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The Cambridge History of the Book in Britain
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    janes, dominic 2016. The Wordless Book: The Visual and Material Culture of Evangelism in Victorian Britain. Material Religion, Vol. 12, Issue. 1, p. 26.

    Hensley, Nathan K. 2013. What is A Network? (And Who is Andrew Lang?). Romanticism and Victorianism on the Net:, Issue. 64,

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The years 1830–1914 witnessed a revolution in the manufacture and use of books as great as that in the fifteenth century. Using new technology in printing, paper-making and binding, publishers worked with authors and illustrators to meet ever-growing and more varied demands from a population seeking books at all price levels. The essays by leading book historians in this volume show how books became cheap, how publishers used the magazine and newspaper markets to extend their influence, and how book ownership became universal for the first time. The fullest account ever published of the nineteenth-century revolution in printing, publishing and bookselling, this volume brings The Cambridge History of the Book in Britain up to a point when the world of books took on a recognisably modern form.


'The Cambridge History of the Book in Britain is one of the great scholarly enterprises of our time … Far from being a series of good essays on interesting topics, taken as a whole this book is not merely the best history of the book in nineteenth-century Britain which we have. It is, in the present state of our knowledge, just about the best that could be written.'

John Feather Source: The Rare Books Newsletter

'… this book is an indispensable acquisition for any general or humanities library …'

Karen Attar - University of London

'It is impossible to do this splendid and rich volume justice in a review article. Twenty essays cover an immense range of topics, suggest links between one another, provide scrupulous detail and larger frameworks. Twenty-four contributors explore the nineteenth-century revolution in printing, publishing and book-selling, in chapters covering aspects as diverse as 'The illustration revolution', 'The serial revolution', 'Copyright', 'Distribution', 'Reading', 'Mass markets' … The volume’s scope is immense and ambitious.'

