Category: Antique Schoolbooks

The New England Primer

My copy of The New England Primer

My copy of The New England Primer

In the late 17th Century, Boston publisher Benjamin Harris reprinted portions of his English Protestant Tutor, added new material designed for the American colonies, and called it The New England Primer.

The Primer was the first reader specifically made for the American colonies. It was widely used in schools, promoting literacy and instilling Puritan culture into early American thought by rote memorization of protestant doctrine. [1] Over 450 editions and adaptations were created, including the Indian Primer, which was printed in 1781 in English and Mohawk. The First Great Awakening (1730s-1740s) influenced changes in the Primer to focus on God’s love rather than God’s wrath.New England Primer 2

The New England Primer was the most published and used schoolbook in America in the 18th Century. An estimate 6-8 million copies had been sold by 1830, yet only about 1,500 still exist. This attests to the Primer’s use, especially by children.

It began to fall out of use after Noah Webster’s Blue Back Speller (1790). Webster said of the Primer: “It taught millions to read, and not one to sin. Let us thank God for having given us such ancestors, and let each successive generation thank Him not less fervently for being one step further from them in the march of ages.” Oh, the myriad steps we’ve taken away from those values in the 200 years since Webster’s comment!

New England Primer 8

Photos of my copy of The New England Primer. Albany: Joel Munsell’s Sons, 1887. Facsimile of 1777 edition. (80) pages. 5.25 x 3.5″, leather spine, blue paper boards.

[1] The New-England Primer. (2016). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved from

Murray’s English Grammar 1827

My 1827 copy of A New Abridgement Of Murray’s English Grammar

My 1827 copy of A New Abridgement Of Murray’s English Grammar

I collect books. Not surprising for an author, I know, but the books I collect aren’t on most wish lists.

I only collect certain antique textbooks. My favorites are pre-1860 American schoolbooks because I imagine these books could have been taken to the Land with the founders in my Uncharted series. Good condition is a plus, but I love little notes and doodles by students. I also find fading, foxing, and crackly pages charming.

Murrays English title page

Title page of A New Abridgement Of Murray’s English Grammar

Since this hobby is strongly linked to my fiction series, I decided to feature some of these wonderful old schoolbooks. I refer to them in my stories and sometimes show a character reading or holding one. Today I present an 1827 copy of A New Abridgement Of Murray’s English Grammar. The actual title is: A New Abridgement Of Murray’s English Grammar, with questions, containing all that is generally used in the duodecimo and octavo editions, condensed and arranged to facilitate the learner.

Murrays notice

The author, Lindley Murray, died in 1826, so it’s understandable the publisher didn’t consult him on the alteration.

Lindley Murray was an American Quaker born at Swatara, Pennsylvania in 1745. After the American Revolution, he moved to England where he wrote many prominent textbooks, including Murray’s English Grammar.
According to the now public domain article[1] by Charlotte Fell Smith (1894): His attention was… drawn to the want of suitable lesson-books for a Friends’ school for girls in York, and in 1795 he published his ‘English Grammar.’ The manuscript petition from the teachers requesting him to prepare it has been religiously preserved. The work became rapidly popular; it went through nearly fifty editions, was edited, abridged, simplified, and enlarged in England and America, and for a long time was used in schools to the exclusion of all other grammar-books.

Murrays reverse page press

You can see and feel the press marks in the paper. Love the old process!

Lindley was married 57 years and had no children. He wrote and published 11 textbooks. Hundreds of thousands of copies of his books were used in schools around the world. Through his books, he taught more children than most of us ever will.

[1] Smith, Charlotte Fell (1894). “Murray Lindley”. Dictionary of National Biography. 39. London: Smith, Elder & Co.


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