Obscurity of the Day: The New First Reader


Here’s an example of the very first continuing series that the Chicago Daily News used on its daily comics page. As I’ve mentioned before this paper was an important pioneer in daily comics and syndication.

The New First Reader is a take-off on the rhyming primers used in elementary schools back in those days. You’ll surely recognize the type – it’s a gag that Mad magazine has been using for half a century, even though this sort of school book was already pretty well extinct by the time that magazine premiered. The Daily News feature began on June 22, 1900, with the first installment drawn by K.E. Garman. Garman signed himself ‘Gar’ throughout his cartooning career – it took some serious sleuthing to uncover his identity. Starting with the second installment the art was credited to a fellow who signed himself Newman (or something like that – the signature was always really small and tough to decipher).

The New First Reader ran regularly on the comics page, ending on 9/30/1901 after a very respectable run in that era of features that seldom ran more than a dozen times.

3 comments on “Obscurity of the Day: The New First Reader

  1. You said: “You’ll surely recognize the type – it’s a gag that Mad magazine has been using for half a century, even though this sort of school book was already pretty well extinct by the time that magazine premiered.” Can you substantiate that comment? I am currently writing an article on Mad (and it’s imitations and precursors) and would like to use this sample. Frank Jacobs was the writer who usually did these things. Weren’t the books they were based on still around?

  2. Well, I confess that I am no expert on primers. All I can say is that as far as I know, the type of rhyming morally instructive primer being imitated was a product of the 19th century, maybe up to the 00s and 10s. Certainly by the 50s, the ‘Dick And Jane’ type books were the norm in schools. They may have employed rhymes in some versions, but they were no longer the type that sought to teach the child a moral lesson – the newer primers were meant to have at least a modicum of reading appeal to encourage children to want to read, so they told simple stories and dumped the Sunday school sermons. On the other hand, maybe the ‘sermon’ type were employed in religious schools much later; I wouldn’t know about that.

    –Allan

  3. It’s more likely that both Garman and Jacobs were satirizing the McGuffey Readers, which were in huge circulation from the mid-1800s until Dick & Jane took over in the late 1950s/early 1960s. The ones they’re mocking are the Primer level and the first reader.

    You can still buy McGuffey Readers, but as far as I know you can only buy an entire set of them (7 volumes) and it’s over $100. Perhaps you can get individual copies via used book websites or eBay.

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