Pieces of Our Past
January 3, 2014
Artifact: German-language Primer
Das kleine ABC-Buch, oder erste Anfangs-Büchlein, mit schönen Bildern und deren Namen, nach dem ABC, um den Kindern das Buchstabiren leichter zu machen. [The small ABC Book, or first Beginning Booklet, with pretty Pictures and their Names, in alphabetical order, to make it easier for children to spell.]
Size: 3.5 x 6 inches
Significance: This 36-page booklet is interesting not necessarily due to its age, but because of where it was printed and who wrote it. It was printed in New Market, Virginia, in Solomon Henkel’s print shop, which was the first German-language press south of the Potomac River. Solomon’s brother, Ambrose, who had established the printer a decade earlier, wrote the small primer.
Description of the Primer: The small booklet has varying formats for teaching children how to spell. The first section shows letters and numbers in varying printed fonts, followed by four pages with each letter in upper and lowercase accompanied by woodcut illustrations and words (shown in photo on right). The next section is a beginning reader with illustrations, mostly of animals, followed by a short related poem and a list of common words (shown in photo on left). The primer ends with a few prayers and hymns.
About the Henkel Family Printer: The Henkel name is well-known in historical Lutheran circles, including the Missouri Synod. Rev. Polycarp C. Henkel of the Tennessee Synod was instrumental in the formation of the English Lutheran Conference of Missouri (a precursor of today’s English District). He was only one of many Lutheran pastors in the Henkel family, but it was a non-clergy family member who was responsible for starting the Henkel press. Ambrose Henkel, son of Paul Henkel, a Lutheran pastor, apprenticed with a printer for four years before returning to New Market to open his own press. Through the years, the Henkel family printed many items including a German newspaper; hymnals, catechisms and religious texts by Paul Henkel; and educational books such as this primer. The first German primer Henkel published was in 1811. By 1817, when this primer was published, Ambrose had sold the printer to his brother Solomon, a physician, in order to become a pastor himself, though he remained involved with the press.
The printing press shown (the image was taken from an unnamed newspaper clipping, possibly dated January 30, 1931) was used from 1806 to 1930 in New Market and operated by members of the Henkel family. The press was acquired by Duke University in 1931 for display.