9 thoughts on “The Government Printing Office

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    The firm of Carey & Lea of Philadelphia was one of the most important publishers in America in the 1820’s and 1830’s. Called the first “publisher in the modern sense,”(1) Carey & Lea set out to create authors as market forces. They took the financial risks of such ventures, and worked to cultivate their markets: it is particularly as a market-savvy firm that they are recognized. And it is in the field of fiction that they are best remembered, “their speed, skill, and resourcefulness in exploiting” that market.(2) The focus of this paper will be on the nature and flow of their business during the years from 1833 to 1836. These years were between the flush years of the 1820’s and the great financial disasters of the late 1830’s. Through a combination of business and cultural factors, this was also a crucial time in the formation of a fiction market, in which Carey & Lea, as the premier publisher of their day, played a leading role.

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    Publishers of Philadelphia

    The firm of Carey, Lea & Blanchard (referred to here, for convenience, as Carey & Lea), the successor to the promient publishing house of Matthew Carey & Co., was formed in 1833 with the appointment of William Blanchard as partner. The firm was already well established, and under the helm of its founder, Matthew Carey, had made publishing history since its founding in 1785. Matthew Carey began as publisher of the Pennsylvania Evening Herald that year, but soon left the newspaper to found his publishing enterprise. His young son Henry, (who later added a middle name, Charles, in memory of a brother who died as an infant), born 1792, was working in the business very early. By age twelve, Henry was managing his father’s branch store at 229 Market Street, and by fifteen he was managing the finances of the firm. In 1817 he was elevated to junior partner and the company’s name was changed to Carey & Son. In 1822, after marrying Matthew Carey’s daughter, Frances Anne, Isaac Lea, was brought in as junior partner. He was a member of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, and, despite his work at the company, would continue pursuing his scientific studies in geology. The firm was now called Matthew Carey & Sons. Matthew Carey retired, his share bought out by Henry, in 1824. However, his influence would remain strong until his death in 1839. Likewise, the company would continue paying him a handsome salary, and some of his incidental expenses.
    Henry’s younger brother, Edward Carey, who had been working in publishing in England since 1822, joined the firm in 1827. He left in 1829, but during his brief stay the company was known as Carey, Lea & Carey. He joined in a publishing partnership with Abraham Hart. With his departure, Carey & Lea was formed.

    In 1833, William A. Blanchard was named partner, and the firm was renamed Carey, Lea & Blanchard. William Blanchard had joined the firm in 1812. One account says that “no partner could have been more silent than Blanchard. A faithful and unobtrusive employee before, he remained equally obscure as a partner, and presumably took no creative part in publishing policy.” (3) However, Blanchard seems to have had a strong influence on the day-to-day operations of the firm, because the other principals took more time, once Blanchard was minding the home office, to work on their own writing efforts.

    Henry Carey decided to retire from book publishing in 1838. With his departure, the firm was renamed to Lea & Blanchard. Carey’s outside interests included political economy, and he had begun the three-year processing of publishing his three-volume Principles of Political Economy in 1837. He went on to write Past, Present and Future in 1848, Principles of Social Science, published between 1858 and 1860, and The Unity of Law in 1872. The Principles of Social Science was widely translated and reprinted. Politically, Henry Carey was aligned with his father, a staunch nationalist and economic protectionist in the 1840’s. He helped organize the Republican Party in 1856, and died in 1879.

    Isaac Lea, too, had a rich life outside the company, and after his retirement from Lea & Blanchard in 1851, he devoted himself to his beloved geology and passed his interest in the publishing firm to his son, Henry Charles Lea. Isaac Lea continued publishing geological studies into the 1880’s, dying in 1886.

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    The Firm Finds A Market

    In the early 1820’s Carey & Lea were primarily publishers of works of medicine and economics, with each segment taking roughly twenty percent of their output. Works of law, history, and travel were also well represented. Fiction, however, was not a major component, with, for example, only 5 of 42 titles in 1822 or 2 of 28 in 1823.(5)
    However, two factors were converging to create a market for fiction. One was a cultural easing of prejudice against the form; the other factor was the Christmas market.

