The Years 1834-1835 - A Special Case

The year from September 1834 to September 1835, is a special case. The first salvo of Andrew Jackson's war on the Bank of the United States was fired in September, 1833, and the subsequent economic shakedown began to affect the economy within a few months (after, apparently, the Christmas season). The bookselling firm of Collins & Hannay of New York went into bankruptcy in February, 1834. This affected Carey & Lea, as they had extended considerable credit to them, and they lost a great deal of money. "One by one, other booksellers around the nation went into bankruptcy," David Kaser writes, and the impact of this shows in Carey & Lea's accounts. (21)

Carey & Lea essentially stopped publishing. "During the twelve-month period between July 1, 1833 and June 30, 1934, the firm announced as being in press no less than seventy titles that it never completed publishing." (22) The Cost Book reflects this, with 38 of the 99 entries for 1833 showing no binding costs. They were printed, but sat "in sheets," unbound and unsold; 22 of the 30 Cost Book listings for 1834 similarly don't list binding costs. Most were eventually bound and sold, as Kaser found extant examples for them. It is revealing that many of the editions for this Christmas are reprints or second (or subsequent) editions, books whose costs would be lower than one which would have had to be set from scratch.

Despite the dismal year, though, Carey found a way to save the Christmas season from complete disaster. Saving his ace in the hole until the best time for impulse Christmas buying, he produced one of the largest runs of books to date for Carey & Lea of a single title: 8,000 copies. In total costs it was the single most expensive job of the year, although he made sure that his per-book costs were kept to a reasonable level. At $.55 each copy (pre-bound), it was not cheap (as, for example, his run of 750 for Crabbe's Poems, December 1834, costing $.30 each "in sheets"), but not exorbitant, either. It was not illustrated, nor did it have an engraved frontispiece.

His sure-fire seller was Miss Kemble, by the famous British actress Frances Anne ("Fanny") Kemble (later Butler), a journal of her first year in the United States. Kemble had come in 1832, swept the American stage, and had married a southern planter. Her journal was placed on the market in mid-December, 1834, (although its frontespiece was dated 1835, perhaps to emphasize its newness; like the Christmas annuals, it was dated into the new year). Mrs. Butler had negotiated a hefty commission, $2,200, but, significantly, she was not actually paid until May 1st, 1835. Fortunately for Carey & Lea, it was a hit:

Some wag of Philadelphia created quite a sensation in that city, on Tuesday, by announcing that Miss Kemble's Journal was published and ready for delivery. The bookstores and circulating libraries were crowded. The Last Days of Pompeii, Rokeby, and Mrs. Jameson's Beauties, were all thrown aside for the new volume, which, it is understood, will contain a nice little dish of scandal.(23)

The Combined Printing and Paper Costs chart from September 1834 to September 1835 shows that straggling pre-Christmas production schedule, with a small bulge in November as the reprints were prepared. The Christmas receipts were enough to pay some of the bills in January payments, but as the funds came in (particularly, it is assumed, from Miss Kemble), a number of payments were deferred until February, with some paid in March, or even April. Given the latitude that the standard payment terms gave, it is likely that Carey & Lea held their payments until the last minute.