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Craig Preservation Lab

Common School Wall Chart

In the Paper Lab, we recently treated a large set of educational wall charts dating from the 1890’s, printed by W.L.Bell & Co. of Kansas City, Missouri.IMG_2972

The set was purchased by a Bloomington resident in 1995 for $25 from a local antique shop. It was donated to our county historical society who in turn recently passed it along to a unit within the university library system. There are 25 intact charts, printed both recto and verso with all manner of subject- literacy, penmanship, geography, physiology, mathematics, and governance. At first the work- though complex- was fairly routine: disassembly, washing, alkalization, mending, pressing. The longer we had it in the lab, the more it revealed aspects of itself in terms of its immense value in documenting American life and education in the late 19th century. The poster reflects the Common School Movement- a development in American education that sought to develop a common curriculum. It began in the 1830’s but went through ferment and change in the 1890’s when this was printed. A parallel movement had risen in Germany in the mid 1800’s as well- the training of teachers could not keep pace with rapidly increasing numbers of students in schools. Wall charts allowed for clearer instruction for greater numbers. Coupled with german expertise in chromolithographic printing, the glory days of the educational wall chart reached a zenith in Europe in the mid 19th century. Our set of charts highlights both technical printing skill and contemporary educational thought in one.

before treatment
before treatment
after treatment
after treatment
before treatment
before treatment
after treatment
after treatment

One plate, with a particularly gruesome physiological theme, displays the effects of prolonged alcohol and tobacco consumption:


All of the physiological plates, this one included, had an interesting printing technique we do not see too often.  In areas that depict blood, viscera, and sometimes hair, it appears that an additional layer of glaze, perhaps just linseed oil, was added on top of the ink to create greater saturation of color.  During aqueous treatment (washing) this particular effect can often blanch- much like the ring left from a wet glass placed on top of a varnished table- in order to rectify it, we were able to swab the foggy areas with isopropyl alcohol to drive the water away that had become bonded within the ink’s oil.

These detail shots show before and after the treatment:

chart pic detail_DT
chart pic detail_AT

After each sheet was treated, a cloth-covered drop front box was made to hold unbound charts, with the original roller in its own compartment. It will now reside in our Auxiliary Storage Facility (ALF).

Apparently, the Common School Movement was criticized as promoting Protestant values during the period when the US saw an influx of Roman Catholic immigrants.  Such strife eventually led to the Parochial School Movement.

Today’s debates over home-schooling versus public education and evolutionary theory versus creationism are just a continuance of how we, as Americans, are constantly struggling to decide how to educate our children. Different interest groups compete for dominance over curriculum depending on the social conditions of the time.

For more about changes in the American curriculum, read Kliebard, Herbert M. The Struggle for the American Curriculum 1893-1958. New York: Routledge, 1995.


  • Doug Sanders says:

    No, I’m sorry- nothing new to offer.

  • Chelsey M Harding says:

    Hi i have pieces of this chart and also was curious of its worth- its been a few years. Is there any new information? thank you

  • Doug Sanders says:

    I’m sorry, there are no current plans for digitizing this set of wall charts.

  • Emily says:

    Will you be digitizing these and making them available online?

  • Doug Sanders says:

    That’s very interesting! Thanks for leaving a comment. Unfortunately, there seems to be a lack of information about these. I only know what is stated in the post; wish I could be more help.

  • Linda Helsel says:

    My Great, Great Grandfather – Professor John Baker Holland of Blair County, PA, developed the Holland’s Common School Charts in the late 1800’s (possibly between 1870 and 1880). They were the first of its kind as a visual teaching aid. Do you have any info on these or know where I can get info on them?

  • Doug Sanders says:

    That’s great to hear another one has turned up. I’m sorry I can’t provide any more information than what is stated in the post. Thanks for finding us!

  • Chryslias says:

    I have one of these charts. Mine has wear, tear and some damage mostly at the bottom. The last date is 1895. I also am curious about it’s use, origin and the dollar value. I live in Missouri. Mother died this year at age 94 and this chart was used in the one room school house when she was very young in a rural area of Missouri. Any information would be appreciated. Thanks lots.

  • Doug Sanders says:

    I’m sorry- I don’t. As conservators, it’s not within our skill set or often the object’s best interest to know appraisal value. It’s nice to hear you have a similar chart. A third turned up here in Indiana recently.

  • Karyn L. says:

    We have the exact intact chart. Do you have any idea what it may be worth?

  • Dina K. says:

    Doug, these look amazing! Thanks for sharing!

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