is for Special Collections at the University Library, where a recent exhibit showcases the alphabet and the many ways it has been presented for audiences of children, adult readers, skilled craftspeople and artists.
The alphabet, the basic written symbols of language, has been used for many purposes, according to Iris Snyder, associate librarian and the curator of “ABC: An Alphabet Exhibition,” which features books from UD Special Collections that highlight some of these varied uses. The display focuses on four main categories: calligraphy and handwriting manuals, primers and other children’s books, typography and the printing craft, and the alphabet as art in fine press and artists’ books.
In early America, children learned to read using primers, small books that linked a letter with a picture and a short verse to memorize. In the 18th century, these verses were religious in nature and quite somber, but became more lighthearted during the 19th century, Snyder says.
The exhibition includes 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 also are on view, including the complex pop-up books of contemporary paper engineer Robert Sabuda, and books by such well-known children’s authors as Chris Van Allsburg, Maurice Sendak and Dr. Seuss. Also on display are handwriting manuals from the 17th to the 19th centuries, when penmanship was an important part of an education.
Special Collections holds a large number of manuals and advertising materials for typographers and printers that display a wide variety of alphabets showing a company’s selection of printing fonts. The “ABC” exhibition includes samples of these. The fine press publications on display demonstrate that the alphabet has been used as a theme by many artists and writers. Works with illustrations by such artists as Leonard Baskin, Barry Moser and David Hockney are among those.
Artists’ books that pop and turn, are very large or very small, serious or amusing show the wide variety of approaches by contemporary book artists. Marion Bataille’s ABC3D is full of surprises, and Warner Pfeiffer’s Abracadabra invites the involvement of the reader. For adult readers, selections include Edward Gorey’s macabre alphabet book, The Gashlycrumb Tinies, and Bertrand Russell’s political satire, The Good Citizen’s Alphabet.
Overall, the exhibition highlights the wide range and depth of Special Collections holdings in the history of books and printing. UD Special Collections complement the Library’s general collections with particular strengths in the subject areas of the arts; English, Irish and American literature; history and Delawareana; horticulture; and the history of science and technology.
Special Collections is on the second floor of Morris Library on UD’s Newark campus. The “ABC” exhibition opened in August and continues through Dec. 18. Visit www.lib.udel.edu/ud/spec for more information.