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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 Pre-Civil War Period (1838 - 1865)

Pre-Civil War Display Case
Detail of upper left shelf of exhibit case Cover image of McGuffey's Eclectic Third Reader

McGuffey, William Holmes. 1840. The eclectic third reader: containing selections in prose and poetry from the best American and English writers: with plain rules for reading and directions for avoiding common errors. Cincinnati: Truman and Smith.

Detail of Pre-Civil War exhibit case
Detail of Pre-Civil War exhibit case

"Of all the series first published in the nineteenth century, none enjoyed the popularity or endured as long as the McGuffey Eclectic Readers. From the publication of the first two readers in 1836 until 1920, and estimated 120 million copies were sold, seven million of which were sold prior to 1850" (Venezky, 1987, p. 251).

Cobb's New Juvenile Reader, pp. 204-205

"The shift in childhood concepts from the early colonial view of ignorant and recalcitrant men and women to the mid-19th century view of undeveloped beings is reflected both in school books and in other juvenile literature of the period. The stern religious dogma of the early New England Primer and the original Webster spelling book is replaced in Cobb’s revised Juvenile Readers (1842) by examples of right living, occasionally with a humorous twist." (Venezky, 1986, p. 134)

Cover image of McGuffey's First Eclectic Reader

McGuffey, William Holmes. 1920. McGuffey's first eclectic reader. New York: American Book Co.

Detail of pp. 56-57 of Cobb's New Juvenile Reader

Cobb, Lyman. 1843. Cobb's new juvenile reader no. 1, or, First reading book: containing interesting, moral, and instructive reading lessons, composed of easy words of one and two syllables, in which all the words in the first reading lesson, and all new words in each subsequent reading lesson, throughout the book, are placed before it, with the division, pronunciation, accentuation, and definition noted, and the part of speech designated. Buffalo, NY: O.G. Steele.

Cover image of Worcester's Third Book

Worcester, Samuel. 1850. A third book for reading and spelling: with simple rules and instructions for avoiding common errors... Boston: Jenks, Palmer.

Detail of pp. 28=29 of Worcester's Second Book

Worcester, Samuel. 1847. A second book for reading and spelling. Boston: Jenks and Palmer & Co.

Cover image of Cobb's New Juvenile Reader

Cobb, Lyman. [1845?]. Cobb's new juvenile reader. New York: C. Bartlett.

Detail of frontispiece of the Young Reader

Pierpont, John. [1835?]. The young reader: to go with the spelling book. New York: George F. Cooledge.