellished with cuts. New Haven: S. Babcock, [1830?].

Tall Banner of Alphabet Lessons

The New England primer improved: or an easy and pleasant guide to the art of reading; to which is added the Assembly's shorter catechism. Pittsburgh: United Presbyterian Board of Publication, [18--?].

Alphabet lessons, A through F

"The New England Primer was employed in the petty schools to introduce reading, using the ABC or alphabetic plan by which words were spelled before they were pronounced"
(Venezky, 1987, p. 249).


Alphabet lessons, G through M

King George the Third WoodcutGeorge Washington Frontispiece

Starting in 1776, John Hancock's picture replaced King George's. Later, George Washington would replace Hancock.

New England Primer
Alphabet lessons, A through I Alphabet lessons, K through T Alphabet lessons, U through Z
Title page of the New England Primer, 1771

The New-England primer improved: For the more easy attaining the true reading of English: To which is added, the assembly of divines catechism. London: Printed in the Year MDCCLXI [1771]

Page from the New England Primer detailing the martyrdom of John Rogers

"Original sin and predestination were the justification for continual inculcation of the catechism, with corporal punishment for deviations from expected behavior. The ideas the Puritans accepted and the society they expected to build were, in the earliest days, well represented by the New England Primer. As church government, and old country patterns of family and society changed, morality and good character gained equal footing with religion in the reading texts. With the American Revolution, nationalism was added" (Venezky, 1986, p. 136).

Image of title page of "The Only Sure Guide to the English Tongue"

Perry, William. 1798. The only sure guide to the English tongue, or, New pronouncing spelling book : upon the same plan as Perry's Royal standard English dictionary, now made use of in all the celebrated schools in Great Britain, Ireland and America : to which is added, a grammar of the English language, and a select number of moral tales and fables, for the instruction of youth : with an appendix .... Printed at Worcester, Mass. : By Isaiah Thomas, Jun. : Sold wholesale and retail, at his bookstore in Worcester : Sold also at the Worcester bookstore, and by Thomas and Andrews, and other booksellers in Boston.

Detail of engraving of George Washington

The New-England primer, enlarged; O[r], an easy and pleasant guide to the art of reading, adorn'd with cuts. Boston, Ginn, [19--?].

Detail of engraving of King George III

The New England primer: a reprint of the earliest known edition, with many facsimiles and reproductions, and an historical introduction. New York: Dodd, Mead and Co, 1899.

Detail of engraving of John Hancock

New England primer. The New-England primer improved for the more easy attaining the true reading of English : to which is added the Assembly of Divines, and Mr. Cotton's Catechism. Hartford, CT: Published and sold by Ira Webster, 1843 [1850?].