The Printed Book

by Harry G. Aldis, M.A. Cambridge at the University Press 1916

Modern Books Part 2

The direct effect of these mechanical inventions was to facilitate the production of books, and this led naturally to an enormously increased output of printed literature and a cheapening of its cost. By the end of the eighteenth century the price of books had, if anything, increased, and for some years the tendency was still upward. Cheap books were not however the invention of this new age of machinery. Chap-books and small religious works had been printed in large numbers from at least Restoration times; and neither the crudely printed children's books sold at a farthing by James Catnach of Seven Dials (c. 1814-38), nor the Cheap Magazine of George Miller of Dunbar, with its circulation of 20,000 copies a month, were the outcome of new methods of production. But the facilities for increased output were utilized by Charles Knight in his schemes for providing the public with good literature at a cheap rate. His Penny Magazine (1832-46), illustrated with woodcuts, was a pioneer in that field; but though within twelve months it had reached a circulation of 200,000 copies, it was finally ousted by competitors of less improving but more attractive character.

The Penny Cyclopaedia, of 1833-44, was followed by a series of shilling 'Weekly Volumes' which led off in 1844 with a Life of William Caxton by Knight himself. But, again, the standard was too high to achieve commercial success: the Cyclopaedia involved a huge financial loss, and the average sale of the' Weekly Volumes' was scarcely 5000 copies. By this time publishers had discovered the advantage of linking up a number of volumes by issuing them in uniform style as a series, under a general title; and many of these 'Libraries,' as they were called, sold in large numbers. Among the most popular were the 'Run and Read Library,' the 'Parlour Library,' Murray's 'Family Library,' and, perhaps chief of all, the 'Railway Library' which numbered some 1300 volumes and included works by most of the popular novelists.

The illustrated ' Annuals,' which came into existence about 1820, were for some years the stereotyped form of Christmas gift book, and are a distinctive feature among the publications of the second quarter of the century. In the hey-day of their vogue many of the leading writers, artists, and engravers were occupied in their production, and it has been estimated that the total proceeds from the sale of them for the year 1829 amounted to 90,000. One of the earliest was the Forget-Me-Not, which was issued annually from 1823 to 1847, and reached a circulation of 18,000 copies. There were also Friendship's Offering, started in the following year, The Amulet, edited by S. C. Hall, the Juvenile Forget-Me-Not, and others.