    Research has placed the emergence of a broad popular market for fiction in the late 1840’s and 1850’s (although other research suggests that this date may be much earlier).(6) And it does seem that the broadest markets for fiction did not appear until the early 1850’s. However, the popularity of Christmas literary annuals in the late 1820’s and 1830’s must be taken as evidence of the beginnings of a market for fiction. Likewise, the growth of the annual, in the case of Carey & Lea, shows how the seasonal imperative of Christmas began to distort the publishing rhythm. Although data for the 1820’s is missing in this preliminary study, by the mid-1830’s the focus of Carey & Lea’s publishing year was on the Christmas season.(7)

    Carey & Lea began issuing a Christmas literary annual in 1825, dated for the new year of 1826. Their first issue, The Atlantic Souvenir: A Christmas and New Year’s Offering, was published in a run of 2,000 or 3,000 (the figures are ambiguous), at a time when the average run for Carey & Lea was 1,167 copies.(8) The initial investment in the annual was, if not cautious, judicious: they spent $2,600 (if they printed 2,000) to $3,285 (if there had been a run of 3,000). At that time, for a first edition, the average cost of a book was $1,066. The annual had seven plates (illustrations), and this was unusual: none of the works of fiction listed in the Cost Book for that year contained any illustrations: that distinction was usually reserved for texts of medicine or travel. But more importantly, in the Cost Book they recorded what they hoped to gross (if they had sold the entire run) from the sales of the annual: $3,333.00 for a run of 2,000 or $5,000.00 for a run of 3,000, a decent profit. Of all the jobs listed in the Cost Book, the 1826 Souvenir was the second most expensive in total cost, and it was the second largest press run (whether they ran 2,000 or 3,000).

    Apparently the Atlantic Souvenir for 1826 was rewarding, because another was issued for 1827. That year, they put even more money into it, increasing its budget to $5,040.12, and its run to 4,500 copies. In order to make it an elegant, desirable work, they added more illustrations (11 engravings, some by prominent artists), increasing those costs to $808.00 (as contrasted to payments to authors and editors of $622.00). It was colorful, printed in part on colored paper (green and pink), and all of it was “on fine paper, profusely illustrated, and sumptuously bound.” It is ironic that their experience in the expensive, exacting, and expensively illustrated medical text market would serve them so well in the production of expensively illustrated Christmas annuals. In all, they hoped to gross $7,500 from the annual. It was the most expensive identifiable single job that year, and had the second greatest run.(9)

    For the 1828 annual, and until Carey & Lea sold the annual in 1832, costs plateaued at around $11,000 ($11,758.67 for the 1828 annual; $10,752.00 for 1829; $12,548.52 for 1830; $12,609.00 for 1831; and $12,443.00 for 1832). Runs, however, generally increased, from 7,000 for the 1828 annual to 10,500 for the 1831 annual to 10,000 for the 1832 issue. The cost of the Souvenir in relation to the total run of Carey & Lea (as per the books listed in the Cost Book), however, increased. For 1828, the Souvenir represented around 20% of the total identifiable costs ($11,758.57 of $57,150.04); by 1830 it was taking around 31% of total costs ($12,609 of $40,462).(10) These rising costs must have been worrisome.

