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American Book Company Records

An inventory of its records at Syracuse University

Finding aid created by: MPK, KBP, JMB, DMB
Date: October 1978

Biographical History

The American Book Company (ABC) was an educational book publisher that published textbooks at the elementary school, secondary school and collegiate levels. The company was formed in 1890 by the consolidation of four publishing houses: Van Antwerp, Bragg and Co., A.S. Barnes and Co., D. Appleton and Co., and Iveson, Blakeman and Co. It operated successfully as the American Book Company for more than seventy years with the public school system and other educational institutions as its main clients, publishing educational titles on accounting, agriculture, art, civics, foreign languages, history (both ancient and modern), life sciences, literature, mathematics, penmanship, physical sciences, and various levels of readers.

In the 1960s and 1970s the company passed first to Litton Industries and then to the International Thomson Organization, finally being acquired by D. C. Heath and Company in 1981. ABC was eventually absorbed into D. C. Heath and ceased to exist as an imprint.

The company employed many noted artists as illustrators for its public school textbooks, including Norman Rockwell and Frederick Remington. It is perhaps best known for its series of McGuffey Readers, which sold 120 million copies between 1836 and 1960.

Scope and Contents of the Collection

The American Book Company Papers consists of general correspondence, calendars, business records, books, miscellanea, illustrations, and study charts, with correspondence and illustrations comprising the vast majority of the collection. Both ABC itself and its predecessor companies (Van Antwerp, Bragg and Co., A.S. Barnes and Co., D. Appleton and Co., and Iveson, Blakeman and Co.) are represented in the collection. The vast scope of the material provides a detailed picture of the education received by children in the American public school system in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, as well as the state of various fields of knowledge at the time.

General correspondence consists of correspondence with authors, publishers, illustrators and others in the course of ABC's publishing work. This portion of the inventory is presented as a spreadsheet to simplify sorting the material in various ways.

Business records contains a miscellaneous assortment of business-related records, including small desk calendars decorated with excerpts from American Book Company textbooks which were distributed to educators as a publicity feature, contracts, editorial forms, permissions, steps in the book production process, meeting minutes, and other similar material. No personnel records of any kind are included in the collection. At the end of the business records are several boxes of index card files, including an index to correspondence.

Books contains books published by the American Book Company and its acquisitions, and its founders and their acquisitions. There are multiple copies of many books, in which case at least one copy is the "marked copy" (that is, the Editor's Library copy, carrying annotations and/or pasted-in proofs showing changes made between printings and editions). One of the most famous American Book Company publications is the series of McGuffey's Readers; the collection includes several editions of these readers dating back to 1840. The series also includes wall posters, flash cards, and writing slates. This portion of the inventory is presented as a spreadsheet to allow sorting of the material in various ways.

Miscellanea contains photographs, artifacts and memorabilia, and a notebook recording the trips made by the company's private railroad car.

Illustrations contains photographs of people, industry, and architecture; galleys and proofs of original work by staff artists; prints, reproductions, and copies of famous paintings and sculpture; maps; and original drawings, watercolors, and paintings, all of which were used in the company's publications. It contains a number of works by noteworthy artists and illustrators, among whom are Norman Rockwell and Frederick Remington. Staff have compiled a list of plates with works by major artists. This portion of the inventory is presented in the form of spreadsheets to permit sorting the material in various ways.

Authors and book titles for whom illustrations are present include the following:

Study charts contains a small group of charts.

Some additional information is contained in the library's correspondence with ABC, prior to and during their donation of material. Please contact the repository listed above for more information on this correspondence.

Arrangement of the Collection

The primary arrangement of the General correspondence is loosely chronological from ca. 1880 to 1964; it is secondarily arranged in many repeating roughly alphabetical sequences. This portion of the inventory is presented as a spreadsheet to enable sorting in various ways.

Business records remain in original order.

Books are arranged in no particular order. This portion of the inventory is presented as a spreadsheet to enable sorting in various ways (see inventory below).

Illustrations are arranged in numerical order according to the "Drawing Number" stamped an the backing plate. Plates which are out of sequence, extra large, or unnumbered are placed at the end as well as illustration material organized by book title, beginning with Oversize 1060. To simplify locating all plates on a given topic, this portion of the inventory is presented as two spreadsheets (one arranged by plate number and location and the other by topic and plate number); see the inventory below.

Miscellanea is arranged alphabetically by topic or title.

Other Related Finding Aids

Portions of the finding aid inventory are presented as spreadsheets to enable sorting the data in various ways. These are: the General correspondence (click here), the Books published (original accession and 1998 additions), and the Illustrations (click here and here). A more detailed explanation of each series, with a link to it, is provided at the appropriate location in the inventory below. Staff have also compiled a list of plates with works by major artists.


Access Restrictions:

The majority of our archival and manuscript collections are housed offsite and require advanced notice for retrieval. Researchers are encouraged to contact us in advance concerning the collection material they wish to access for their research.

Use Restrictions:

Written permission must be obtained from SCRC and all relevant rights holders before publishing quotations, excerpts or images from any materials in this collection.

Related Material

American Book Company, our heritage and our history, a two-volume unpublished history of the company written by Managing Editor Mauck Brammer, has been removed from the collection and cataloged as part of the the Rare Books collection.

Many of the textbooks have been digitized by Google books/Hathitrust.

Subject Headings

Corporate Bodies

American Book Company -- Archives.

Associated Titles

McGuffey readers.


Arithmetic -- Study and teaching.
Education, Elementary -- Textbooks -- Specimens.
Education, Primary -- Textbooks -- Specimens.
Education, Secondary -- Textbooks -- Specimens.
Educational publishing -- United States.
Geography -- Textbooks -- Specimens.
History -- Textbooks -- Specimens.
Mathematics -- Textbooks -- Specimens.
Music -- Textbooks -- Specimens.
Primers -- 1800-1870.
Primers -- 1870-1950.
Publishers and publishing -- United States.
Readers (Elementary)
Readers (Secondary)
Science -- Textbooks -- Specimens.
Textbooks -- Publishing.
Textbooks -- United States.
Vocational education -- Textbooks -- Specimens.

Genres and Forms

Annual reports.
Calendars (documents)
Drawings (visual works)
Galley proofs.
Maps (documents)
Paintings (visual works)
Primers (books)
Watercolors (paintings)



Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Preferred citation for this material is as follows:

American Book Company Records,
Special Collections Research Center,
Syracuse University Libraries

Acquisition Information

Majority, gift of the American Book Company.

Some items (noted in inventory below) gift of Selma Ordewer, 2014.

Table of Contents

General correspondence

Business records



Study charts



Note on alternate formats:

Many of the textbooks have been digitized by Google books/Hathitrust.