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Miss Campion holding a hornbook, 1661. From Tuer's History of the Horn-Book.

A hornbook is a book that serves as primer for study. The hornbook originated in England as long ago as 1450,[1] or earlier.[2] The term has been applied to a few different study materials in different fields. In children's education, in the years before modern educational materials were used, it referred to a leaf or page displaying the alphabet, religious materials, etc., covered with a transparent sheet of horn (or mica) and attached to a frame provided with a handle.[3]

Use in United States legal education

In United States law, a hornbook is a text that gives an overview of a particular area of law. A law hornbook is a type of treatise, usually one volume, which could be a briefer version of a longer, multi-volume treatise. Students in American law schools often use hornbooks as supplements to casebooks.

Use in early childhood education

In childhood education from the mid-16th century to the late 19th century, a hornbook was a primer for children consisting of a sheet containing the letters of the alphabet, mounted on wood, bone, leather, or stone and protected by a thin sheet of transparent horn or mica. Sometimes the sheet was simply pasted against the slice of the horn. The wooden frame often had a handle, and it was usually hung at the child's girdle. The sheet, which was first of vellum and later of paper, contained first a large cross, from which the horn-book was called the Christ Cross Row, or criss-cross row. The alphabet in large and small letters followed. The vowels then formed a line, and their combinations with the consonants were given in a tabular form. The usual Trinitarian formula - "in the name of the Father and of the Sonne and of the Holy Ghost, Amen" - followed, then the Lord's Prayer, the whole concluding with the Roman numerals.

In art, entertainment, and media

ARMADO. [To HOLOFERNES] Monsieur, are you not lett'red?
MOTH. Yes, he teaches boys the hornbook. What is a, b, spelt backward with the horn on his head?
HOLOFERNES. Ba, pueritia, with a horn added.
MOTH. Ba, most silly sheep with a horn. You hear his learning.
HOLOFERNES. Quis, quis, thou consonant?
MOTH. The third of the five vowels, if You repeat them; or the fifth, if I.
HOLOFERNES. I will repeat them: a, e, i--
MOTH. The sheep; the other two concludes it: o, u.
CORVINO: ... And yet I hope that I may say, these eyes
Have seen her glued unto that piece of cedar,
That fine well-timber'd gallant; and that here
The letters may be read, through the horn,
That make the story perfect.
  • Robert Burns, in his poem Death and Doctor Hornbook (1785), refers to a local schoolmaster with a sideline as an apothecary, as Doctor Hornbook.[4]


  1. ^ Huey, Edmund B. (1908). The Psychology and Pedagogy of Reading. New York: The MacMillan Company. p. 244.
  2. ^ Plimpton, George A. "The Hornbook and Its Use in America". Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society 26 (1916): 264-72.
  3. ^ Definition of hornbook from dictionary.com
  4. ^ "Complete Works: Death and Doctor Hornbook: A True Story". Burns Country. 1785.

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Horn-book". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.

External links

  This article uses material from the Wikipedia page available here. It is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.



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