Library Features Alphabet Exhibition


Prang's Standard Alphabets

Prang's Standard Alphabets
(Boston, U.S.A.: L. Prang & Co., c1886).

    The University of Delaware Library announces the forthcoming exhibition “ABC: An Alphabet Exhibition” on view in the Special Collections Exhibition Gallery of the Morris Library at the University of Delaware from Monday, August 24, 2009, through Friday, December 18, 2009.

    The curator of the exhibition is Iris Snyder, Associate Librarian, Special Collections.

    The alphabet, the basic written symbols of language, has been used for many purposes. This exhibition of books from Special Collections of the University of Delaware, will highlight some of these varied uses.  The exhibition will focus on four main categories: calligraphy and handwriting manuals, primers and children’s books, typography and the printing craft, and the alphabet as art in fine press and artists’ books.

    Until the middle of the twentieth century, handwriting was considered to be an important part of an education.  Manuals showing samples of correct cursive writing were widely available. Schoolmasters would create portfolios of their highly decorative writing to show to prospective employers.  Examples of handwriting manuals from the 17th to the 19th centuries will be on display.

    In early America, children learned to read using primers, small books that linked a letter with a picture and a short verse for children to memorize.  In the 18th century, these verses were religious in nature and quite somber, but became more light-hearted during the 19th century.  The exhibition will include a copy of the New England Primer, the most popular early primer, as well as many later reading books.  Alphabet books for children’s amusement will also be on view, including the complex pop-up books of contemporary paper engineer Robert Sabuda.

The Baby's Own Alphabet

The Baby's Own Alphabet by Walter Crane (Springfield, Mass.: H.R. Huntting Co., Inc., 1880).

    Special Collections holds a large collection of manuals and advertising materials for typographers and printers that display a wide variety of alphabets showing a company’s selection of printing fonts.  Included will be examples of typographic alphabets by twentieth century master designers Bruce Rogers, Frederick Goudy and Hermann Zapf.

    The alphabet has been used as a theme by many artists and writers.   Fine press publications with illustrations by artists including Leonard Baskin, Barry Moser, and David Hockney will show the range of approaches to the alphabet book.   Also included will be Edmund Gorey’s macabre alphabet book, The Gashlycrumb Tinies and Bertrand Russell’s political satire, The Good Citizen’s Alphabet.

    Artists’ books that pop and turn, that are very large or very small, that are serious or amusing show the wide variety of approaches to the alphabet by contemporary book artists.  Marion Bataille’s ABC3D is full of surprises and Warner Pfeiffer’s Abracadabra will invite the involvement of the reader.

    The exhibition will highlight the wide-range and depth of the University of Delaware Special Collections holdings in the history of books and printing.  The exhibition will delight and intrigue viewers of all ages. 

About the Special Collections Department
    Holdings of the Special Collections Department of the University of Delaware Library include books, manuscripts, maps, prints, photographs, broadsides, periodicals, pamphlets, ephemera, and realia from the fifteenth to the twenty-first century. The collections complement the general collections of the Library with particular strengths in the subject areas of the arts; English, Irish, and American literature; history and Delawareana; horticulture; and history of science and technology.

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