Derby Museum Hornbook
Primer for study
In William Shakespeare's Love's Labour's Lost, one character asks another, "Yes, he teaches boys the hornbook. What is a, b, spelt backward with the horn on his head?" Shakespeare is referring to a hornbook or a crib book, which is a device that serves as a primer for study. Usually, the hornbook is in the shape of a paddle with a handle. One side contains study materials, while the other side is either blank or decorated. Hornbooks typically had a hole in the handle for a leather thong that could be attached to one's belt.
Hornbooks could have only the alphabet, as in this instance, the alphabet plus numbers or the Lord's Prayer and phonetics in some cross pattern. As an educational tool, the hornbook became popular in England as early as the 15th century. Often illustrations in manuscripts, such as one in Gregor Reisch's Margarita Philosophica (1503), show a student holding a hornbook or having a hornbook at their hip.