Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Book Trade Tickets - How Soon We Forget

Back in the proverbial day, shops selling books, most likely new books, had a way of saying "this book bought here" tastefully, without leaving magnetic strips on interior pages (man I hate that) or massively glued barcode labels on djs. That technology was called book trade labels (also called tickets or marks).

They are not only often lovely to see, but also are a useful portal to information about booksellers past.

As a number of resources tell us, book trade tickets (I like that term better - sounds more professional than just a label) began popping up in the 1700s. Jim Rainer's article at the Alcuin Society, notes that "book trade" is more accurate than bookseller because stationers, binders, printers, and more used them as well, though booksellers' marks are more prevalent.

They heyday seems to be from the mid 19th c. through the 1970s - some 125 years. I do not think it surprising that this was the time of the industrial revolution and great improvements in the press and in book distribution. Book tradesfolk were happy to advertise their wares across a wide area, and for more important firms their books traveled across oceans, following the growth of empires.

Visually, the small tickets, often no more than 1-2 inches by one half to 1 inch, cover the spectrum from plain to ornate. The single best site to view many of them is Seven Roads Gallery of Book Trade Labels by a Greg Kindall. The site is well designed, with several hundred on display. This site is cited in many blogs, but unfortunately doe snot seem to have been updated since June '07 (If I am wrong in this, please drop me a comment and I will update the post). My favorites tend to be the nontraditional shapes - like those by Boekhandel De Bijenkorf - or embossed - like one from J.K. Gill Co. A Google search will show a few other sites that post about them occasionally, but if you are a collector, you might want to think about making your own site in case the gallery goes away.

Additionally the tickets provide information for the researcher about the book trade. Name, address, logos, merchandise, and even type of shop can sometimes be found packed into that tiny piece of paper. At the beginning of the post I noted that this was primarily a new book phenomena. The tickets for used bookshops are even more interesting because they are less common. For whatever shop, the information is helpful to map out when and where book activity was going on, and to tie bookshops to books and to figures in the trade, just like publishers statements. I was introduced to Samuel Weiser bookshop in this way, when a collection of occult books came in, many with his ticket inside. It was plain to see they had moved several times in NYC, and the collector had stuck with them each time.

This tradition, like many, is not a necessary one. But it is a good one, and one I think that could stand a resurgence. How about putting the magnetic strip (if you must have one) under/inside your book ticket for your shop, instead of that ugly thick rectangular white thing that Borders and B&N stick on djs and inside books? The sticker will serve as an ongoing advertisement, and might even look good if the bookseller puts a bit of effort into it.

So next time you are in a thrift shop, and wearily look over a pile of books that probably need to be recycled into new books, open a few up. Take a look for a book trade ticket (or a bookplate) and maybe you'll find something that makes your book hunting a bit more interesting.

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Blogger Benjamin L Clark said...

Wonderful post. I’ve added you to my reader. I have started a group on Flickr for book trade label collectors since Mr. Kindall is no longer updating Seven Roads, and is no longer in email contact either. We currently have nearly 400 labels at the new group, most of them are not posted to the original Seven Roads. If you ever develop a label for your concern, be sure to make some extra for me and the other collectors! Best,http://www.flickr.com/groups/book_labels/

9:09 PM  

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