- Worlds of Print: Diversity in the Book Trade
As the title suggests, the topics of the papers delivered at the 21st Print Networks Conference in July 2004 range from the attempted Scottish colonization of Darien to the Australian Encyclopaedia, from Melbourne's first megabookstore to New Zealand's "Octopus," and from Masonic publishing to Bodoni typography. The geographical spread, however, is decidedly biased toward Scotland, and although the blurb suggests that the collection will "reflect the complex networks that existed between book trade people in the British Isles and the wider colonial world," the only outposts appearing, apart from the Darien colony in Central America, are Australia and New Zealand. England itself is represented by the myth of a Manchester greengrocer turned bookseller, a skeleton in W. & R. Chambers's closet, and the link between patent medicine and distribution networks—all in all, a varied collection of mainstream and peripheral aspects of the British book trade.
Two articles merit a closer look: Jane Frances's survey of schoolmasters' libraries and Jane Thomas's paper on Elgin's circulating libraries. After a slightly roundabout discourse through the large Plume and Kedermister libraries, Frances arrives at the book collections of the schoolmaster-vicars Beasley and Robertshaw, who both died in the 1740s. Beasley left his books for the public good; the fate of Robertshaw's library is not made clear. Catalogs of both libraries are extant in the Buckinghamshire Record Office. Frances then moves on to two auction catalogs of the 1690s representing the libraries of schoolmasters Thomas Balguy and a Mr. Hodgson, both of which consist of the expected textbooks. The Balguy catalog, slightly surprisingly, also contains portraits and maps. It is, unfortunately, not made clear whether it is absolutely certain that the auction catalogs represent only the books owned by these schoolmasters, or whether the bookseller-auctioneers were up to their usual trick of blending in leftover stock of their own, or whether the catalogs represent the complete collection of the schoolmasters involved, or whether perhaps the heirs had held back items. Frances admits that her article is just a "chance journey through books owned by individuals" (196) and nowhere near an exhaustive investigation of the subject. She is quite correct in saying that there is still a "potential wealth of information on the world of the seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century book owners which may be buried in the records" (198). Let us hope that in-depth cataloging and online access of archival records will make these treasures more readily available for research.
The article about the Elgin circulating library, established in 1789 by Isaac Forsyth, shows a small rural town in Scotland expanding in the wake of industrialization with its adjunct diversification. No longer was it enough to be able to buy farm implements; the cultural aspect of life had to be catered to as well. Forsyth was the first to fill this market niche with a bookshop–cum–circulating library. The library was stocked with large quantities of popular reading material, mainly fiction, as customers were more likely to want to read fiction than to buy it. Forsyth did very well until the 1820s, when personal adversity and growing competition forced him into a partnership. Business seemed to pick up for a while, but in 1844 the curtain closed for Forsyth and Young. A number of subsequent owners tried to raise the standard of the library (whether real or just as window dressing [End Page 119] is not entirely clear), but the old stock no longer sufficed to satisfy the ever more demanding clientele. A link with Mudie's Select London Library, bringing in the latest titles, was the only way to save the library from going down completely. The life and times of Elgin's circulating library is a well-researched article that offers a good insight into the difficulties encountered by booksellers in a remote part of the British Isles.
With these two articles on libraries, this volume...