Monday, June 26, 2006


Booksellers haven't changed much...

...since colonial and federal times, apparently, when it comes to offering their wares for sale. I was rootling around in my storage area out in back and came across something I forgot that I owned (always a happy circumstance, and one that happens with alarming regularity): a facsimile of an eighteenth-century bookseller's broadside. The original is in the Library of Congress, which produced the facsimile, and it dates from around 1778, although the bookseller in question, Robert Bell, came to the colonies around 1766. The entire broadside won't fit on my scanner, so I offer a piece of it instead:

The fine print concerning the auction reads: "Memorandum. Those who behold with their eyes, Sentimental entertainment, going off reasonable, and do not improve this very great chance of purchasing the Books by the assistance of the Magical Mallet, will probably wish in vain for such another opportunity." In other words, you should have bought it when you saw it, magical mallet or not. Some of the books in the list look pretty good - works of drama, poetry, religion, history, including books by Milton, Hume, Lord Chesterfield, and Aesop. The most interesting titles to me are the "World Turned Upside Down, with 34 cuts (woodcuts) - the most moral, as well as the most laughable Work ever published, for the Instruction of Children" and a "Military Dictionary with General Wolfe's Instructions to Officers." And how about "Doctor Jones on Gun-shot Wounds and Fractures." I'd like to have those now. More later from the verso of the broadside, in which our enthusiastic bookseller attempts to use logic to convince people to purchase self-improving materials such as these.

I like that phrase,Magical Mallet. I certainly could use one of those at times!
I think Bell knew what he was talking about when he referred to book-buyers as Sentimentalists. I don't attend many book auctions, because the Magical Mallet doesn't fall my way often enough and I get frustrated...
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