|Rare Book & Manuscript Library|
At a Glance
Scope and Contents
This collection includes hornbooks, battledores, and facsimiles of hornbooks, a few hornbook-adjacent items, and supporting documents. Hornbooks and battledores were used from the 14th through the 19th centuries for the earliest steps of training in literacy: learning to recognize letterforms, and sometimes to read syllables and/or short texts.
A hornbook is typically made of wood, in a rectangular shape with a handle attached. On it is a paper or parchment text that is covered with a thin (transparent or translucent) slice of horn. Hornbooks can also be made of brass, ivory, or other materials. A battledore (also spelled battledoor) is a later outgrowth of the hornbook, made of paper or cardboard. More battledores can be found in CLIO, as items in the book collections.
Very few hornbooks survive; this collection is one of a few in the United States. These items do not, for the most part, carry information about their maker, place or date. The description of the individual items in this finding aid is based on a handwritten list compiled by librarian Otto W. Fuhrmann in 1953, who in turn based his descriptions on Plimpton's publication "Marks of merit: together with an article on hornbooks and their use in America" (1919). Fuhrmann's descriptions have been lightly edited, and some sizes and notes have been added. Unnumbered items 2 and 3 do not appear on Fuhrmann's list, and have been described based on the objects. Items are numbered on their backs in white, the number within a circle. This numbering was possibly applied at Columbia.
Box one holds some of Plimpton's correspondence about hornbooks; printed material about hornbooks, including printed works by Plimpton and the text of his 1916 speech to the American Antiquarian Society; as well as the 1928 Grafton and Co. sale catalog of hornbooks, and a prospectus for the Tuer "History of the Hornbook."
Using the Collection
Rare Book and Manuscript Library
Restrictions on Access
You will need to make an appointment in advance to use this collection material in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room. You can schedule an appointment once you've submitted your request through your Special Collections Research Account.
Selected Related Material at Columbia
Immediate Source of Acquisition
Gift of George A. Plimpton, 1936.
George Plimpton. "Hornbooks," The Independent (NY) Vol 72, number 3322, August 1, 1912.
George Plimpton. "Marks of Merit: together with an article on hornbooks and their use in America." Ginn, . Link to Hathitrust copy.
Andrew W. Tuer. "History of the horn-book." London: Leadenhall press, 1896.
About the Finding Aid / Processing Information
Columbia University Libraries, Rare Book and Manuscript Library
1999-00-00 Anne Simms reboxed the collection into the current housing.
History / Biographical Note
Biographical / Historical
George Arthur Plimpton (1855-1936) was head of Ginn and Co., the textbook publishers. He focused his book collection on "Our Tools of Learning." The large collection he donated to Columbia in 1936 included material from cuneiform tablets to modern print. He was justifiably proud of his rather large collection of hornbooks, and spoke and wrote about them several times. A hornbook features on Plimpton's personal bookplate, and in the publisher's mark of Ginn and Co. There is some documentation of Plimpton's acquisitions in box one, and some discussion of acquisition in his publications.
Three of the items (Hornbooks 21-23) come from the David Eugene Smith collection.