Six sets of nineteenth-century bone alphabet tiles
England: circa 1820. Boxed set of 179 bone alphabet tiles, comprising six copies of each letter (five of the letter B), plus three additional duplicates of the vowels and the letter Y, and six blanks. Each tile measuring about ¾ of an inch high, hand-carved and engraved with a capital letter in black ink. Housed in contemporary polished hardwood box, measuring 6 x 10 x 1 inches, with sliding lid and 27 fitted internal compartments.
Six sets of bone alphabet tiles, housed in a purpose-built hardwood box. Sets like these were used to teach young children their ABCs and the very simplest spelling exercises. As John Locke observes, in Some Thoughts Concerning Education: “There may be dice and play-things, with the letters on them, to teach children the alphabet by playing; and twenty other ways may be found, suitable to their particular tempers, to make this kind of learning a sport to them. Thus children may be cozened into a knowledge of the letters; be taught to read without perceiving it to be anything but a sport, and play themselves into that which others are whipped for.” This unusually large collection, with extra copies of each of the vowels, and six blank spacers, offers a wider range of compositional play than usual. A remarkable nursery artifact, in fine condition.