Finding Old Speech-Language Textbooks

By Pam Marshalla

Q: In your writing and seminars you always reference the ways in which traditional therapists like Van Riper and others worked. I know how to find old articles on-line through ASHA’s archives. But how do you find all the old textbooks you mention?

Excellent question! As the saying goes: It is only by understanding our past that we can understand our present and future.  Understanding the work of past therapists puts today’s practices into perspective, and it helps us analyze all new methods that will come along in the future.

I find old textbooks on-line by searching rare or used bookstores.  Just choose a rare/used book website site (there are many) and type in the author, title, or topic you are seeking.  You will find many selections.  I browse them regularly and buy what I can.

The most I have spent for an old reference has been $50.00.  I paid that for three different books that I felt I had to have in order to be an authority on our history–

  • The first of these gems was Stuttering And Lisping by E. W. Scripture (1912).  He was the therapist Van Riper referred to as his main source for therapy ideas from Germany.
  • The second was Gymnastics of the Voice by O. Guttman (1882) who was Scripture’s teacher in Germany.
  • The third was Speech and Its Defects by S. Potter (1882) a book considered the first on speech disorders to be published in the United States.

Most other books I buy for less than $10.00 or so.  An original Charlie Van Riper can be purchased for less than $3.00 any day of the week because there are so many thousands of them out there.  Just like any antique, the greater the availability, the less the cost.  Van Riper published more books that anyone in the history of our profession as far as I can tell, so they are very inexpensive.  I am sure that Van Riper would have wanted it that way 🙂

I have purchased many original books written by the elocutionists of the 1800’s because they are very cheep.  Nobody wants them.  However a 19th century book written by someone very famous––like Alexander Graham Bell or Benjamin Franklin––can run into the hundreds of dollars, or they are so rare that they are unavailable for purchase.  I read original copies of these posted on-line.  (Did you know that Benjamin Franklin developed a phonetic alphabet?!)

Simply Google-ing the author or title often reveals that the most rare of these books are posted on-line through university libraries.  For example, I have a copy of John Thewall’s Letter to Henry Cline (1810) on my computer. This book is considered the very first tome on therapy in England and it is available through Oxford University’s Library.

Finding what you want takes time.  Knowing what you want takes even more time.  Don’t buy everything you come across.  It is easy to waste a lot of money this way.

Happy hunting and enjoy the reads!  You will be delighted and amazed.

Excellent Historical Accounts


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