Annika Bautz Source: Journal of Theory and Criticism

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  • 1 - Changes in the look of the book
    pp 75-116
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    Queen Victoria has been described as the 'first media monarch'. The first paper-making machine in England was installed at Frogmore, Hertfordshire, in 1803, and the first book to be printed on machine-made paper was published in 1804. In two areas of book manufacture, typesetting and bookbinding, hand methods remained for much longer. Stereotyping, where metal plates were cast from set pages of type, proved itself within less than a decade after its introduction at the university presses in both Oxford and Cambridge, and at the press of Andrew Wilson in London. In the 1830s, most illustrations for ordinary trade books depended on woodor steel-engraving, two very different processes despite the similarity in the terminology. In Germany, a collection of specimens of papers made from different vegetables was published at Regensburg in 1765. The concern for prices that had preoccupied publishers, authors and readers in 1830 remained very similar in the different environment of the early twentieth century.
  • 2 - The illustration revolution
    pp 117-143
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    The nineteenth century brought illustrated books and periodicals to large sectors of the British population for the first time. The first serious efforts to bring large numbers of illustrated publications within the pockets of ordinary readers were made in Britain in the 1830s with the rise of pictorial journals, particularly the Penny Magazine. The measure of the progress of illustration in nineteenth-century Britain is provided by pictures in popular periodicals. The astonishing growth of illustration in nineteenth-century periodicals was echoed in some categories of book publishing, though less dramatically. In the late eighteenth century two developments paved the way for the rapid increase in illustrative material. They are Thomas Bewick's refinements to the process of producing relief prints from wood, and Alois Senefelder's invention of the planographic process of lithography in Germany in 1798/9. Several approaches were adopted for the production of photographic illustrations in books before the development of photomechanical relief blocks in the closing decades of the century.
  • 3 - The serial revolution
    pp 144-171
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    This chapter concerns changing patterns of serial publication, a term which covers two related practices: the publishing of periodicals with miscellaneous contents, including both magazines and newspapers, and the issuing of unified texts at intervals in independent fascicles or parts. Piecemeal publication blurred generic distinctions between news and fiction, but also between new print, revised print and reprint editions, and between serialisation, book, sequel and series. Publication of original novels in fascicles lost ground in the face of the new wave of literary miscellanies, whether monthly or weekly, which sold at lower prices once knowledge taxes were abolished and mechanical improvements cheapened book production and distribution. Primary developments in serialisation included both the expansion of the mass periodical and newspaper market and the segmentation of the market into diversely identified readerships. The chapter discusses the long-anticipated demise of the multi-volume first edition in the mid-1890s and the regulation of price discounting through the Net Book Agreement established in January 1900.
  • 4 - Authorship
    pp 172-213
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    The emergence of the newly professional author, like the perennially 'rising' middle class, has been confidently located in many places and periods. An enormous expansion in the scale and variety of literary marketplace was the chief engine of this increase in the numbers of men and women pursuing authorship in the nineteenth century. At the time of the First Reform Bill in 1832, predictions of a sharp and accelerating increase in literary opportunity would have struck most people in the book trade. The growth of the market for newspapers and magazines remained central to the development of authorship for most of the nineteenth century. Journalism was the most common entry route into authorship in this period. Along with journalism, it was the literary market which provided most opportunities for the writer pursuing authorship as a full-time or full-time occupation. The American periodical market was important for British authors in spite of the lack of copyright protection.
  • 5 - Copyright
    pp 214-237
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    British copyright's major failing during the nineteenth century was the fragmented and complicated state of the law. For British authors and publishers, international copyright became an increasingly desirable goal. Serjeant Thomas Noon Talfourd, elected MP for Reading in 1835, was the first to propose uniting the existing collage of copyright acts. Copyright could be seen as part of the portfolio of oppressive measures, particularly if a lengthy extension to its term was being proposed. For almost the whole of the nineteenth century America offered only informal protection to foreign copyright works. British copyright law remained in a state of disarray. A new domestic interest group, the Association to Protect the Rights of Authors, had been established. A delegation from the Association pressed the Prime Minister, Disraeli, for the appointment of a Select Committee or Royal Commission. A convention for an international copyright union was drafted, discussed at the Berne conference in 1883, held under the auspices of the Swiss government.
  • 6 - Distribution
    pp 238-280
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    This chapter focuses on the ways in which books, newspapers and periodicals reached the reader during the period 1830-1914. It discusses major wholesalers such as W. H. Smith & Son and John Menzies who exploited market potential both as a mode of distribution and as a venue for the sale of texts in the form of railway bookstalls. Speed of distribution was important if the publisher was to make the most of the advertising campaign that usually accompanied the publication of a book or magazine. In the early nineteenth century, Britain enjoyed a good postal service and the mail coaches transported huge numbers of newspapers, especially after 1825 when an Act of Parliament made it legal for all stamped newspapers to pass through the post without further payment. From the late 1890s, W. H. Smith began to organise the wholesale trade on a regional basis. The 'western wholesale organisation' served as a model.
  • 7 - Reading
    pp 281-323
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    Reading is constrained by the protocols of reading embedded within texts, as well as by modes of access or communication, such as oral recitation. This chapter investigates the quantitative evidence of reading skills compiled by the state during a period in which mass literacy was encouraged as a sign of social cohesion. It also focuses on the autobiographical sources which give some sense of how these skills were deployed to meet various individual and communal needs. The Victorians counted what they assumed to be reading and writing in order to pattern a society which threatened constantly to escape their comprehension. The high base-line of reading material in the home reflected the longstanding Protestant tradition of vernacular spiritual literature as well as the efforts of the eighteenth-century chapmen. The public library was only one of a vast array of new spaces designed for reading that opened up during the period.
