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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 Early National Period (1783 - 1837)

Early National Period Display Case
Detail of left side of display case Detail of right side of display case
Detail of a page from the Webster Speller

"Webster’s speller, first published in 1783 as A Grammatical Institute of the English Language, Part I, became the best selling American textbook in the last part of the 18th century and the first quarter of the 19th century. Part II of A Grammatical Institute was a grammar and Part III was a reader, first issued in 1785 and then revised in 1787 and retitled An American Selection of Lessons in Reading and Speaking. This was probably the first true reader issued in the United States, but it met strong competition from other readers that soon followed. Among the more popular of the competing readers were Caleb Bingham’s Child’s Companion (1792), Columbian Orator (1797), and American Preceptor (1794), and Lindley Murray’s English Reader (1799), Sequel to the English Reader (1801), and Introduction to the English Reader (1805)" (Venezky, 1990b, p. xiv).

Detail of a list of Collins & Company's Murray titles

"Textbooks continued to be imported from England and some, like Lindley Murray’s Readers, captured a major share of the American market" (Venezky, 1990b, p. xiv).

Detail of cover of "A Grammatical Institute..."

Webster, Noah. 1783. A grammatical institute of the English language: comprising an easy, concise, and systematic method of education: designed for the use of English schools in America: in three parts: part I containing a new and accurate standard of pronunciation. Hartford: Printed by Hudson & Goodwin for the author.

Detail of frontispiece from Murray's "Sequel to the English Reader"

Murray, Lindley. 1811. Sequel to the English reader, or, Elegant selections in prose and poetry: designed to improve the highest class of learners in reading, to establish a taste for just and accurate composition, and to promote the interests of piety and virtue. New York: Printed and sold by Collins & Co.

Detail of frontispiece of Webster's "An American Selection of Lessons in Reading and Speaking"

Webster, Noah. 1793. An American selection of lessons in reading and speaking: calculated to improve the minds and refine the taste of youth... Hartford: Printed and sold by Hudson and Goodwin.

Detail of title page of The American Preceptor

Bingham, Caleb. 1795. The American preceptor; being a new selection of lessons for reading and speaking. Designed for the use of schools. Boston: Printed by I. Thomas and E. T. Andrews, for the author.