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Nietz Old Textbook Collection @ Archives & Special Collections: Penmanship, Art, and Music

An introduction to and description of John A. Nietz's collection of American textbooks dating from colonial days to around 1900

Representative Examples

Background Information


In many schools in early New England, penmanship was taught alongside reading. Much of the time, in lieu of textbooks, pupils at this early stage of development would learn to write through the use of copy-books, which "were either like a bound and lined tablet with covers, or merely a bound tablet with empty lines and printed model script at the top of each page." Shortly after penmanship began to be taught, different systems for penmanship were devised, such as the Jenkins in the early 19th century which was endorsed by the likes of John Adams and Noah Webster, and, towards the latter part of the nineteenth century, the Spencerian System.


Incorporating art later than many European countries, England and the United States began by focusing the teaching of art on ways in which it would be useful for industry, such as drawing and design. By 1900, drawing was found to be so important that laws were passed that required its teaching by twelve state legislatures.The earliest textbooks in art were for highly specialized topics, probably due to the fact that the earliest American schools in art were specialized schools for the teaching of specific types of art. Manuals were written that covered graphics, geometrical figures, and perspective.


Teaching music first started due to the efforts of Lowell Mason in Boston where a resolution to teach music in public schools was first adopted in 1837. Soon after, many cities followed suit, however the development of music in schools was not even across the United States like many other subjects. The largest aims cited for teaching music in schools were to teach the rudiments of music, serve religious purposes, and provide pleasure, and many music textbooks contained songs that were religious, moral, and patriotic in nature.

Example Gallery

The Modern Painters

The Modern Painters

Calisthenic Songs and Musical Drills

Calisthenic Songs and Musical Drills

Guide to Self Instruction in Practical and Artistic Penmanship

Guide to Self Instruction in Practical and Artistic Penmanship

Franklin Square Song collection No. 1

Franklin Square Song Collection No. 1