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University Libraries - News, Events & Exhibits

Exhibit highlights the ABC’s of ABC books

Jan 29, 2013 3:20 PM
A fundamental language tool takes center stage in “Abecedaria! Fine Press and Children’s ABC Books,” a varied and visual exhibit opening soon in USC’s Hollings Library.

“We are taking the notion of what an ABC book is and exploring how it is treated by fine press printers and children’s authors, and how other writers and artists conceptualized the alphabet,” said exhibit curator Jeffrey Makala, Librarian for Instruction and Outreach in the Irvin Department of Rare Books and Special Collections.

The idea for the exhibit began when the USC Libraries received a collection of miniature books from Martha Zachert, a retired USC library science professor.

“Many of those books, about 100 of them, are ABC books,” Makala said. “They are delightful books, and I began to think about other ABC books we had in our collections, and how they could be combined to create a multi-faceted exhibit.”

“Abecedaria!” looks at how the alphabet has been treated and interpreted by educational publishers, children's authors and illustrators, artists and fine press printers. It shows historical and contemporary ABC books, as well as examples of artists' books and modern fine printing, early schoolbooks and primers, and other graphic works that explore the nature, design and meanings placed upon the 26-letter Roman alphabet.

Exhibit items include 21st-century books on the ABC’s of places: A is for Africa, A is for the Americas, The Desert Alphabet Book, and P is for Palmetto. There are books on the ABC’s of animals: Slipper’s ABC of Fox Hunting (1903), ABC of Birds (1916), and ABC of Dogs (1940). There is even the Santa Claus A.B.C. Book (c. 1900).

“We have a medieval manuscript page featuring the letter ‘C,’ a 19th-century children’s book printed on cloth (shown in the photo here), and an 1870 French accordion book, Le petit monde alphabet,” Makala said. “Several exhibit items date from 1880 to 1920, which is considered the Golden Age of Children’s Literature. We have several versions of Kate Greenaway’s A Apple Pie, which is a fairly lavish book.”

Other items include Your Highway ABC Book, an advertisement via alphabet produced by ESSO Oil Company in 1935, a typography book from 1974 titled Printer’s ACEDEDARIUM, and the 2008 darkly illustrated The Dangerous Alphabet, written by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Gris Grimley. And then there is the small volume, roughly three inches by three inches, that is all about one letter and simply titled, E.

The items on exhibit are chiefly drawn from the Irvin Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, many from the Martha Jane Zachert Collection of Abecedaria and Fine Press Printing, donated by Dr. Zachert in Spring 2012, and from the Department's historical children's literature collection, the Augusta Baker Collection, the William Savage Textbook Collection, and the Clyde C. Walton Collection of Fine Printing.

Pat Feehan, an associate professor in USC’s School of Library and Information Science, was the featured speaker for the exhibit's opening event on Tuesday, February 5.

“I teach early childhood materials courses, which among the many genres are alphabet books,” said Feehan, who has crafted a special ABC Prezi presentation for the event.

“I teach librarians how to bring books and children together in just the right developmentally-appropriate way, and in the under-five group, the alphabet is pretty important because it is the very building blocks of language and literacy," Feehan said. "Jeffrey has been a welcome visitor to the course. He has brought many of these beautiful, old, children’s materials to display and discuss. It is fantastic for students to be able to see these books.”

The exhibit opening will take place in the Hollings Library Program Room. The Hollings Library is accessed through Thomas Cooper Library. The exhibit is on display in the Irvin Department Gallery through April 27. For more information, visit http://library.sc.edu/hollings.