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The American Spelling Book, Containing the Rudiments of the English Language for the Use of Schools

The American Spelling Book
Webster, The American Spelling Book, Containing the Rudiments of the English Language for the Use of Schools in the United States. [Last Revised Edition]. Wells River, Vt.: Published by Ira White, 1843. p.45

Spellers, which were used in England as early as the 1500s, were first introduced into the colonies at the turn of the eighteenth century. They were newcomers to the field of education when compared to the ancient status of hornbooks, ABCs, and primers. They were also, in a sense, misnomers since their instructional objective was not only to teach spelling but reading as well. Like the primers, they were a comprehensive text, designed to invest the young scholar with the full credentials of literacy. However, they were most often larger in size than primers, measuring approximately four by six-and-a-half inches, and sometimes containing as many as one hundred pages. Their format and organization also differed considerably. These books literally alternated between 'tables' -- lists of words -- and 'lessons' -- reading selections -- and sometimes contained an unusual amount of secular reading matter.

Webster's American Spelling Book, first published in 1790 and often referred to as The Blue Back Speller, was the undisputed best seller of American school books during the first half century following the Revolutionary War. It went through countless editions and revisions and was still in publication as late as 1908.

By the late 1800s, the speller ceased to function as a reader. If any sentential text appeared within its pages, it was generally used for dictation purposes or for copying and handwriting exercises.


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