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    Christmas Annuals

    Carey & Lea had hit it big in the 1820’s with James Fenimore Cooper. After luring the author to their shop in 1825, Cooper published The Last of the Mohicans in 1826. Within a year he published five other novels with Carey & Lea, including a reprint of The Last of the Mohicans. Thereafter, he wrote about a novel a year through the late 1820’s and 1830’s; however, after his initial big success he (and Carey & Lea) saw a steady decline in popularity, profits and, consequently, press runs in the first editions; even reprints of his novels failed to sell well. Henry Carey, writing to Cooper in 1829, wrote of the short lifespan of published works: “The sale of books in this country is only for a few days or weeks, and they pass away, almo st as if they had never been.” For Carey & Lea, finding another (fresh) Cooper-like author would have meant a great deal. (11)
    The firm had had some good success publishing British authors, but due to the peculiarities of the copyright law, their publishing of British novels (including Sir Walter Scott and Jane Austen) could never be as profitable as publishing an American author. Since there was no copyright reciprocity, American publishers could publish any foreign novel with impunity. British novels were quite popular in America; indeed, until the creation of a market for American authors, British authors were considered the only respectable writers. However, since anyone could rush a foreign book into type, the spoils lay with anyone who could put the work into print first. Carey & Lea’s letters are filled with descriptions of these dramas, as books were rushed off ship, through customs, and into the hands of teams of printers. Small fortunes were made or lost on a day’s delay, as these books tended to sell immediately. For Carey & Lea, some of their best sellers came from reprinting the works of Sir Walter Scott (who died in 1832), and Jane Austen, whose Pride and Prejudice was cautiously printed in 1832 in a run of 750. But Carey & Lea’s subsequent search for another big American author never met with as much success as they had with Cooper. (12)

    The literary annuals — the Christmas annuals — have rightly been written of as the emissaries of fiction, carrying the novel into American homes, and the Souvenir, in particular, has received high praise — it’s been called “the greatest literary annual.” (13) Much research has been written of the annuals’ pivotal role in the creation of a market for fiction. From the perspective of their publishers, they must have been both blessings and banes. For, although they were big and steady sellers, their costs were quite high, and, since they were year-specific, once the gift-giving season had passed, their salability would have dropped off significantly. A canny publisher must have faced quite a dilemma.

    With the average cost of a book in the early 1830’s running around $1,200,(14) Carey could print eight, ten or even twelve new novels for the cost of one literary annual. If a new Cooper is discovered, then so much the better. Each literary annual contained the works of a number of authors, including ones soon to be famous, such as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. But how could a publisher discern which author was popular in such a compilation? Publishing discrete books could have been seen as a better gauge for an individual author’s popularity.

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    The Growth of Fiction

    Carey & Lea sold The Atlantic Souvenir to S.G. Goodrich of New York in 1832, who combined it with his famous Token. David Kaser interprets this as a “one of the few cases when [Carey’s] judgement erred,” (15) for this was at the peak of the annual vogue, a vogue which would carry well into the 1850’s. However, perhaps Carey had another reason.
    After a year without an annual, 1832, Carey & Lea had enough authors to go in a big way into Christmas-targeted fiction in 1833 by more than doubling production from the year before, and tripling the number of novels from their Christmas annual years. The annuals had opened up another market: the market for books as Christmas gifts.(16)

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    Seasonal Variations

    Thought of as a manufacturer, Carey & Lea would have wanted their pace of work, expenses, and output to be level throughout the year. Seasonal variations, whether in sales, or production, would inevitably lead to slack times, and, more disturbingly, to sudden spurts in bills which would need to be paid from ready cash. Despite this, Carey & Lea’s production schedule, as revealed by its receipts, had distinct seasonal variations.

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    Dark Skies

    But the economy’s slump, although serious, was not long lived. It, and Carey & Lea’s fortunes, rebounded in the spring. By fall, Carey & Lea were ready for a good Christmas in 1835. Their production of novels had returned to its 1833 level. The big runs in the fall were two collections by Washington Irving (the Crayon Miscellany, subtitled “Containing Legends of the conquest of Spain,” in a run of 5,000 and costing only $.12 each unbound, $.50 each bound and a new edition of 2,000 of Alhambra: A series of tales and sketches of the Moors and Spainards, and costing $.16 each pre-bound), and a novel by Robert Montgomery Bird (another previously successful author), Hawks of Hawk Hollow, costing $.48 each post-bound in a run of 3,000. Horse Shoe Robinson: A tale of the Tory ascendency by John Pendleton Kennedy, had an initial run of 1,500 of its third edition, but it did well, and they printed another 1,500 (and ultimately a second, third, and fourth edition, totaling in all 6,000). This caution may have been because of the high cost of the book, $.72 each. (24) The Irving books were the big sellers, as he was at the “peak of [his] literary career,” (just before his drive for respectability would make him unmarketable, as he began writing more serious, less popular works). (25)
    Although a return to normalcy was hoped for, dark skies lay before the firm and the country with a depression, which would be showing the signs of its severity by 1838. With the economic turmoil started, in part, by Jackson’s second attack on the financial system, rough times lay ahead for the firm.

