Books On Books Collection – Andrew White Tuer

History of the Horn-Book (1897)

History of the Horn-book (1897)
Andrew White Tuer
Casebound, sewn. H260 x W210 x D50 mm. 510 pages: 18 preliminary, 4 unnumbered leaves of plates (1 double, 2 foldout) and 300 illustrations. Acquired from Patrick Pollak, Antiquarian & Rare Books, 15 October 2021.
Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Andrew White Tuer is the Herman Melville of the horn-book. Like Melville, Tuer had many interests. Just as the sea proved an abiding theme for Melville that drew all his interests together into Moby-Dick, so proved publishing and printing for Tuer. Within his abiding theme, Tuer’s white whale was the horn-book, and his pursuit yielded the History of the Horn-Book. Although Moby-Dick first appeared in three volumes and History of the Horn-Book appeared in two, Tuer out-Melvilles Melville in other ways. His monument outweighs Melville’s by 79 pages. Where Melville takes 14 pages to lay out “Etymologies & Extracts” on the whale, Tuer requires 20 pages of anecdotal citations to document “Christ-cross-row” as the original name of the horn-book. Admittedly Melville traces his subject back to Genesis, albeit with some stretching, but Tuer traces the earliest record “of a real horn-book with horn and not a mere alphabetical table” back to an equally important date in the history of printing and publishing: 1450.

For 125 years, Tuer’s History of the Horn-Book has remained the standard work on this artifact for teaching children the alphabet.

This single volume is the first trade edition of History of the Horn-Book, following a special edition in 1896 of two volumes containing seven reproductions of horn-books and battledores distributed across two compartments or pockets placed at the front of the volumes. In the single-volume edition, the compartment moved to the back, and the number of facsimile horn-books fell to three: one of oak, one of card and one of horn. Like the two-volume edition, the single volume has gilt on its top edge; the fore-edge is deckled.

After the special edition, Tuer added a section to this trade edition to announce further discoveries, including the ivory horn-book. Tuer must have been fond of this compartment feature; it shows up again in his compendium of humorous anecdotes taken from his trade journal (the Paper & Printing Trades Journal) and entitled Quads for Authors Editors & Devils (1884). The rear compartment of Quads contains a miniature version of the book.

Trade edition compartment closed

Fold out with the three facsimile horn-books from the compartment

Tuer’s detail of research and analytical keenness go far to explain why History of the Horn-Book remains the standard work. If a trove of horn-books were to be discovered tomorrow, there would need to be extraordinary novelties in their composition, mechanics or material to warrant any attempt to displace this authority. Anyone making the attempt would require a foundation in printing history and practice that is hard to come by since the digital revolution. Consider Tuer’s knowledgeable comments on a silver horn-book alleged to have belonged to Queen Elizabeth I:

The history of horn-book is well in hand. As an educational device, it has been superseded by the battledore, building blocks, ABC books, television (Sesame Street), needlepoint samplers, wall hangings and rugs, toys and more toys and, of course, apps. But as an inspiration to book artists it still holds on. Among the book artists who have turned their hands, eyes and minds to the form are Helmut Andreas Paul (HAP) Grieshaber, Jan Paris, Daniel Essig, Kees Baart and his partners at Corps 8, and Karen Roehr.

With its horn-book images on the front and back covers and a five-page piece entitled analphabeten-bibel (“the illiterates’ bible”), HAP Grieshaber’s small work of concrete poetry underlines the draw of the alphabet for book artists.

Poesia Typographica (1962)
Helmut Andreas Paul (HAP) Grieshaber
Paperback, perfect bound Chinese-fold folios, black endpapers. HxW. Edition of 1000. Acquired from Print Arkive, 22 October 2022.
Photos: Books On Books Collection.

The white text on the clear acetate translates roughly as follows:

created around the turn of the century by a missionary named baedecker. thousands and thousands of these booklets were distributed among the illiterate peasantry of Russia. missionary baedecker put his 105 mm high and 75 mm wide booklet into old and young hands and said:

“this booklet contains the whole bible, the pure teaching of our jesus christ.”

the peasants saw in the black of the first page the darkness of their sinful hearts, their great guilt.

in the red of the next page, they united with the divine blood of christ. they followed the suffering steps of our lord. washed clean in the blood of his love, they won innocence:

the linen pasture of the third page, that is the purity that must be in the heart.

ready to enter into the mystery, to look into the sunshine of God’s face. to fall down in prayer, hearing the sound of the golden trumpets of heavenly bliss.

