A book on a stick, that what this is. In fact, the object in these images is one of the most peculiar “books” I know. It is a hornbook, a tool used by children for learning to read - a so-called “primer”. They come in both a printed version, made from the late fifteenth to the eighteenth century, and a handwritten - medieval - form, which is to say a copy written by hand. They were ubiquitous in schools and are featured quite mockingly in Shakespeare’s play Love’s Labour’s Lost, where one character queries “Monsieur, are you not lett’red?” and the other answers “Yes, he teaches boys the hornbook. What is a, b, spelt backward?”.
A lot is known about the hornbook as a physical object. The page stuck on the wooden paddle was covered by a slice of horn (bone), which explains its name. The stick, of course, facilitated easy handling, perhaps in the left hand so as to copy the text with the right. However, looking at old images of hornbooks also shows there is still lots to learn about these fascinating objects. While handbooks tend to state the origins of the hornbook is England during the 1450s, there are, in fact, older examples. The last very last image in the line-up above, showing a boy holding a hornbook, is from an Italian manuscript of the 1350s.
Pics: Washington, Folger Library, STC 13813.5 (top image, England, early 17th century) and STC 13831.6 (second to last, England, early 17th century); London, Medieval Museum (black hornbook without sheet); Oxford, Bodleian Library, Can.Misc.476 (1350s).