With yellow school buses all over town, it is clear that school is back in session. September seemed like a perfect month for sharing several classroom items from our collection: a rubber stamp set from 1932, a play program from 1929, and a report card from 1883.
The Classroom Printer, a large wooden box filled with rubber stamps featuring such designs as letters, words, animals, people, and buildings, inspired this reflection on the schoolrooms of the past. Although our stamp set is now an antique collector’s item, in its day it was an indispensable piece of classroom technology. A brief history of the rubber stamp shows how its invention greatly enhanced everyday people’s ability to communicate through printed words and images.
The Rubber Stamp: A Small But Mighty Tool
It is always fun to see how far an artifact can take us, and this month our Classroom Printer rubber stamps will take us first to the Amazon jungle, the source of rubber trees. Long known by natives as a waterproof coating and an adhesive, India rubber was first used outside the Amazon during the 18th and early 19th centuries to make pencil erasers. In the 1820s, the first waterproof raincoats utilized this rubber for their repellent coating. However while the wearers might have remained dry, the rubber coating also made them sticky. Somehow rubber needed to be made more stable, and in 1839, Charles Goodyear accomplished this through the addition of sulfur. Later in 1851, Goodyear received a patent for vulcanized rubber, a hard substance that was resistant to temperature changes, non-adherent, and almost completely insoluble. When a mixed sheet, consisting of rubber with additives, was heated to 280-290 degrees Fahrenheit, the rubber sheet became malleable for long enough to press it into a mold before it hardened (vulcanized) (1).
While there were several different claimants to the status of rubber stamp creator, evidence seems to point to James Orton Woodruff as its true inventor. In a store during the mid-1860s, Woodruff observed washtubs with names and item numbers printed on their sides using a kind of stamp. Noting rubber’s effectiveness at applying ink, he set out to make rubber stamp letters. Ultimately, he found that small vulcanizers used in dental offices could help him create the stamps he desired (2).
The first rubber stamps were usually packaged and sold in “marking sets” that included the characters on today’s keyboards (3).
The field of business was the first to make use of rubber stamps for creating more professional and cost-effective signage. No longer did a business owner have to handwrite, stencil, or pay for sign printing. Now, he could create his own signs and merchandise labels using a set of rubber stamps. In the 1920s, rubber stamp sets became popular for classroom use, enabling teachers to make flashcards and worksheets. During the Depression when it became harder for schools to afford textbooks, these stamp sets helped teachers create their own materials. Classroom marking sets, like our 1932 Classroom Printer, could be purchased from door-to-door salesmen (4). Now that we are in a day of photocopied worksheets, full-color textbooks, and educational video and computer resources, our rubber stamp set helps us reflect on the challenges and triumphs of teachers in the past as they worked to open up the world of learning to their students.
Special thanks to the Minnesota Center for Book Arts for their research assistance on the history and influence of rubber stamps.
Review of 1929: Honoring E.C. Glass for 50 Years of Service
Lynchburg has shown herself proud of the Glass name as she honors the contributions of that family to our local community, our state, and our country. While Senator Carter Glass receives much attention for his distinguished political career, his brother’s name might come up more often in everyday conversation. Today’s E. C. Glass High School was named in honor of Edward Christian Glass (1852-1931), the second superintendent of the city’s schools who served in that post for over 50 years (5). Our second school artifact, a booklet entitled Glass’s Speller: A Review in Sixteen Episodes, is the program from a dramatic production organized by the Lynchburg School Board and Teachers’ Club in 1929 to honor his 50years of service as superintendent. Narrated by the “Spirit of Learning,” the review follows the development of Lynchburg’s schools and pays tribute to his character and contributions as it features dramatic and musical talent from the area schools.
At the close of the review, the “Spirit of Learning” adds E. C. Glass to “the list of the earth’s great scholars” declaring that “in the pioneer days of Virginia’s public school system, [he] blazed a trail in education which has since become a highway for the youth of our state.”
On the Roll of Honor: A High School Report Card
Finally, it is report card time. In February 1883, Frank Johnson was placed on the “Roll of Honor” with an average of 96 2/5 recorded on his report card and signed by F. Roane. Founded in 1871, Lynchburg’s public school system was just over ten years old, but it would still be another 16 years before the completion of the first Lynchburg High School on Federal Street between 9th and 10th Streets, which combined all of Lynchburg’s white high school classes at one facility (see image below). Built by noted architect Edward Frye, the Lynchburg News hailed it as “probably the handsomest and best equipped High School building in the South” (6).
Over the next ten years, Lynchburg grew rapidly and soon required a larger high school building. When the new building opened on Park Avenue in 1910, the original Federal Street building became the Frank Roane School, an elementary school named for young Frank Johnson’s teacher. In 1920, the Park Avenue high school took the name of E. C. Glass, and finally, in 1953, the present-day E. C. Glass High School on Memorial Avenue was dedicated.
To check out images of Lynchburg’s schools, some still in use and some only in memory, visit Nancy Marion’s photo collection.
- Sheila McNellis Asato,“Rubber Stamps – New Phenomena or Ancient Tradition” (June 2003): 5-6 (text of article provided by the Minnesota Center for Book Arts).
- Asato, 7-8.
- Asato, 8.
- Maja Beckstrom, “Stamp of Approval: The Popularity of Rubber Stamps Among Artists, Collectors and Crafters is Marked by a New Exhibit at the Minnesota Center for Book Arts,” St. Paul Pioneer Press, January 17, 2004 (text provided by Minnesota Center for Book Arts).
- James M. Elson, Lynchburg, Virginia: The First Two Hundred Years, 1786-1986 (Lynchburg: Warwick House Publishers, 2004), 367-368.
- S. Allen Chambers, Jr., Lynchburg: An Architectural History (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1981), 317.
--Author: Brandi Marchant, Museum Guide