Bibliography and the Book Trades: Studies in the Print Culture of Early New England

Bibliography and the Book Trades: Studies in the Print Culture of Early New England

Bibliography and the Book Trades: Studies in the Print Culture of Early New England

Bibliography and the Book Trades: Studies in the Print Culture of Early New England


Hugh Amory (1930-2001) was at once the most rigorous and the most methodologically sophisticated historian of the book in early America. Gathered here are his essays, articles, and lectures on the subject, two of them printed for the first time. An introduction by David D. Hall sets this work in context and indicates its significance; Hall has also provided headnotes for each of the essays.

Amory used his training as a bibliographer to reexamine every major question about printing, bookmaking, and reading in early New England. Who owned Bibles, and in what formats? Did the colonial book trade consist of books imported from Europe or of local production? Can we go behind the iconic status of the Bay Psalm Book to recover its actual history? Was Michael Wigglesworth's Day of Doom really a bestseller? And why did an Indian gravesite contain a scrap of Psalm 98 in a medicine bundle buried with a young Pequot girl?
In answering these and other questions, Amory writes broadly about the social and economic history of printing, bookselling and book ownership. At the heart of his work is a determination to connect the materialities of printed books with the workings of the book trades and, in turn, with how printed books were put to use. This is a collection of great methodological importance for anyone interested in literature and history who wants to make those same connections.


The essays that are gathered together in Bibliography and the Book Trades describe the book culture of early New England and especially the artisans, merchants, and patrons who animated this culture, be it by arranging for books to be printed, imported, and distributed or by transforming copy into printed and (sometimes) bound books, broadsides, and ephemera. the first person to tell the story of this culture in any systematic manner was Isaiah Thomas, a Worcester, Massachusetts printer and bookseller who, late in life, published The History of Printing in America (1810). Many others have added to or corrected Thomas’s telling of the tale, but none have done so with more exactness than Hugh Amory (1930–2001). Thus it was fitting that the American Printing History Society at its annual meeting in January 2002 awarded him posthumously (the first person to be so acknowledged) an Individual Laureate Award “in grateful recognition of his services in advancing our understanding of the history of printing and its allied arts.”

This was an honor he deserved. Beginning with essays he published in the late 1980s, and extending to the three chapters he wrote for The Colonial Book in the Atlantic World (2000), Hugh made himself the best informed and most interesting historian of printing and book-selling in early America of his generation. Although he greatly admired and drew on such predecessors as Rollo Silver, Thomas J. Holmes, and George Parker Winship, he surpassed everyone before him in his close attention to the material aspects of printed texts (physical bibliography), his ability to transform diese details into a fresh understanding of printing and book-selling, and his awareness of wider economic, social, and political contexts, whether in colonial America or in Europe. An iconoclast by temperament, he excelled as well in his scrutiny of much-repeated truisms, some of them dating back to Thomas’s Printing in America.

No less remarkable was his capacity to collaborate with scholars trained in other disciplines and marching to quite different drummers. Rarely do bibliographers and cataloguers command the attention of a broad academic audience. As Hugh remarked in a paper he delivered in May 2001, literary historians have seemed “not so much critical of as oblivious to the traditions of American bibliography,” noting that the bibliographic entries in the first volume of the Cambridge History of American Literature (1994) omitted “a staggering number of basic references” and pointing out that, because two literary historians writing on Susanna Rowson’s Charlotte Temple ignored the history of editions on both sides of the Atlantic in favor of “an ideal . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.