The New American Cyclopedia, 1857 – 1866<br>A Time Capsule of the 19th century
Books and different bookbinding processes are described in detail. In one rare instance, the volume notes of a New York customer who had the Bible bound in solid gold, costing the then high price of $400. Of special interest is the section that describes the bookselling trade through the ages up to the times. Bookselling is explained both from a publisher standpoint, the bookshops of the times, and history dating to ancient Roman times within nine pages. A seller of books in Rome was known as a bibliopole, and their shop was called a librarii. “In Rome, at that time, booksellers were men of repute, many of whose names have been transmitted to us. Several have obtained creditable distinction for accuracy and taste, and their relations with authors were of the most friendly and familiar character.” After the fall of the Roman Empire, bookselling as a trade fell into decline, until education gained greater importance in the 1300s. Booksellers during this period were encouraged by the universities to “obtain a license, he was obliged to demonstrate his capacity, moral and mental”. By the mid-1800s, bookselling as well as publishing as a trade had become further established. “By the census of 1851 there were in England and Wales 6,905 booksellers and publishers.” The statistics for bookselling and the most popular books sold around the world are denoted as well. At the time the volume was written, the number of American publishers was 385, with no number attached to booksellers overall.
The first bookseller of record in America was Hezekiah Usher, who was selling books as early as 1652 in Boston. His son, as seems to be common practice still today, carried on his father’s business. The first bookselling convention was held back in 1724, also in Boston. Probably the most famous bookseller was the Revolutionary War hero/villain, Benedict Arnold, who combined book selling with being a druggist. Among the most popular books sold noted for 1857 included Uncle Tom’s Cabin (310,000 sold), The Lamplighter (90,000 sold), Life of Barnum (45,000 sold), and Sears’s Wonders of the World (100,000 sold). The different school, medical, and law books that were most widely sold are also represented. Books are further catalogued by most popular topics with the number of reprints sold.
With our modern Internet Age of instant information a Google-click away, 19th century antiquarian volumes like these provide a richer, more engaging experience, as you feel the texture of the pages and read through interesting and rare facts about our history.
Carl Burnham can be reached online at www.SouthpointBooks.com