    By 1838, Henry Carey was ready to quit. Not only had his outside interest in writing had long since eclipsed his interest in the firm, he had also been in the book business for more than thirty-six years. The combination of factors led to an announcement on October 1, 1838, dissolving the partnership of Henry Carey, Isaac Lea, and William Blanchard. Lea and Blanchard were, naturally, to resume business, but despite successes publishing Charles Dickens’s first works in America, Poe, and others, the economics of book publishing had changed to the point that rich profits from fiction were over:

    The system of cheap publications, arising from the extreme depression of business between 1839 and 1843, rendered general literature less attractive. It was impossible to sell a work of fiction except in paper, and large stocks of Cooper’s novels, bound in cloth and utterly unsalable, had to be stripped of their covers and done up in paper to find a market. The house gradually withdrew from enterprises like these… (26)

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    Christmas, Business, Commercialism and Timing

    To even have a debate as to whether Christmas is commercial is a fool’s errand in the United States. The only questions seem to lie as to when it happened. For many, they would point to their childhood as that simpler, better time, where Christmas was, if not commercial, then, at least, less commercial. If not their childhood, then, perhaps their parents, or their grandparents.
    The question, then, becomes one of timing. Recent research (27) suggests that the dividing line between Christmas past and Christmas commercial is false, that the holiday was created almost fully clothed as a commercial holiday in the early 1820’s. It is not remarkable, then, that firms were gearing for Christmas sales, at a time when markets were difficult to find, transportation awkward and expensive, and production costs were high.

    Carey & Lea was the kind of firm which is honored in American business circles. It changed the paradigm of sales, for a time, and the market. It took the kind of entrepreneurial risks which create new markets, it shouldered the risks, and its principals reaped the profits. It epitomized the kind of capitalism which was becoming the norm in the 1830’s. Carey & Lea learned how to make money from the book industry, and, for a time, they did.

    More important, however, is their cultural impact. The firm changed what Americans read and enjoyed; it brought them what they wanted, perhaps even before they knew they wanted it.