As the acetate page turns, the analphabetic Bible is revealed.

Although the horn-book by Jan Paris presents the usual uppercase and lowercase alphabets, the vowels and numbers as horn-books and battledores later came to do, it omits the Lord’s prayer, which these reading tools — early and late — preserved. In its place is a marbled green diamond shape hovering over a bird’s wing against a diffusely clouded background. Still though they may be, there is a tension between the abstract and natural things, contrarily positioned. The heavy abstraction floats or is falling. The thing that should be rising lies beneath, still and equally — although morbidly — detached. Letters, vowels and numbers, too, are certainly abstract. Until formed into words and concepts breathed into the air, they, too, lie still and detached on the horn-book’s surface.

Horn Book #2 (1983)
Jan Paris
Mixed media
Photo: Courtesy of the artist.

The horn-book form has become part of North Carolina artist Daniel Essig’s personal iconography. On his website, four variations can be found. The unique work below resides in Vanderbilt University’s Heard Library Special Collection. The range of materials and processes in Essig’s horn-book reflects the range of traditions, cultures and mythologies making up his eclectic iconography: miniature books, African bookbinding (contrasting with the horn-book), n’kisi nkondi (a Central African nail fetish), French literature (the unidentified collaged text), bird symbology, assemblage, carving, burning and painting. As totemic icon, Horn Book Fisher pushes the horn-book far beyond its primer function.

Horn Book Fisher (2008)
Daniel Essig
Carved and painted mahogany, burned cherry, mica, nails, handmade paper, found natural objects, 1800’s text papers, Ethiopian and Coptic bindings.
61 x 15 x 9 cm.
Photo: Courtesy of the artist.

Corps 8 was a Dutch collective of private presses formed by Dick Berendes (Typografiek), Kees Baart (‘t Schuurtje, now deceased), Gerard Post van der Molen (De Ammoniet), Sjaklien Euwals (De Overkant), Dirk Engelen (Clio Pers), Thijs Weststrate (Without Roof), Silvia Zwaaneveldt (De Baaierd) and Henk Francino (De Pers Achter de Muren). Under the auspices of a larger collective Drukwerk in de Marge, founded in 1975, they created Van Hornbook tot ABC-Prentenboek (“From Hornbook to ABC Picture Book”). It is an exquisitely produced, informative and witty collaboration. More about it can be found here.

Van Hornbook tot ABC-Prentenboek (2003)
Kees Baart, Dick Berendes, Henk Francino and Gerard Post van der Molen
Double-sided leporello between two pamphlet-sewn booklets and bound between two oversized wooden hornbooks, held in an open cardboard box. H295 x W150 x D 30 mm. First booklet, 18 unnumbered pages; second booklet 8 pages; 52 panels. Edition of 135. Acquired from Fokas Holthuis, 13 September 2022.
Photos: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with permission of the artists.

Karen Roehr’s Horn book for contemporary times is a miniature roughly the size of a small smartphone. Surely a Gen Z version with emoticons is not far behind on someone’s creative agenda.

Horn Book For Contemporary Times (2012)
K.E. Roehr
Laser-cut wood. H2 x W1.75 inches. Edition of 3. © K.E. Roehr.

Further Reading

Abecedaries I (in progress)“. Books On Books Collection.

Avery, Gillian. “The Beginnings of Children’s Reading” in Hunt, Peter, and Dennis Butts. 1995. Children’s Literature : An Illustrated History. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Folmsbee Beulah. 1972. A Little History of the Horn-Book [Fourth print.] ed. Boston: Horn Book.

Plimpton, George A. 1916. The hornbook and its use in America. American Antiquarian Society.

Roehr, Karen E. (2012). Horn book for contemporary times. Accessed 23 October 2022.

Shepard Leslie. 1977. The History of the Horn Book : A Bibliographical Essay. London: Printed by the Rampant Lions Press for the Broadsheet King.

Tuer Andrew White. 1884. Quads for Authors Editors & Devils. London: Field and Tuer Simpkin Hamilton.

Wiles H. V. 2010. The Horn-Book : The First Rung on the Ladder of Literacy. Whale-back Press.

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