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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

Textbook as Cultural Artifact

Overview of Textbook as Cultural Artifact exhibit case
Detail of left side of exhibit case Detail of center section of exhibit case Detail of lower right section of exhibit case
Detail of Sanders Second Reader, p. 63Detail of Sanders Second Reader, pp. 64-65

Sanders, Charles W. 1860. The school reader. Second book : containing easy progressive lessons in reading and spelling. New York : Ivison, Blakeman, Taylor & Co.

(Woodcuts are by Alexander Anderson.)

Detail of pp. 2-3 of the Child's Own Story Book

The child's own story book, or, simple tales. [1825-1842?]. New Haven : Printed and published by S. Babcock. [Venezky Collection]

"For primers of the same period, numbered pages stood above unnumbered pages, and woodcuts by a recognized engraver like Alexander Anderson stood above those done by an unrecognized artist" (Venezky, 1992, p. 437).

Detail of Lesson 1 from Sanders' School Reader

Sanders, Charles W. 1860. The school reader. Second book: containing easy progressive lessons in reading and spelling. New York: Ivison, Blakeman, Taylor & Co.

"In the middle 19th century a leather-bound textbook would have occupied a higher status than one bound with oak boards, and the latter would have been preferred over paper or cardboard" (Venezky, 1992, p. 437).

Leather-bound textbook

Detail of cover of The Columbian Orator

Bingham, Caleb. 1812. The Columbian orator: containing a variety of original and selected pieces; together with rules, calculated to improve youth and others in the ornamental and useful art of eloquence. 15th ed. Boston: Printed by Manning & Loring.

Board-covered textbook

Detail of cover of the New England Primer

The New-England primer, improved ; or, An easy and pleasant guide to the art of reading. To which is added, The Assembly's catechism. Boston: Printed by Manning & Loring, sold wholesale and retail at their bookstore, No. 2, Cornhill, [1803?].

Cardboard-covered textbook

Detail of cover of The American Preceptor

Bingham, Caleb. 1801. The American preceptor; being a new selection of lessons for reading and speaking. Designed for the use of schools. Boston: Printed by Manning and Loring, for the author; and sold at his bookstore, no. 44, Cornhill; sold also by the booksellers in general.

Detail of title page of the American Primer

The American primer, or, An easy introduction to spelling & reading. Philadelphia: Printed and Sold by Mathew Carey, 1813.

"A textbook’s status as a cultural artifact was often validated by its publisher alone. Thus a product from Isaiah Thomas’ press at the end of the 18th century, or from Mathew Carey’s or Samuel Wood’s at the beginning of the 19th century, would have been held in higher esteem at those times than almost any others" (Venezky, 1992, p. 437).