  • 8 - Mass markets: religion
    pp 324-358
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    This chapter sketches the changing position of religious publishing within the growing mass market for books and periodicals. It shows how the leading developments in Victorian religious publishing were driven by an evangelical, conversionist imperative, which put a premium on bringing the Bible and a theology of sin and salvation to as many people as possible. The chapter analyses the theme of tensions between publishing and the conversionist project, showing how mass publishing helped inflame the controversies that bedevilled British Protestants throughout the mid-nineteenth century. It then looks at how publishing opened a space in which to challenge the popular theology of biblicist, supernatural Protestantism. Although religion had been the staple of eighteenth-century publishing, its prominence in the developing nineteenth-century mass market owed much to the evangelical revival. Bible publishing was invariably mass publishing. Tract societies experienced a similar transition from publishing to convert the nation, to publishing for a profitable market.
  • 9 - Mass markets: education
    pp 359-381
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    This chapter explores the technology of book production, which was transformed in the course of the nineteenth century. This chapter focuses on one key sector, the markets created by the rise of formal schooling, its associated phenomenon, and the rise of public examinations. Schemes to develop formal schooling for the growing population, elementary education as it was defined, proved much more contested and raised altogether more complex issues. Schools affiliated to the denominational societies in England and Wales could still apply for the book grant and the first specialised collection of books on education, including textbooks, was formed in the aftermath of the 1851 Exhibition. The reading books developed in response to the Revised Code, and dominating the elementary school class-room for the second half of the nineteenth century, had their staunch defenders. The market for secondary textbooks begins to look like a mass market on a scale similar to the already-existing market for elementary textbooks.
  • 10 - Mass markets: children’s books
    pp 382-415
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    A 'generational theory', with phases running in fairly well-defined thirty-year cycles, has been applied to the development of the British children's book from the first attempts to write its history. The evangelical best-selling authors for children like Sherwood and Cameron have, with Hannah More, been relegated to the canon's fringes because of conservative politics. The strongly utilitarian bent of early Victorian children's book publishing is most closely associated with the works of 'Peter Parley'. The presence of the re-engravings represents a wholesale incursion into the publishing industry of the 1840s and 1850s of influences from Europe, and especially Germany. By the end of the 1850s all the elements were in place that would characterise children's books as a genre down to the coming of the electronic revolution of the late twentieth century. Population growth and increased life-expectancy continued to enlarge readership during this period, and the level of literacy rose steadily as well.
  • 11 - Mass markets: literature
    pp 416-442
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    Printers and publishers had a wide range of forms in which they could issue literature. Single sheets, pamphlets and hard-bound books could all be vehicles for literature, but then so another material form that became progressively more important, both culturally and economically, as the period progressed: the periodical. The law in the form of copyright had its material impact on literary publishing. The nature and range of literature that was available cheaply was determined by copyright and the monopoly control. The magazine market continued to be important, and in the period after 1880 there was a growing variety of outlets for serial fiction. Mathews and Lane exploited the demand for limited editions and the late Victorian revival of typography, fine paper and bookbinding. Richard Altick identifies the appearance of the Aldine Edition of the British Poets in 1830 as 'the beginning of the era when publishers developed cheap classic libraries as an integral, not merely incidental, part of their lists'.
  • 12 - Science, technology and mathematics
    pp 443-474
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    Science became central to defining the meaning of print in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Since the 1960s, interest in the making of science and technology in the Victorian and Edwardian eras has burgeoned. This chapter focuses on the sciences, with some attention to the very different circumstances prevailing in mathematical and technological publishing. It concerns the periodical, which during the nineteenth century emerged as the form characteristically associated with both specialist publication and accessible science journalism. The chapter discusses the reflective surveys, reference works and introductory manuals intended to entice beginners and educate students. Middle-class publishers and radical agitators alike tended to value science for its propaganda value, using established knowledge to demonstrate the rights or wrongs of the existing order of society. The technological demands of science, technology and mathematics made significant areas for innovation in the printing industry; conversely, the very idea of being a scientist involved skills in negotiating the complex world of printing and publishing.
  • 13 - Publishing for leisure
    pp 475-499
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    The nineteenth and early twentieth centuries witnessed a transformation in the nature of British leisure habits. Cookery books and instruction manuals for the kitchen had been in circulation for some time, reaching back to the sixteenth century at least, and in the eighteenth century one of the best-known examples was Hannah Glasse, The art of cookery, made plain and easy. A number of bibliographies of cookery and household management books have been published and their long lists of titles indicate the wide range of publication in this area. The eighteenth-century Romantic philosophy of gardening held that it was the living representation of landscape painting but the Victorians scaled down this ambition to suit the more limited landholdings and means of the upper-middle and middle classes. While cookery and gardening could be seen in the Victorian period as either hobbies or mandatory activities to keep household and property in order, interest in music could be seen as an entirely leisure pursuit.
  • 14 - Publishing for trades and professions
    pp 500-530
