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.
from the American Antiquarian Society's Rewards of Merit page
1877 Reward of Merit awarded to Addie Van Patter
1901 Reward of Merit
Reverse side shows grades for Sadie Mills,
District No. 3 in Grant Township
Reward of Merit awarded to Gertie Beckwith
Reward of Merit presented to Fred Mitchell
1890 Reward of Merit
Report for Bennie Van Patter on reverse
(more Reward of Merit cards)