Rewards of Merit

Rewards of merit, small tokens of congratulation given to students for good behavior and scholastic accomplishments, have been utilized by teachers for generations. The practice was most popular during the nineteenth century when printing techniques evolved to make this form of ephemera more readily available. A majority of the surviving rewards of merit are printed, as opposed to hand drawn and painted examples that involved significant artistic effort. The earliest rewards of merit were almost always purely of a religious nature, depicting the benefits of piety. Beginning in the early nineteenth century, the rewards of merit gradually became more secular, touching lighter topics such as polite behavior, patriotic awareness, and children's games and other activities.

Rewards of merit, in addition to being examples of a nineteenth century classroom tool, reveal the progress of printing in America as well as the priorities of educators and disciplinarians of the time. AAS's unique collection of nearly 2,000 hand painted, engraved, printed, and chromolithographed examples provide a glimpse into education and cultural issues over a span of almost one hundred years. Rewards of merit may also be found in the sentiment card collection.


The collection is fully cataloged online in the General Catalog.

All rewards of merit in the collection are also digitally available in Readex's American Broadsides and Ephemera, Series I under "rewards of merit." This resource is available onsite at AAS and via subscription from Readex.

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