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Marcus Ward copy book
Marcus Ward's Copy Book 210 x 165mm (8¼ x 6½in)
This new series of copy-books has been specially planned to lighten the labour of the teacher,
and ensure the easy progress of the pupil in the formation of a beautiful, distinct, and rapid
handwriting. The style is flowing and graceful and a uniform character is maintained.

Copy Books

Copy books were an essential tool in the education system during the Victorian era in the English-speaking world. They were widely used in schools to teach children proper handwriting, penmanship, and literacy skills. The Victorians placed a strong emphasis on discipline, order, and neatness, and copy books played a significant role in instilling these values.

Words are silver silence is gold
This copy book was ruled with lines and at the top of the page was printed a set of words, including
in this case a proverb or wise saying, that was to be copied on each line to the bottom of the page.

The content of Victorian copy books varied, covering a range of subjects such as letters of the alphabet, words, phrases, and even longer passages. In addition to improving handwriting, the copy books were also used to teach grammar, spelling, punctuation, and composition. Students were encouraged to replicate the words and sentences with precision and accuracy, reinforcing their understanding of language and improving their penmanship simultaneously.

Ledger Account
Page from American copy book containing all the common business forms - this page for the Ledger Account.

They were also employed by adults who wished to improve their handwriting or refine their calligraphy skills. As writing became more important for personal and professional communication, copy books provided a practical and structured means of self-improvement.

Copy books served as both instructional tools and repositories of a pupils’ progress. They were designed to develop a graceful style of penmanship and under the eye of a competent teacher to give instruction in position of the body, arms, hand and most importantly directions for holding the pen.

Using an ink dip pen one had to take care not to spoil the appearance of a page with smudges or ink blots.

If a pupil made a mistake while writing in their copy book, such as a blot from an ink spill or a spelling error, it would mar the otherwise clean pages and reflect poorly on their diligence and attention to detail.

Over time, the phrase "blot your copy book" evolved beyond its literal context of writing errors and became a metaphor for any action or behaviour that could stain one's reputation or undo previous accomplishments. People use this expression as a gentle reminder to be mindful of their actions and avoid making mistakes that could negatively impact their standing in society, professionally, or personally.


This regular feature shows special items from members’ own collections. Submissions by email should include a scan of the item.