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July 2013: How to Learn Your ABC, in the 18th Century

Alphabet card - letter 'A'

Even before synthetic phonics, teachers were well aware that young children would benefit from some sort of aid for learning their letters and words.

In the 17th century, printing had offered the opportunity to mass produce the first educational primers. These were typically a wooden board with a handle for holding, where the board would be overlaid with a single page of print and then sealed. That single page usually included – next to the Lord’s Prayer – an alphabet illustrated by words starting with the relevant letter.

This month’s highlight is the 18th century development of those first primer boards: alphabet cards. This particularly fine set is even printed in colour.

As our title suggests, the alphabet card used rhyme as its teaching aid. The cards in our set here also have the additional benefit of a moral pointer.  For the letter 'A', a parents’ love is likened to spiritual virtue. This was presumably some small consolation to children forced to learn their cards.

Though we think this set came from Windsor, the identity of its owners is unknown. All that we have are the names ‘Katherine and Helen’ inscribed on the envelope that holds the cards.

Hopefully Katherine and Helen made good use of them.


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