What is a hornbook?

A hornbook is a flat, wooden board with a handle that students used in English and American classrooms from the fifteenth to the eighteenth centuries. A sheet of paper was pasted on the board. It contained the alphabet, the Benediction (a special prayer from the Book of Numbers), the Lord’s Prayer, and the Roman numerals. A thin, flat piece of clear animal horn covered the whole board to protect the paper, which was scarce and expensive at the time. Hornbooks were used as early as 1442 in England and became standard equipment in English schools by the 1500s. They were discontinued around 1800, when books became cheaper to produce.


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