Rewards of Merit
of Merit have been part of the American educational system for more
than 300 years. Typically paper and either printed or in handwritten
form, teachers bestowed Rewards on their deserving students to recognize
their classroom achievements and to acknowledge exemplary attendance.
Even though youngsters received them, many times parents later wound
up with the Rewards as gifts from their children. A mid-nineteenth
century verse reads:
See, Father, Mother, see!
To my Brother, and to me,
Has our Teacher given a card,
To show that we have studied hard!
To you we think it must be pleasant
To see us both with such a present.
In 1994, the Ephemera Society published the first book length study
on this particular kind of ephemera. Entitled Rewards of Merit:
Tokens of a Child's Progress and a Teacher's Esteem as an Enduring
Aspect of American Religious and Secular Education, the book
highlights the collections assembled by the late Rockwell Gardner
(affectionately known to just about everyone as Rocky) and Alfred
P. Malpa. To complement their paper Rewards, dozens of examples
of school medals from John M. Sallay's collection are depicted.
The chief author of Rewards of Merit is Patricia Fenn, and
the principal designer is Jack Golden.
of Merit provide insight into a number of areas of United States
history. As folk art, they chronicle influences of contemporary
design on original drawings and calligraphy. They are excellent
sources for tracing the development of American printing technology.
Rewards that eighteenth-century printers pulled from their presses
and then perhaps colored by hand are far different from Rewards
produced by the chromolithographic process a century later. For
the study of American education, the proliferation of Rewards of
Merit signals the efforts of many reformers to furnish schooling
to children of many social and economic classes, not just the privileged
Because the earliest printed Rewards bore pietistic sayings and
sentiments, American religious history is reflected in their texts.
One early Reward shows children praying on one side and on the reverse
contains a biblical verse:
Be thankful, children, that you may
Read this good Bible every day:
'Tis God's own word, which he has giv'n
To show your souls the way to heaven.
Charles Magnus was probably responsible for printing the most Rewards
of Merit during the last half of the nineteenth century. Magnus
came to the United States from Germany after that country's political
upheavals in 1848 and brought his publishing talents with him. Primarily
a lithographer, Magnus soon had a devoted following, selling such
things as maps, games, playing cards, envelopes, stock certificates,
city views, Civil War battlefield scenes, lettersheets, news sheets,
and Rewards of Merit. What makes Magnus fascinating to study is
his use of the same image on a vast array of his works. A vignette
appearing on a stock certificate, for example, might later show
up on the border of a large map or even decorate a Reward of Merit
those who are interested in finding out who produced and distributed
printed Rewards of Merit cards, Rewards of Merit has a comprehensive
directory of booksellers, engravers, printers, publishers, and stationers
toward the end of the volume. Listing individuals and firms from
Theodore Abbott, a Boston bookbinder and bookseller, to Samuel Young,
a Baltimorian engaged in book selling and publishing during the
1820s and 1830s, this comprehensive directory features almost 225
individuals and companies that made and sold Rewards from 1762 into
the twentieth century.
Rewards of Merit consists of 224 pages and is profusely
illustrated with hundreds of colorful images. An informative bibliography
and extensive index round out the volume.
The trade edition of Rewards of Merit costs $39.95. A limited
number of copies with a special binding, containing two medals mounted
in the front cover, and including a separate portfolio of reproductions
of Rewards of Merit costs $595.
To order a copy of Rewards of Merit, contact Oak Knoll Press,
310 Delaware St., New Castle, DE 19720, or visit their web site
at www.oakknoll.com and place
an order online.
E. Richard McKinstry
[This article originally appeared in the Northeast
Journal of Antiques & Art.]