Thursday, September 1, 2011

Thou Shalt Not Copy

There were few textbooks available to young students in the 18th and 19th centuries. Instead, students would use blank books, more commonly referred to as copybooks, to copy their teacher's lessons entirely by hand. Many of these early books were made by hand, until the local stationers eventually began supplying ruled and plain copybooks, often with advertisements on their wrappers. 
      My photos of the penmanship copybook shown above are from a 2008 exhibit, 350 Years of Books for Children at the University of Washington's Suzallo Library. Penmanship exercises were a common form of copybooks. This one is from a Hampstead, Massachussettes student, Tristram Little, and dated 1823-1826. I do love the text in it; Be careful to keep your book very clean.

The copybook above is a math book from the same exhibit and it belonged to Catherine Palen, in 1825. This was also at a time when students were expected to hand-copy their arithmetic problems from the blackboards. Catherine must have been a serious over-achiever. No one decorates titles like this at the top of their pages unless they're aiming for extra credit. Nice layout I might add. I'd certainly give her an A+ regardless of her square roots.
      Although this next copybook below is undated, I would suggest it is from the early 1700s. Based upon the unlined paper, the lettering and penmanship style, and the puritanical text, it appears to be at least this old. I purchased this book years ago from a rare book dealer and it had no documentation. The pages appear to have been very fragile, so someone went to great lengths to preserve it by glueing it on a similar weight and kind of paper in a professional manner. Some of the original pages were separated and the remnants of these are glued in place onto new pages as well. The restored booklet is only 4 pages measuring 5 x 6".

Below is a great example of a typical 19th century copybook. This one belonging to Eli Lee Harrison, is estimated to be from around 1850, according to Pat Pflieger at the Merry Coz where I found this example. It was produced by the L.S. Learned Company (love the name) of New England. The woodcut images on the front and back covers portray the Pilgrim's landing on the shores of Cape Cod near Eastham, MA (lovely place I might add). The inside pages are pale blue and filled with Eli's rather poorly-executed penmanship exercises such as this odd little verse; Idleness and ignorance are the parents of many vices. Well ok, I'll take less ignorance, but I could surely use a lot more of the idleness vice.

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