May 3, 2023

A to Z 2023 Reflection: &

         My theme this year was Block Printed Alphabet Squared, in which I planned to feature a relief block printed alphabet for each letter.  Alas, I seem utterly incapable of keeping things simple, and I ended up piling in multiple alphabets for each letter.  After all, how could I be so heartless as to turn away all the extra alphabets I discovered?  So I put way more time and effort into the research than I had intended.  On the other hand, I got everything drafted before April, which was lucky, since April turned out to be a very busy month for me.  But next year I’m going to give myself more limits, and this time I really mean it.
        I did manage to do lots of visiting this year - indeed, too many to list them all here - and I enjoyed lots of fun, interesting, and diverse themes.  And, as always, I very much appreciated those who came by and left comments here.  It’s always cool to see how different people gravitate to different styles and subjects of art.  Plus I always hope I can introduce a few people to the joys of relief block prints!
        I shall now continue to follow my tradition of using the Reflections post to squeeze in a few more bits that didn’t fit into the main alphabet.  These are the oddities.  While most people think of an illustrated alphabet as depicting words that begin with each letter, a few of the alphabets I found took a different approach.  
The Infants’ Guide to the Alphabet and first principles of pronunciation, from 1826, uses different strategies for different letters, but for some it’s about the sound of the name of the letter.  C is for Sea, I is for Eye, and U is for Yew.  I’ve also included R and Y because they strike me as neither one thing nor the other, and thus particularly strange choices.  This booklet does have rather pleasing little wood engravings, though.  I especially like the eye.
The Child’s Guide to Spelling and Reading, from 1810, also tries to demonstrate the sounds of the letters, this time mostly with onomatopoeia.  Z for buzzing is excellent (although I’ve heard of a gadfly, but never a gad-bee).  I really like F for the wind and H for the mouth breathing.  R for the dog snarling and I for the mouse squeaking also make sense, but about some of the others… I have questions.  I can kind of make a grunting M sound, but it hardly seems like a noise likely to help a child learn their letters.  Does the frog croak with X because Aristophanes has them say “koax koax” in The Frogs?  And does a hare really squeak W?  These little wood engravings are pretty crude (especially when compared with Bewick from the same time period), but I do like the wind, and the little Gad-bee is actually pretty cute for a fly.
        Another odd choice is W for Wren, in the Pictorial Lesson Book for the Very Young.  How this is supposed to help children learn the alphabet I do not know, and I’m reminded of the tongue-in-cheek alphabets in which A is for aether, G is for gnome, K is for knight, P is for pterodactyl, and so on.  It’s fun if that’s your theme, but a very strange thing to put at the end of an otherwise straightforward alphabet.  To go along with the wren I’ve got a couple of odd birds from An Alphabet of Birds.  In this case there’s nothing wrong with the alphabet - Albatross is at A and Titmouse is at T, just as you’d expect.  It’s the coloring I take issue with, as albatrosses are grey and white, and titmice are grey.  (There are some colorful tits, but more in the blue and yellow range; I don’t believe there are any red ones.)
        Finally, let’s end this year’s A to Z Challenge with the “letter” that often ended English and American alphabets in the early nineteenth century: &.  At the top of this post is an ampersand created out of other little type dingbats by Starshaped Press.  To learn where the word “ampersand” came from, read this prior Words of the Month post.  I’ve also given you a few little alphabet verses in which & plays a character.  In the colored one you need to pronounce it “ampersand” to make the verse scan right, but in the un-illustrated one I think it scans better if you read “etcetera” instead.  Poor & may be 
considered a letter of the 
alphabet in many of these primers, but it seldom gets an illustration because you can’t exactly say “& is for…”  What, &romeda?  &roid?  &ean Condor?  So instead I’ve just got a little collection of &’s as they appear in some of these alphabets.
        The moral of & is that even if we count it as the last letter of the alphabet, it’s impossible for it to be the end.  They all lived happily ever after… &…

[Pictures: London Underground, letterpress design from The Well-Traveled Ampersand by Starshaped Press, 2017 (Image from Starshaped Press);
Sea, Eye, Arrow, Yew, Double-Yew, Weigh, wood block prints from The Infants’ Guide to the Alphabet and first principles of pronunciation, 1826 (Image from British Library);
Wind, Mouth, Mouse, Bear, Dog, Hare, Frog, Gad-bee, wood engravings from The Child’s Guide to Spelling and Reading, 1810 (Images from University of Washington);
, wood engraving from Pictorial Lesson Book for the Very Young, 1849 (Image from Toronto Public Library);
Albatross, Titmouse, hand-colored wood engravings from An Alphabet of Birds, c1854-58 (images from University of Florida);
Y, Z, &, letterpress from Uncle Buncle’s A.B.C., 1841 (Image from British Library);
Hand-colored wood block print from The History of A, Apple-Pie, 1858-1865 (Image from University of Washington);
Collection of & from
(First 2) The Princess Royal’s First Step to Learning, 1846 (Image from Toronto Public Library);
The Golden Alphabet of Natural History, 1826 (Image from Toronto Public Library);
The Infants’ Guide to the Alphabet and first principles of pronunciation, 1826 (Image from British Library);
Richardson’s Juvenile Cabinet, 1830 (Image from Toronto Public Library).]


Sue Bursztynski said...

Hi Ann! Your choice of alphabets is charming. I love the puns on Yew and Double Yew!

I know how you feel about doing more than you intended - some of my posts were much longer than I intended. Good on you for preparing! With I could do that.

crgalvin said...

I loved all of your alphabetr posts, such incredible variety. Thank you for including all of them. Who knew there could be so many, thanks for finding and sharing them.

Donna B. McNicol said...

Yours was one of the most unique A-Z set of posts and I really enjoyed them.

Kristin said...

I never knew that about &
Very interesting. I enjoyed the alphabets!

Hannelore Adler (SteampunkCowCorn) said...

Sweet! I´m looking forward to reading your challenge posts. The onomatopoeia letters were quite fun my favs were the R for arrow and the X for the frog, they reminded me of a color chart some english academia here in Mexico used for their beginner students. Sadly I couldn´t find any picture of it on the internet.
Thanks for the info about the ampersand, I never knew before that it had a name!
Visiting from: Reflections on AtoZ 2023

Anne E.G. Nydam said...

Thanks for coming by, and I'm glad to share the ampersand! =)

Deborah Weber said...

Loved your posts and your reflection. Puns and primers and different strategies through the ages are fun and fascinating. And you made me laugh - we'll have to see how you do on the setting of firmer boundaries on your time and effort. Good intentions often fall prey to just one more fabulous thing to share.

Frewin55 said...

Your posts were unique amongst the A to Z Challenge this year and I not only enjoyed them whenever I visited but have bookmarked your site to return to whenever. as I have said before, having been a signwriter and a graphic artist going back to letterpress printing at school - this was right up my street...

Frewin55 said...

I have included you in a Roadtrip Review at

Beth Lapin said...

I love the tidbits, and the fun of using a starting silent letter! I've enjoyed visiting.