A spectacular set of four 1895 chromolithographic educational charts, designed to teach students the rudiments of American history, geography, weights and measures, and the Survey of the Public Lands. Together they offer a wonderful window into late 19th-century teaching methods, some of which—sadly—have not been abandoned entirely even today.
The four charts are printed recto and verso, with the four rectos titled respectively “Measurements and Measures”, “Square and Survey Measures”, “Tables of Weights and Measures” and again “Tables of Weights and Measures”. The illustrations—many featuring well-dressed white folk, of course—are colourful, charming and informative, and would surely have helped enliven the rote learning of weights and measures. My favorite is the poster featuring “Square and Survey Measures”, which is in fact a primer on the Survey of the Public Lands that so vitally shaped the American landscape, economy, culture and politics.
Taken together, the versos of the four charts serve up a highlight-reel version of American history in century-long snippets. So for example the first covers the years 1492 through 1592 and focuses entirely on Columbus (“the first civilized man” to cross the ocean), Ponce de Leon, Nuñez de Balboa, and Hernando de Soto and their “discoveries” of the New World, Florida, Pacific Ocean and Mississippi River respectively. The second covers 1592 through 1692 (“the period of settlements”), addressing Port Royal, Plymouth, New York, Jamestown and St. Augustine, each with an atmospheric pictorial vignette bearing little relation to reality.
And so it goes, the posters conveying with all the nuance of a sledgehammer the message that American history has been an unrelenting forward march by white men of European descent. It all reminds me of when—three years in a row!—my daughter’s class was taught to sing “In fourteen hundred ninety two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue…” Needless to say, there’s not an African-American slave in sight—nor, for that matter, poor people–and the few women and native Americans present are depicted as entirely lacking in agency.
The four charts offered here are numbered in such a way as to suggest they were part of a much larger series, but a variety of searches have yielded less than a handful of other examples.
The American School Chart Company was incorporated in Chicago in 1891 by R. W. Wortman, Nellie E. Woods and F. M. Woods, purportedly with a whopping capital of $1,000,000. If the four charts offered here are any evidence, the firm’s production values (as distinct from their intellectual heft) were quite high, but I find few adverts or other mentions of it in the contemporary press. The last appearance is in 1903, in connection with a pair of grifters operating in North Dakota and claiming to represent the company.
All of the Company’s charts are quite rare today: I have not found any listed in OCLC, and Rare Book Hub lists but one (titled “Thinking Lessons” and dated 1898) having been offered at auction.
Not in OCLC.