Old Aunt Elspa’s ABC

A small square book from the 19th Century. The title in black reads 'Old Aunt Elspa's ABC.' The cover of the book is illustrated with animals and a key.

Old Aunt Elspa's ABC, CC BY Crawhall 50, Crawhall (Joseph II) Collection, Newcastle University Library

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  • Intro
    Museum's Description
    Teacher notes
    • This charming little alphabet book is a type of chapbook, a cheap form of literature that was common from the 17th to 19th centuries.

      Alphabet books like this one were designed to teach young children (and even adults who were learning to read) the letters and sounds of the alphabet.
      This particular alphabet book dates from 1884 and was produced by Joseph Crawhall II, a businessman, artist and engraver from Newcastle. The title 'Old Aunt Elspa's' actually refers to Crawhall's daughter, Elspeth.

      The beautiful illustrations in this book were made using woodcuts. Crawhall cut blocks of wood and drew his designs on to them using dark ink. He then used a 'graver' to make incisions on the wood along the lines that he had drawn. Although the printing was in black and white, Crawhall added colour by hand to make the final touches.

      You can find out more about this book and other interesting items in Newcastle University’s Special Collections by visiting the Amazing Archives. 

      Things to think about:

      • Look at the front cover of this chapbook. Why does this book have two different prices?
      • Why do you think there is an illustration of a key with the label ‘knowledge’ on the front cover?
      • Do you think it would have been easy for Crawhall to make this book? Have you ever tried block printing?
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