"Our Tools of Learning" : George Arthur Plimpton's Gifts to Columbia University

Hornbooks > Page 1

Bookplate of George Arthur Plimpton

Plimpton Papers

Gift of George Arthur Plimpton


Marks of Merit, Together with an article on Hornbooks and their use in America

[Boston, New York: Ginn & Company, The Athenaeum Press, n.d.]

Plimpton Collection File

These two articles show how Plimpton used his own collection to further scholarship in areas of interest to him. The article on Hornbooks was reprinted from a talk that he had given for the American Antiquarian Society in 1916. It features photographs of items in his collection. The last item illustrated (Figure 19) is a battledore, an offshoot of the hornbook, but this did not come to Columbia with the Plimpton Collection. We were, however, able to acquire a copy of the same one in 2003.


Wood, horn, metal, England, 17th century

Plimpton Hornbook No. 1

Describing this hornbook in his pamphlet “The Hornbook and Its Use in America,” Plimpton wrote: “The hornbook, in point of fact, is not a book at all. Originally it was a piece of board with a handle shaped like the battledore in the old game of battledore and shuttlecock. On the face of the hornbook was either a piece of vellum or paper upon which the lesson was inscribed. This was protected by a sheet of translucent horn. This protection was of course necessary to keep the lesson from the possible stain of a pair of dirty little hands, as the hornbook was passed about from child to child. This hornbook of the seventeenth century is an excellent example.”

Gift of George Arthur Plimpton


Wood, Mexico, 17th century?

Plimpton Hornbook No. 19 Plimpton considered this to be “very likely the oldest hornbook made on this continent. It is a Mexican hornbook, probably of the early seventeenth century. It is made entirely of wood, and the painted illustration represents the Holy Child Jesus holding up a globe surmounted by a cross. The alphabet is preceded by another cross, as was the fashion on all hornbooks.”

Gift of George Arthur Plimpton

St. Paul’s Infant School, London

Hornbook Brass, London, 1729

Plimpton Hornbooks No. 17

Brass hornbooks like this one were made for affluent schools and families.

Gift of George Arthur Plimpton

Hornbook mould

Wood, England, 18th century

Plimpton Hornbooks No. 20

This unusual hornbook mould could have been used to make clay hornbooks or such delightful things as gingerbread hornbooks.

Gift of George Arthur Plimpton


Ivory and wood, United States?, 19th century

Plimpton Hornbook No. 16

Of this ivory hornbook, Plimpton wrote that he had purchased it “at Libbie’s auction room in Boston several years ago,” adding “I have been anxious to trace its history so as to find out whether it is of American origin. There is a rumor that it came from the old Gilman family in Exeter, but I have not been able to verify this.”

Gift of George Arthur Plimpton


Rare Book & Manuscript Library / Butler Library, 6th Fl. East / 535 West 114th St. / New York, NY 10027 / (212) 854-5153 / rbml@libraries.cul.columia.edu