Home  »  Volume IV: English PROSE AND POETRY SIR THOMAS NORTH TO MICHAEL DRAYTON  »  § 7. The Beginnings of a Business

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume IV. Prose and Poetry: Sir Thomas North to Michael Drayton.

XVIII. The Book-Trade, 1557–1625

§ 7. The Beginnings of a Business

To embark on his career as a bookseller and publisher was a simpler, if more hazardous, undertaking. If possessed of means, the young bookseller might purchase a stock of saleable books, and at once open a shop in some busy thoroughfare or take up a point of vantage in one of the stalls or booths which crowded round the walls of St. Paul’s, and there expose his wares for sale. But, supposing him to have nothing save his native wit to aid him, there was still a way by which he could set up for himself. If he could procure the copy of some book, or pamphlet, or, may be, even a ballad, which he could enter in the register as his property, and then get printed by some friendly printer, he would have made a modest beginning; and, if this first essay happened to promise a fair sale, he might, by exchanging copies of it with other publishers for their books, at once obtain a stock in trade. This system of interchange seems to have been a common practice, and books were sometimes entered in the register with the proviso that the stationer “shall not refuse to exchange these bookes with the company for other good wares.” The custom continued in vogue throughout the seventeenth century, and it was in this way that, in 1681, the celebrated John Dunton began his career as a publisher; having ventured to print Doolittle’s Sufferings of Christ, he says, “by exchanging it through the whole trade, it furnished my shop with all sorts of books saleable at that time.”