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    1 Stern, Madeline B., ed. Publishers for Mass Entertainment in Nineteenth Century America. Boston: G.K. Hall & Co, 1980, p. 76.
    2 Charvat, William. The Profession of Authorship in America, 1800-1870: The Papers of William Charvat. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, p. 80.
    3 Tebbel, John. A History of Book Publishing in the United States: Volume I, The Creation of an Industry, 1630-1865. New York: R.R. Bowker, 1972, p. 370.
    4 Biographical and firm history from: Kaser, David. Messrs. Carey & Lea of Philadelphia: A Study in the History of the Booktrade. Philadelphia: U. of Philadelphia Press, 1957; Publishers for Mass Entertainment; A History of Book Publishing; and Van Doren, Charles. Webster’s American Biographies. Springfield, Mass.: Merriam-Webster, Inc. 1984.
    5 Messers. Carey & Lea, p. 72.
    6 Ronald Zboray’s A Fictive People: Antebellum Economic Development and the American Reading Public, New York: Oxford University Press, 1993, pp. 177, 163 (Table 15), points to the 1840’s and 1850’s; however, William J. Gilmore’s Reading Becomes a Necessity of Life: Material and Cultural Life in Rural New England, 1780-1835. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1989, suggests an earlier date; see, for example, p. 208.
    7 The primary sources for this study are: Kaser, David, ed. The Cost Book of Carey & Lea, 1825-1838. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1963, and Account Book vol. 38 of the Matthew Carey MSS Collection at the American Antiquarian Society, Worcester, Massachusetts.
    8 These figures are culled from the Cost Book. Although useful, these cannot be considered definitive, as the Cost Book generally listed only first runs and not later editions. Despite this, it is a reasonable gauge and is probably the only source of any reliability for any of this data.
    9 Souvenir information from Cost Book, pp. 275-284; “sumptuously bound” from Messers. Carey & Lea, p. 138.
    10 Figures from Kaser, Cost Book. Numbers from 1829 and 1831 are too fragmentary to give accurate total costs — for example, the Cost Book listings for 1829 have figures for only 16 of 38 titles identified by Kaser in Messers Carey & Lea, p. 72.
    11 Quote from Carey in Charvat, The Profession of Authorship, p. 82; other information from Messers Carey & Lea, p. 81, and Charvat, William. Literary Publishing in America, 1790-1850. Amherst: The University of Massachusetts, p. 54.
    12 Copyright information from Messers Carey & Lea, p. 24; Scott from Messers Carey & Lea, p. 110; Austen from Messers Carey & Lea, p. 54. Scholarship by Michael Winship, American Literary Publishing in the Mid-Nineteenth Century: The Business of Ticknor and Fields. Cambridge (U.K.): Cambridge University Press, 1995, esp. pp. 137-138) describes how the firm of Ticknor and Fields practiced the “courtesy of the trade” in copyright (royalty) payments. These payments, non-existent in the 1840’s, increased in the 1850’s.
    13 Charvat, The Profession of Authorship, p. 78.
    14 from an analysis of yearly costs from Cost Book, pp. 79-123. For 1831, the Cost Book has figures on 48 of the 64 titles Kaser identified. From these partial figures, in 1831, the last year that coherent figures can be extracted, the average cost was $1,159, with a run of 1,525. For 1830, the average cost was $1,287, with an average run of 1,583.
    15 Messers Carey & Lea, p. 142.
    16 See Stephen Nissembaum’s The Battle for Christmas. My references are to a manuscript copy, dated June 27, 1995; see esp. pp. 171-183.
    17 Information for this and subsequent genre category charts are from Kaser, Messers. Carey & Lea, p. 72.
    18 Strictly speaking, it is not a classic account book — it is more of a Journal, as described in Winship, American Literary Publishing, p. 26. A classic account book has separate pages for each entity the company dealt with — the entry, for example, for J. Kates & Co., above, would be on a page devoted solely to J. Kates & Co. expenses and payments. The American Antiquarian Society catalog, however, refers to it as Account Book, v. 38.
    19 Desilver’s Philadelphia Directory and Stranger’s Guide for 1833. Phila: Robert Desilver, for March, 1833; and Desilver’s Philadelphia Directory and Stranger’s Guide for 1835 & 1836. Philadelphia, Published by Robert Desilver, 110 Walnut St., For April, 1835
    20 The Christmas season is defined here as payments made from the first week of November through the third week of February. Given the presumed lag from issuance of a bill to its payment, this would cover production work done from around late September through late December.
    21 Kaser, Messers. Carey & Lea, p. 55.
    22 Kaser, Messers. Carey & Lea, p. 56.
    23 Kaser, in Messers. Carey & Lea, places its publication “in the year 1835…January,” (p. 59), but the Cost Book entry (#463, p. 161), dates the book as December, 1834. Kaser’s quote is from Messers Carey & Lea, p. 59, and is taken from the Bookseller’s Advertiser and Monthly Register of New Publications, 1 (1834) (emphasis added). On January 3rd, 1835, Henry Carey wrote to the Boston Transcript, complaining about excerpts printed in the Transcript without permission. All this points to a pre-Christmas release. The book’s copyright is 1835. The payment to Mrs. Butler (made out to a Pierce Butler, apparently her husband) was made May 1, 1835, and is receipt #751 in Account Book v. 38.
    24 Cost Book, p. 183 (Crayon), p. 189 (Alhambra), p. 182 (Hawks), and p. 190 (Horse Shoe); Horse Shoe success in Messers Carey & Lea, p. 88.
    25 As described in Charvat, Literary Publishing, pp. 76-80.
    26 Lea & Febiger, One Hundred and Fifty Years of Publishing, 1785-1935. Philadelphia: Lea & Febirger, 1935, p. 25.
    27 see esp. Stephen Nissembaum’s Battle for Christmas.


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