Reference > Cambridge History > The Period of the French Revolution > Book Production and Distribution, 1625–1800 > The Retail Bookseller
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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XI. The Period of the French Revolution.

XIV. Book Production and Distribution, 1625–1800.

§ 32. The Retail Bookseller.


The business of a retail bookseller was carried on mainly by direct transactions in his shop. In the eighteenth century, the rubric posts, referred to by Ben Jonson in his oft-quoted lines “To my Bookseller,” were still in use as a means of advertising new publications, and Pope makes mention of them as a conspicuous feature of bookshops in his day. Upon these posts were stuck up the title-pages of works to which the bookseller desired to call attention. Lintot made extensive use of them, and it was near the end of the century before they disappeared, John Sewell in Cornhill, according to Nichols, 31  being, perhaps, the last who exhibited the leading authors in this way. It seems that, about the middle of the century, the custom of displaying new books upon the counter was an innovation recently adopted from Oxford and Cambridge booksellers. 32  For the extension of his business, a pushing tradesman would also be active in the circulation of “proposals” (prospectuses) for subscriptions to forthcoming books; and there were yet other devices at the command of an enterprising man, such as that adopted by Payne, who, in 1768, sent out copies of Richard Gough’s Anecdotes of British Topography, to such as were likely to buy them, with the result, as Gough records, that, when William Brown, the other bookseller, had sold but five, Payne had disposed of forty of fifty.   56

Note 31. Nichols, Literary Anecdotes, vol. III, p. 405. [ back ]
Note 32Ibid., vol. IV, p. 440. [ back ]

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