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History, Education, School Classroom Slate, Boston, Antique, c. 1860-70

Joseph L. Ross (manufacturer)
The Boston Primary School Slate No. 2
Boston: c. 1860-1870
Slate blackboard, wood frame border with applied printed paper
7.5 x 9.75 inches
Price on request

A charming small portable early American student’s blackboard slate designed to teach both penmanship and geometry. To perform the lessons, each student in the classroom would be supplied with one or more different slates. The Boston Primary School Slate No. 2 is a two-sided slate with printed white lines on one side and blank on the other. It is set within a wood frame border with applied printed paper on each side. The printed paper on the unlined side illustrates geometric figures in all four borders: Cube, Triangular Prism, Tetrahedron, Pyramid, Prism; Oval Ellipse, Circle; Square, Oblong, Rhombus, Triangle Hexagon; Cone, Cylinder, Sphere. The lined side shows the alphabet and numerals in cursive script in the horizontal borders. One vertical border shows some sample words in cursive, the other has the name of the slate and manufacturer information. Apparently, this slate is quite rare. Another example is in the Korzenik Collection of Art Education Ephemera and Books at the Huntington Library in California, compiled by Massachusetts professor Diana Korzenik.

Product description continues below.


The 1863 edition of The Massachusetts Teacher, a curriculum manual for teachers, states that there were 16 tablets in the set. It provides the following directions for use of Boston Primary School Slate, No. 2 on page 266: “Write the small script letters and draw the plane figures. Exercises in writing and drawing to be illustrated by tablets and blackboard.” Similar instructions were given in another teaching journal in 1870. In addition to teaching cursive, the curriculum provided for teaching printed words, which was also deemed essential, with Boston Primary School Slate No. 1. It was of similar design but with printed letters as exemplars.

Joseph L. Ross (1798-1879) was proprietor of a Boston based cabinet maker and school supply manufacturer of the mid 19th century. Based on extant advertisements and surviving objects, the firm made school supplies such as desks and chairs, school desk inkwells, and small educational slates. A broadside advertisement of the firm for Ross’s Improved Metallic Inkwell, as well one for Joseph L. Ross, Practical Manufacturer of Desks and Chairs, For School, each provide the address at corner of Hawkins and Ivers Streets, Boston.

Full publication information: Joseph L. Ross, Manufacturer and Proprietor, Boston, Mass. Copyright Secured. Uses explained in the Boston Primary School Manual.

Condition: Generally good for a utilitarian object that would have been used by students in the 19th century. Old chalk marks and stains on slate, as well as one small hole. White printed lines on penmanship side quite worn with losses. Toning, darkening, wear, soiling, handling, some losses to printed paper borders on frame.


Kaminski, David. “The Varieties and Complexities of American Handwriting and Penmanship: Library Hand.” Scalar. (3 March 2023).

“Koreznik (Diana) Collection of Art Education Ephemera and Books, Box 66, Item 01.” Online Archive of California. (3 March 2023).

The Massachusetts Teacher (1858-1871). Vol. 16, No. 8 (August 1863). pp. 264-268. (3 March 2023).