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A Manual Alphabet for the Deaf and Dumb, circa 1870s

By H Dominic W Stiles, on 14 July 2017

alph coverYou may wonder what happened to the archive material from Margate School when it closed.  I cannot give a full answer as I do not know exactly what Margate had in the way of records, but broadly as far as I am aware the school and pupil records went to the Kent County Archives in Maidstone, while I believe that a full set of annual reports, and perhaps some other material, went to the British Deaf History Archive in Warrington.  I suppose that they are both in the process of organising and cataloguing that material.  What we took was only a few boxes of books that we are sorting through to fill any gaps in our collection.  Most of these we already had, and unless you are an expert in the area of the history of education these are mainly rather dull and dry books!

a to fThere are a couple of gems however.  This beautifully produced booklet, A Manual Alphabet for the Deaf and Dumb, […] sold at the Asylum for the Deaf and Dumb, Old Kent Road… came to us from the Margate School.  I am a little surprised that we have not got it, though it is possible we have a copy – it is all a question of how it is described in the catalogue, so it could already be lurking in the collection. In the past the librarians used brown card and stapled many smaller loose items, of what we call ‘grey literature,’ into these covers.  Grey literature can cover a multitude of things – but it would usually mean something that was not a book or a journal, or a report.  It could be a reprint of an article, a booklet, a single page, and so on. I suppose they were doing what they thought was right, protecting the items and making them available for general use. We would not do this now – rather, we would put these leaflets or booklets in a box.

As you will know if you have ever found an old magazine that has been in slightly damp conditions, old staples can often rust and break leaving a nasty stain on the paper.  This particular booklet is stitched rather than stapled.  The staple was an ancient device but it was not until the late 19th century that staples for paper were invented, so if you are trying to date something and it is stapled, it probably dates from after 1880.

Cataloguers would not I hope be offended if I were to say they have a particular ‘attention to detail’ – to put it bluntly, they are pernickety.  Therefore, while cataloguers will often differ in detail when they categorize a book, overall I trust them.   That is why we often use the combined catalogue COPAC which covers major British and Irish universities and academic institution collections.  It is a useful tool to see where a rare item is held, and how it has been classified.  This is how Cambridge (top) and Dublin Trinity College (below) have described it:

A manual alphabet for the deaf and dumb.  London ; Paris ; Madrid : Baillière, Tindall, & Cox [1872?]

A manual alphabet for the deaf and dumb.  London, Paris and Madrid : Baillière, Tindall & Cox [ca. 1880]

As you see, they disagree about the date, and though it might be possible to narrow that with some diligent research. Some Baillière archives are at Reading University.  g to rNote the way ‘Q’ is signed.

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Alphabet, Manuel-Figure des Sourds-Muets de Naissance, An VIII (1799-1800)

By H Dominic W Stiles, on 17 March 2017

Alphabet 1A year or so ago we came across, in our French language collection, this extremely rare manual alphabet – Alphabet, Manuel-Figure des Sourds-Muets de Naissance.  It was printed in Paris, in an VIII, revolutionary year 8, which dates from the 23rd of September, 1799, to the 22nd of September, 1800.  That was the period when Bonaparte returned from Egypt and used his popularity to instigate the coup of  18 Brumaire, becoming ‘consul’ and virtual dictator.  It was possibly printed by the pupils (boys) of the Institution Nationale des Sourds-Muets à Paris, then under the principal, the Abbé Sicard.  Sicard had an extraordinary life, narrowly avoiding execution during the French Revolution in 1792, when he was arrested by the Revolutionary Commune for failing to take the oath of civil allegiance.  You can read about that in Harlan Lane’s book, When the Mind Hears (1984, see chapter 2 in particular), and in the more recent Abbé Sicard’s deaf education : empowering the mute, 1785-1820 (2015) by Emmet Kennedy.  The coup of 18 Fructidor sent Sicard into hiding, and he only emerged when Bonaparte came to power.  We have a copy of Sicard’s first book published in an VIII (year 8), Cours d’instruction d’un sourd-muet de naissance, pour servir a l’éducation des sourds-muets, but it appears that the sign alphabet that is supposed to be in it, is missing from the first edition we have.  Here it is from the back of the 1803 second edition.  Click for a larger size.Cours 1803

Was Alphabet, Manuel-Figure printed for the use of the pupils, or to sell in order to raise money?  Was it printed by the pupils, as an exercise, or a way of learning a trade?  I think we may well attribute Sicard as the man behind the publication, but perhaps it was just publicity material for the school with another teacher responsible.  It is beyond my expertise to say anything more about the Alphabet, so I present the printed pages.  It is not printed on every page, and I suspect it was printed on one sheet, then folded and cut, but if you have a more informed view about how it may have been laid out, please contribute below.

I think that this item is, as I said above, extremely rare, but it may well be unique.  The small plaque under each picture is probably aesthetic, but seems to me to make the pictures seem more ‘monumental’ and, if I dare use the term, (it may be legitimate here!), ‘iconic.’  Now compare the hand shapes in the 1803 alphabet above, with those in our 1799 one below.  See the interesting differences.  Is one drawn by a ‘reader’ of the signs, and one by the ‘speaker’, or is one drawn by the artist from his (or her) own hand shapes?  Is the 1799 Cours d’instruction alphabet different?  If both were by Sicard, would they not be identical, or could that just be a matter of the artist executing the engravings?

It measures approximately 14cm by 23cm.  We are in the process of getting many of these books, previously on card index only, onto the UCL catalogue, to make them more ‘visible’ to researchers.

The pages between those below, are blank.

Alphabet 2 Alphabet 3 Alphabet 4 Alphabet 5

Cours d’instruction d’un sourd-muet de naissance, pour servir a l’éducation des sourds-muets – on Google Books, unfortunately lacks the sign alphabet at the back.