A glimpse into the eighteenth century book trade: How to encourage book buying

I came across a re-print of this wonderful 1745  pamphlet when I was undertaking my Masters research on the Dublin printer George Grierson (1680?-1753). Grierson was the King’s printer and as the only printer allowed to print bibles between 1732 and 1753 the catalogue of books that he printed is quiet dry.  This means that the following collaboration with Jonathan Swift’s printer George Faulkner (1703-1775), who was a colleague and friend of Grierson, is both surprising and out of character. While Faulkner was known as a satirist in his own right (although some have suggested he simply mimicked Swift), the fact that both men signed their names to this, shows they were of a similar disposition and there was a little more to Grierson then meets the eye and that you can’t always judge a printer by his books. If you love books you will enjoy this.

The pamphlet was written during a supposed slump in the book trade to encourage Dubliners to start buying books. As the citizens of Dublin are aware books are of so little use, containing only knowledge and learning, that the authors are suggesting some alternative uses which Dubliners could put their books to. Some of their ideas are quite novel and may send a shiver up the spines of book lovers but bear in mind that it is a satire!

The Humble Petition of George Faulkner and George Grierson, printer and bookseller, Dublin 1745

‘Sheweth, that your petition though Booksellers, call God to witness, that they are not prompted by any desire to gain, to this their humble Application, being able (blessed to God) in case their trade should intirely fail, to live decently, and reputably are known to do, but that it proceeds singly from their regard for the honour and reputation of this metropolis.

Your petitioners can with truth assert, that they have not for a considerable time past sold any books, (though they have at a very great expense provided themselves with the worst) excepting some few old sermons against Popery and the newest Country Dances.

Your petitioners are sensible as any of your honours can be, of the little use, and importance of that learning and knowledge that is contained in books, and would not be misunderstood to recommend to your honours the useless drudgery of reading, which would too much break in upon your precious time. But your petitioners beg leave to suggest that as the reputation of some learning is honourable to a nation abroad, as the reality of it could be prejudicial at home; it might possibly not be amiss to keep up the outward appearances of it, by not suffering your petitions to shut up their shops for want of custom.

Your petitioner humbly conceive that as reading is by no means the necessary consequence of buying books, persons even of the first rank might encourage trade, without the least danger to themselves, many valuable libraries having formally been purchased by persons of rank infinitely above looking into ‘em.

Your petitioners taken ‘em to prove, that a certain number of books well chosen, are cheaper than furniture and wear longer, than a good Genoa damask. One thousand books if collected by the joyner, will, together with the proper wainscot ornaments, shelves and partition, completely furnish one large room, which books one with another, need not exceed two shillings a piece; amounting in all to one hundred pounds; whereas two hundred of Genoa damask which we take to be at least fourteen shillings per yard, which we take to be the lowest price, will amount to one hundred and forty pounds. So that appears to be a wet savings of forty pounds.

Not to mention many other savings and conveniences which would arise to all private families from this kind of furniture … to lap round candles … to light the Tea lamp or to make bottoms to wind worsteds lamp upon; or to pin up Miss’s hair; or to make kites for young Masters; or to wet and put upon his forehead when he falls down and cries; or in short for a thousand other purposes for which, paper has of late been found much more useful, than the old ones of reading and writing…’

Possible objections which might arouse from this are to be cleared up:

‘First that the books so near at hand, may some times tempt their owners to throw away some of their precious time in dipping into [them]… but this we apprehend to have no weight … rendering the head too solid for such trifling amusements.

Secondly… A gentleman might be reflected upon, if he were known to have books in his possession, and be suspected of reading and dullness. But we conceive so groundless a suspicion could not prevail for long, and that injur’d person would soon remove it, by the nature and noble simplicity of his conversation.

Thirdly that this innovation might pave the way for others of a more dangerous nature, and by degrees, introduces some encouragement of other Arts… this danger we apprehend will appear very remote… we will give security that these books… and contents will be foreign…

We now proceed to lay the proposal itself before the publick’

Proceed to calculate the population of Dublin etc.

The public should ‘take each four books per annum, such as they shall chuse will amount in all, to but fourteen shillings a year… Amounts in the whole to 28,000 pounds… we only desire a small profit of the odd 8,000 pounds. A trifling object when compared to the honour and lustre, which this city will receive from it…’

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3 Responses to “A glimpse into the eighteenth century book trade: How to encourage book buying”

  1. Frank Says:

    Interestingly a number of pubs and hotels decorate their establishments with shelves of very old books which are probably never handled by the various clientele which frequent them except for inquisitive bookloving types like myself. This article has also struck a raw nerve as I mournfully contemplate the vast and ever increasing number of books that adorn my shelves, many of which in all likelihood I will never read. Such however is the inescapable cost of being a bibliophile.

  2. Daily Links 21/07/2010 | Irish Publishing News Says:

    […] A glimpse into the eighteenth century book trade: How to encourage book buying Rather nice this one! Read more… […]

  3. puesoccurrences Says:

    Frank- I went to the Winding Stair restaurant (http://www.winding-stair.com/) recently for dinner (yum!) and while it is very sad that this wonderful independent book shop was forced to reduce their floor space they have incorporated the book shop into the space upstairs really well with lots of nice book cases and a photo gallery of the old shop.


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