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Chapbooks and Children's Literature in Archives and Special Collections

Archives and Special Collections holds a variety of materials of interest to scholars researching 19th and 20th century youth literature and educational materials.


Hornbooks, often taking the shape of primers for learning the alphabet, were made of ivory, wood, leather, and sometimes metal. Developed before the advent of moveable type printing, circa 1450-1455, hornbooks were used to teach children letters, numbers, arithmetic, poetry, and bible verses. Many feature clear sheets of mica to permit teachers and parents to change lessons which were written or printed on vellum, parchment, and paper. The paddles often featured handles and perforations that could be attached to a child's girdle. The prevalence of hornbooks coincides with the rise in literacy and the movement to educate children in Europe and the United States.

Visit Archives and Special Collections to view hornbooks.

Source: The Columbia Encyclopedia. New York: Columbia University Press, 2008. s.v. "hornbook," (accessed April 09, 2010).

Selection of Hornbooks

From left to right: metal hornbook, 1929; bone or ivory hornbook, undated; wooden hornbook, undated.