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    The concept of the professional not simply as distinct from the amateur, but, more importantly, as pertaining to those who lived by their professional skills, implied certain kinds of education. Professions were to be distinguished from business or commerce. The demands made on publishers were part of the nineteenth-century reforms and extensions of professional practice, not only as new groups of activities were identified but also as they were developed and characterised by the use of print. Periodicals and magazines were more important than books in much of this market. Of all the professions, medicine was more prolifically served with print than any other, as the publication industry throve on professional disagreements and demands for reform. The Inns of Court, the Royal College of Surgeons and the Royal College of Physicians could all point to considerable prehistories of professional responsibility. Few publishers, whether of books or journals, or of both, could afford to specialise even in groups of professional subjects.
  • 15 - Organising knowledge in print
    pp 531-566
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    For both men, as for most people in Britain, knowledge was embedded in print, and preserved by its use. It is impossible to compartmentalise the creation and management of knowledge, or of the kindred, if very different, information. The nineteenth century witnessed an information revolution that was directly linked to revolutions in knowledge. Knowledge was also promulgated and shared pictorially, in engravings, lithographs, paintings and drawings and, not least, with the development of photography. Fears of publication, and therefore of losing secrecy and leaving the way open to theft by unscrupulous competitors. Specialist catalogues of collections provided route for public education. The public library represented an unprecedented extension of knowledge and entertainment, both to those who had previously had access to shared collections and to the many more who had not. The publishing societies promoted the subjects to which they were allied, not just by encouraging and supporting minority interests but also by providing a means to enlarge public knowledge.
  • 16 - The information revolution
    pp 567-594
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    The Victorians knew they were living through a time of transformation in the provision of information. Anachronistic as it is, the immediate benefit of using the term 'information revolution' to describe the changes is that it directs our attention to facts, information and knowledge, or, prosaically, non-fiction. This chapter discusses the attempts to make scholarly information more widely available through new publishing formats, but it will also include a wide variety of other factual publications, from railway timetables to cricket statistics, and from government proceedings to company reports. In the nineteenth century, 'knowledge' and 'information' carried different connotations, but they shaded into one another. The chapter introduces the rise of statistics by asking why so much of that new information was then published. It concludes with a discussion of the mechanisms, techniques and technologies which were introduced to help people to cope with what would now be termed 'information overload'.
  • 17 - A place in the world
    pp 595-634
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    The story of the British book trade between 1830 and 1914 is one of increased internationalisation. Domestic trade, its structure and organisation, as well as its products and customers, would be complete without a serious consideration of the larger global implications of the period. In the mid-nineteenth century the British book trade was transformed from a cottage trade into a mass manufacturing industry. The home markets of Scotland, Wales and Ireland had been implicated in the English book trade well before the nineteenth century, most notably through bookselling and joint ventures that had linked booksellers and printers in Edinburgh, Dublin and elsewhere with their counterparts in London. By the middle of the nineteenth century a number of British publishers were coming to specialise in titles for readers on the move. One of the consequences of the opening up of the Middle East, Africa and South-East Asia was an increased desire for armchair adventures emphasising the exoticism of strange lands.
  • 18 - Second-hand and old books
    pp 635-673
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    The world of old books ranged from the waste paper of the dung heap to the wariness and snobberies of private collectors. This chapter concerns with new books, their manufacture, sale, reception and use. The market in new books was affected by those that were available second-hand. The increase in numbers of books in the latter part of the nineteenth century, and the increase in sales from long-established private libraries, fuelled the book trade. Besides bookshops, there were innumerable less formal ways of selling books, and particularly on stalls of all sizes, from semi-permanent structures to street barrows. In 1830, the major London dealers in old books and manuscripts were headed by Thomas Thorpe in Bedford Street, Thomas Rodd in Great Newport Street at the foot of Long Acre, and the Quaker brothers John and Arthur Arch in the City. The major auction houses were concentrated in London, and the major second-hand and antiquarian booksellers were mostly there as well.
  • 19 - A year of publishing: 1891
    pp 674-703
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    The year 1891 saw a Factory and Workshops Act raise the minimum working age to 11, and an Assisted Education Act that abolished fees for elementary education. The journals, rather like the publishers and booksellers they served, struggled to reconcile their cultural and commercial roles, and defended one position when they could not hold the other. In 1891 members of the British book trade made some progress in their attempts to protect their property and livelihoods. By 1891 booksellers were enjoying a greater degree of protection for their livelihoods than they had enjoyed since Lord Campbell's committee ended the policy of fixed retail prices in 1852. In 1891 a reviewer in the Bookseller highlighted the predictability of the three volume novel That affair: There is nothing especially remarkable in Mrs. Cudlip's new novel. Booksellers would frequently have made more profit from selling writing paper, envelopes, diaries, scrapbooks, stamp albums, personalised printed stationery and fancy goods than from books.
  • 20 - Following up The reading nation
    pp 704-735
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    This chapter discusses the study of reading in the early nineteenth century Anglophone world, The reading nation in the Romantic period that has been the subject of many reviews, seminars, interrogations, blogs and personal communications. The titles of works, variations on 'history of the British book trade', often disavow any ambition to discuss the consumer interest. The chapter approaches the conceive of texts, books, reading and consequences not only as a chronological parade of book producers but as a complex literary system within a wider cultural system. An analysis of the historic book industry seen this way sets out to retrieve the changing governing structures within which books were produced in the form that they were and not in others, including state textual controls, the legal framework, and business practices. In order to understand the economic relationships between prices, production and timing of access, we need to retrieve the intellectual property regime within which book publishing occurred.

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