The Latvian ABC Book
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The obverse of the coin depicts a scene of Latvian peasant children mastering the first reading skills. The lower part features an inscription LATS with a number 1 in the middle. The year 2010 is arranged above the inscription, to the right.
There is a reproduction of a rooster from the oldest known Latvian ABC book in the centre, an inscription ABC arranged in a semi-circle to the left and an inscription "Latviesu abece" in stylised gothic letters in a semi-circle to the right.
Inscriptions LATVIJAS BANKA (Bank of Latvia) and LATVIJAS REPUBLIKA (Republic of Latvia), separated by rhombic dots.
Education begins with learning to read. Reading skills are based on our very first book, the ABC, which explains the relationship between letters and sounds. In ancient Rome and Greece, reading skills were acquired by reading literary texts while the Medieval Europe used religious texts, that were consolidated in a basic set of religious readings, the so called catechism, in the 15th and 16th centuries. The catechism Latvian translations of late 16th century served as ABC books. The first printed ABC books in Europe appeared at the end of the 15th century, and the first Latin ABCs printed in Riga were made at the end of the 16th century.
The first authors of Latvian ABC books were German Lutheran ministers, with the greatest contribution from the Alūksne minister Ernst Glück (1652-1705) and Sunākste minister Gotthard Friedrich Stender (1714-1796). The ABCs with pieces of catechism texts for reading were later replaced by a more practical solution: each letter of the alphabet was accompanied by an illustration and a didactic secular text. The first ABCs in Latvian were printed in Riga in the 1680s, with two printing shops publishing at least six editions of ABCs by the end of the century. The Riga City printing shop, managed by George Matthias Nöller (?-1712), competed with the so-called royal printing shop which, implementing the educational policy of Sweden, was established and supervised by Johann Fischer (1633-1705), General Superintendent of Vidzeme, in 1675 and managed by Johann George Wilcken (?-1701). Most probably it is in the latter printing shop that the first Latvian ABC book was printed around 1683: a fragment of it in the form of uncut sheets was found at the library of the University of Tartu in 1941. It bears an image of a proud rooster symbolising the light of dawn and knowledge. As to the scope and display, this ABC book is similar to the first ABC printed in Swedish in 1660 which was also decorated with the image of a rooster. The oldest known ABC books bearing an image of a rooster were the German ABC printed in Frankfurt around 1575 and the Polish ABC printed in Königsberg in 1578. A bird with a strong beak and a large comb is standing on a small platform, wearing three ribbons over its breast. It seems that its picture has been drawn, taking a rooster on a church spire as a model, and the three ribbons symbolise the rooster's three crows (the first, the second and the third crow).
In the 18th and 19th centuries, the development of Latvian ABC books was influenced by German ABC books; as of the second half of the 19th century, Russian ABCs also left their impact. One could see that the religious texts were replaced with pieces of secular readings, a trend observed in Germany. Illustrations were introduced for each letter of the alphabet, samples of written letters and basis of doing sums, later didactic stories, poems and short popular-science texts on geography, history and natural sciences were added to compile reading-books. The most outstanding ABC and reading-books were developed by Latvian teachers at the end of the 19th century and the first decades of the 20th century. Since the end of the 19th century, the technique of zincography made it possible to insert a lot of colour illustrations in these publications.
For centuries, the ABC book enjoyed a special status in Latvia. This picture book that serves as a bridge between generations has become more attractive over time, so that the launch of the journey represented by reading would be filled with joy and pleasure and each letter would be considered a welcome guest. To this end, the Latvian editions of the ABC book have been illustrated by outstanding Latvian artists. The total number of ABCs in Latvian is close to 200, and together with reprints and updated publications their number exceeds 300.
To pay its respects to the history of Latvian learning, the Bank of Latvia dedicates a coin to the ABC book, the reverse of which features the rooster from the oldest known Latvian ABC book.
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