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Saturday, December 14, 2013

Earliest Japanese English Book Primer?

Above, is perhaps the earliest existing Japanese English book primer. It is currently being offered for sale by  Rulon-Miller Books for $7,500.

I should point out that I am not a shill for  Rulon-Miller Books, but I do admire the books they have for sale... books which help define the fascination the rest of the world had with Japan as it opened ups its doors after centuries of self-imposed isolation, as well as the fascination that Japan had for the rest of the world's accomplishments that occurred while it was... evolving, for lack of a better word. 

Here's what  Rulon-Miller Books has written about the book for sale on it on-line catalogue, as item #168:

168.     [Manuscript in Japanese and English:] National school series. The school primer, or, the child's eibst stebs [sic] in reading and spelling, dbsignbd [sic] as introductory to Parker's school readers. [With:] Sargents Standard school primer... n.p., n.d. [but Japan: after 1859.    $7,500
2 volumes in 1, oblong 8vo, approx. 198 french-fold pages sewn in the Japanese manner in contemporary and almost certainly original brown paper wrappers; minor worming and wear, but in all a very good and striking example of a Japanese student's workbook for the attainment of English.
The book has apparently been copied from American primers published by A. S. Barnes in New York in 1857, and Sargent's School Primer, Boston, 1859; both contain a variety of reading and spelling lessons "especially adapted to the capacity and taste of young children. It is hoped that it will proved [sic] valuable introduction to the national series of school readers prepared by Richard G. Parker."
Both Parker's and Sargent's primers were available in bi-lingual editions in the Japanese market.

Might this be the manuscript from which a printer might have used to publish the Japanese editions?
Throughout, the English text, which has been carefully written in ink, is often translated interlinearly in red ink with Japanese characters creating an attractive visual appearance on the page. Included are 3 pages of alphabets, simple sentences, often in rhyme ("A cart for me / to ride and see / A ship at sea / with you and me."
An interesting and instructive look at how the Japanese learned English in the generation following Admiral Perry's opening of Japan.

And there you have it... if you have the cash. Another worthy piece of history we should be aware off that, when it is sold, may find its hands into a collector never to be seen again by us, the viewing and curious public.

I certainly can't begrudge a fellow collector that, but at least we know now of its existence.

Andrew Joseph 

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