The textbook racket’s long tradition

>The New England Primer stands in the forefront of early American schoolbooks. The first mention of it occurrs in the register of London Stationers in 1683, under the title The New England Primer, or, Milk for Babes. One of its predecessors in England was The Protestant Tutor, which, like its successor, contained the alphabet, the syllabarium, the Lord’s Prayer, the Apostle’s Creed, and the picture of the burning of the Protestant martyr John Rogers. The earliest surviving primer produced in America was printed in Boston, 1727—by which time it was a staple product of the colonial printer. The print shop run by Benjamin Franklin and his partner David Hall printed over 37,000 copies between 1749 and 1766, and only one copy has survived. It has been estimated that from 1680-1830 six to eight million copies were produced (only about 1,500 survive). Portraits of English kings (e.g., George II and III) were replaced eventually by famous Americans (e.g., John Hancock, Samuel Adams, and George Washington). Around 1790 the primers were secularized, and little boys and girls ceased to be promised salvation or threatened with eternal fire; girls were instead warned that “pert Miss Prat-a-pace” was to have no treats unless she turned into “pretty miss prudence,” and that good boys would be rewarded with “credit and reputation,” whereas bad ones would live in beggary. I include here a shot of the nice printed paper binding in which this one was likely issued.

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