Thursday, November 16, 2006

What About Bookselling?

The history of bookselling in America has a special interest. The Spanish settlements drew away from the old country much of its enterprise and best talent, and the presses of Mexico and other cities teemed with publications mostly of a religious character, but many others, especially linguistic and historical, were also published. Bookselling in the United States was of a somewhat later growth, although printing was introduced into Boston as early as 1676, Philadelphia in 1685, and New York in 1693. Franklin had served to make the trade illustrious, yet few persons were engaged in it at the commencement of the 19th century. Books chiefly for scholars and libraries were imported from Europe; but after the second war printing-presses multiplied rapidly, and with the spread of newspapers and education there also arose a demand for books, and publishers set to work to secure the advantages offered by the wide field of English literature, the whole of which they had the liberty of reaping free of all cost beyond that of production. The works of Walter Scott, Lord Byron, Thomas Moore, Robert Southey, William Wordsworth, and indeed of every author of note, were reprinted without the smallest payment to author or proprietor. Half the names of the authors in the so-called "American" catalogue of books printed between 1820 and 1852 are British. By this means the works of the best authors were brought to the doors of all classes in the cheapest variety of forms. In consequence of the Civil War, the high price of labour, and the restrictive duties laid on in order to protect native industry, coupled with the frequent intercourse with England, a great change took place, and American publishers and booksellers, while there was still no international copyright, made liberal offers for early sheets of new publications. Boston, New York and Philadelphia still retained their old supremacy as bookselling centres. Meanwhile, the distinct publishing business also grew, till gradually the conditions of business became assimilated to those of Europe.

In the course of the 16th and 17th centuries the Low Countries for a time became the chief centre of the bookselling world, and many of the finest folios and quartos in our libraries bear the names of Jansen, Blauw or Plantin, with the imprint of Amsterdam, Utrecht, Leiden or Antwerp, while the Elzevirs besides other works produced their charming little pocket classics. The southern towns of Douai and St Omer at the same time furnished polemical works in English.

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