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Noah Webster’s Other Best Seller!

January 19, 2015 Think THF, Archive Insight

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Many of us know that Noah Webster was the creator of An American Dictionary of the English Language, first published in 1828. But did you know that Mr. Webster was a teacher as well, and the author of the American Spelling Book? The early version was first published in 1783 and our copy is a 1845 edition called the Elementary Spelling Book, being an improvement on the American Spelling Book.

During this time, the English language was changing fast, and many new words were being added that were uniquely American. Mr. Webster wanted to create a spelling book that could help people understand and spell words that were actively used by the American public. Always published with a blue cover, the “Blue Backed Speller,” as it came to be known, was popular across the nation.

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When imagining a speller, we might expect a book that lists words and their spelling, perhaps with syllables indicated, and you can see that this information was included.

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Mr. Webster enlarged on the idea, and included uncomplicated sentences that used the spelling words. This allowed the book to be used by beginning readers as well. These sentences provide a unique glimpse into what may have been important to 19th century Americans.

A skiff is a small row boat.

A cliff is a high steep rock.

Leave off your bad tricks.

Do not take too much snuff.

A ship has a tall mast.

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Being told to leave off our bad tricks brings up another feature of the speller, the fables, which include a moral and are illustrated with lively images. 

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The Elementary Spelling Book, or the “Blue Backed Speller,” was used to teach several generations of Americans to spell and read. Over 100 million copies were sold in the 18th and 19th centuries.

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