A hornbook was once cutting-edge educational technology. Literally cutting. The horn was obtained from the horns of oxen, sheep and cattle. The horn was carefully cut thinly into a transparent flat surface. This was an era before plastics, and horn was one of the materials that was used then the way we use plastic now.
The ‘book’ portion was a sturdy bit of parchment paper, with simple lessons written on it. This small sheet was glued to a wooden surface shaped something like a paddle or hand mirror. The thin horn was added to the ‘book’ as a transparent cover.
Originally the lessons would have been handwritten on sturdy paper or parchment, but later might be printed. Hornbooks originated in England sometime around the 1400s.They typically had the alphabet in both capital and lower case letters, and some religious text such as the Lord’s Prayer, and might include other material such as numbers.
Children would use the hornbook to learn the shapes and sounds of letters and read the text. It was not large, perhaps three by five inches. The hornbook might have a hole in the handle so a cord could attach the book to a child’s belt. Hornbooks were used the New England colonies well into the 1700s.
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