Sunday, October 10, 2010

Antebellum Legal Publishing

I recently acquired a folded letter dated January 23, 1843 which was written by John S. Littell, publisher of the  Law Library in Philadelphia. Letters at this time were folded so they could be addressed without the use of an envelope which would require additional postage because of the added weight. In the letter, Littell is apologizing to John W. Andreus of Columbus, Ohio for previously accusing him of not being truthful when Andreus reported that he did not receive the January issue of Law Library. In doing background research on the letter via Google and the Internet, I uncovered several interesting threads to this "library cover story". From an 1834 advertisement for Legal Library, I learned that it was a monthly publication that consisted of reprints of "important British elementary treatises upon Law, in a form which will render them far less expensive than works of this description have hitherto been." Packaging reprinted British monographs as a serial publication allowed them to be sent through the mail (which books could not).  This form of subscription publishing and selling was an innovative practice on the part of Littell. Further digging in regard to Littell led me to a recently published book by Michael H. Hoeflich entitled Legal Publishing in Antebellum America (Cambridge University Press, 2010).  There is enough content from the book available through Google Books and the Cambridge University Press website to more than encourage one to buy or borrow the entire book.  A philatelist will be interested in Hoeflich's assessment of the importance of mail in the development and expansion of legal publishing. Hoeflich writes, "The second great period in the history of the American law book trade really begins in 1851, when postal regulations were changed to permit the secure use of the mails to ship books.  Before this time, books were not explicitly permitted; it was often left to the postmaster in any place whether to accept books or to ban them from the mail.  As a result, the postal service could not be relied upon."  The library historian, book historian, and the printed ephemera collector will be interested in Hoeflich's comments on the difficulty of researching legal publishing during the antebellum period.  He writes, "There are very few remaining business records of antebellum law book sellers and publishers.  These were lost long ago as have most mundane business records.  The printed remains of those businesses, their catalogues, can still be found; but they have, for the most part suffered the fate of most printed ephemera.  They have not been preserved by institutional libraries precisely because they are ephemera."  Hoeflich has established a website in connection to his book, and he has collected some interesting legal ephemera.I'm pleased to have acquired a bit of ephemera that has provided me with the incentive to learn more about antebellum legal publishing.

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