Early American Wood Carving

Early American Stencils on Walls and Furniture

Customs and Fashions in Old New England


THERE was no calling, no profession more reputable, more profitable in early colonial days than the trade of book-selling. President Punster, of Harvard College, in his pursuance of that business, gave it the highest and best endorsement; and it must be remembered that all the book-sellers were publishers as well, books being printed for them at their expense. John Dunton, in his "Life and Errors," has given us a very distinct picture of Boston book-sellers and their trade toward the end of the seventeenth century. He landed at that port in 1686 with a large and expensive venture of books "suited to the genius of New England," and he says he was about as welcome to the resident book-sellers as "Sowr 'ale in Summer." Nevertheless they received him cordially and hospitably, and he in turn was an equally generous rival; for he drew eulogistically the picture of the four book-dealers which that city then toasted. Mr. Phillips was "very just, very thriving, young, witty, and the most Beautiful man in the town of Boston." Mr. Brunning, or Browning, was a "complete book-seller, generous and trustworthy." Dunton says:

"There are some men will run down the most elaborate peices only because they had none of their Midwifery to bring them into public View and yet shall give the greatest encomiums to the most Nauseous trash when they had the hap to be concerned in it."

But Browning would promote a good book whoever printed it. Mr. Campbell, the third book-dealer, was "very industrious, dresses All-a-mode and I am told a young lady of Great Fortune is fallen in love with him." Of Mr. Usher, the remaining book-trader, Dunton asserts:

"He makes the best figure in Boston. He is very rich, adventures much to sea, but has got his Estate by Book selling."

Usher was a book-maker, undertaker, and adventurer, doubtfully attractive or desirable appellations nowadays; but what higher praise could have been given in colonial tongue? He would have angrily resented being dubbed a publisher; that name was assigned to and monopolized by the town-crier. Usher died worth £20,000, a tidy sum for those days.

Happy, indeed, were all the Boston book-sellers; blessed of the gods! rich, witty, modish, beloved, beautiful! The colony was sixty years old, opulent, prosperous, and fashionable; but a book-seller cut the best figure. Surely the book trade had in Boston a glorious ushering in, a golden promise which has not yet deserted it.

Book-printing, too, was a highly honored calling.

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