An Interesting Victorian Children’s Alphabet

At a charity shop today I came across an old copy of the Mother’s Picture Alphabet. I’m always interested in picture alphabets and friezes that go in nurseries (I had a Mr Men one as a child!).

This one, however, is a little extraordinary in that the letter ‘S’ depicts slavery. Now while I applaud the sentiment, and raising awareness of slavery was clearly of the utmost importance back in the 1800s, it really shows how our views of childhood are different now to what they were then.

Imagine what would happen if an alphabet for children today tried to educate on issues of the world! A is for Alcoholism, B is for Barbiturate Overdose, C is for Capital Punishment, and so on…

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  1. Children do need to be taught about what the world is like.

    Kids now do learn about quite a lot of the unpleasant aspects of life through other means, perhaps they needed this because the other avenues were fewer then?

    The quality of the art is much better than modern equivalents.

  2. Hello Graeme! Thanks for stopping by.

    I think it was the Victorian way to educate and inform – and possibly preach – wasn’t it? The final few pages are all about the bible, which is fine, but it starts to lose shape as an alphabet. You should see the X page, which is simply the ten commandments.

    I think now we’re more about learning through inspiring throughout the early ages, aren’t we? And I think that’s a good thing. Kids need to learn stuff, but childhood needs to be a time of fun and beauty. There’s no good to be had from exposing children to the realities of the world from a very early age.

    I don’t agree about the art – we have some amazing artists doing this sort of thing today. And Jan Pienkowski’s alphabet is a classic.

  3. Yes the artwork is great. This style will never be achieved again and I agree there are talented artists out there today.

    As for the subject matter: It’s false. It gives the impression that they, the establishment, actually cared about slavery and yet the whole British Empire having its heyday during this era thrived on just that ! Slavery! It was slavery in all but name. Call it exploitation if you like. All those Indian tea pickers, diamond miners, youname them. The ruling classes had just found a new way to achieve the same ends. Give them their ‘Freedom’ but they still have to work for us just the same except now they actually believe they are free. Witness the manufacture of sports shoes today.
    I believe that so called ‘Freedom’ is just an illusion. We are just as much living with slavery as were the Romans, except the constraints which bind us are much more subtle.