Libraries and the Book Trade

Library Review

ISSN: 0024-2535

Article publication date: 1 February 2002




Gerard, D. (2002), "Libraries and the Book Trade", Library Review, Vol. 51 No. 1, pp. 45-59.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Although the theme of the book is ostensibly the changing relationship of libraries with the book trade from the sixteenth to the twentieth centuries, the occasion – the 21st annual conference on the history of the book trade – offered unlimited excursions into the ever‐more arcane reaches of bibliophily. Eight bibliographic scholars delivered the papers printed here: Simon Eliot, Conor Fahy, Donald Kerr, Elizabeth Leedham‐Green, Keith Manley, Leslie A. Morris, Esther Potter and Julian Roberts. Among those attending were archivists, antiquarian booksellers, research fellows, librarians, a head teacher and a biochemist. To judge by the substantial nourishment supplied by the speakers, their hunger must have been appeased. A sampling only is attempted here.

Elizabeth Leedham‐Green led the way with a trenchant analysis of the relations between booksellers and libraries in sixteenth‐century Cambridge. Her style was that of the headmistress on speech day, crisp and incisive, with strictly controlled conclusions deriving from extensive shelf searches; no romancing, no room for (in her words) “impressionistic” views. Keith Manley escorted his listeners through a familiar landscape, the circulating libraries of the eighteenth century, though he shone his torch into some unregarded tracts; namely, the commercial enterprises which attached themselves to the business of lending books for profit: toyshops, costumiers, wig makers, music stores, manufacturers of household ornaments. His paper was the result of scrupulous examination of contemporary newspapers whose adverts yielded much of the evidence; consequently, it greatly enhances the heavily consulted article of Hilda Hamlyn’s in The Library, Vol. 5 No. 1, pp. 1846‐7.

A brilliant shaft of torchlight was thrown by Simon Eliot on to the Stationers’ Company’s practices when responding to the demands prompted by copyright and legal deposit legislation, illuminating specifically two personalities, George and Joseph Greenhill, warehouse keepers and treasurers of the English stock. In exhaustive and exhausting detail, Eliot demonstrates a basic truth: as in all human intercourse, personality is of paramount significance.

The fascination of book collecting, not necessarily from base acquisitive motives, is exemplified in two papers: Donald Kerr’s sketch of Sir George Grey, a fascinating figure – relatively obscure, it would seem – in nineteenth century colonial history; soldier, explorer, scholar, colonial governor twice of New Zealand, of South Australia and of the Cape Colony. His benefactions enrich the public libraries of Cape Town and Auckland. How many readers of Library Review had heard of him? Or of another, more typical benefactor, William Augustus White, an American business tycoon, whose wealth was founded on the now disgraced fur trade. Unlike Folger and Huntingdon, he actually made use of his rare and impressive acquisitions, and published work based on them; his collections are now a valuable component of the foremost US academic libraries, Harvard, Yale, Huntingdon, University of Chicago. White is an example of the private, privileged collector with a sense of public duty.

The material in the papers published herein will doubtless form the basis of even more recondite research in future. What one would hope to see in forthcoming years will surely be more generalised conclusions about the motives, ethics, philosophy behind the accumulation of printed books in public and private collections, a practice now over 500 years old, and still in evaluation despite increasing intrusion from the electronic media.

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