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.
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Source: The Columbia Encyclopedia. New York: Columbia University Press, 2008. s.v. "hornbook," http://www.credoreference.com/entry/columency/hornbook (accessed April 09, 2010).
From left to right: metal hornbook, 1929; bone or ivory hornbook, undated; wooden hornbook, undated.