Report from Michael Winship on the Friends of the Princeton University Library Research Grant fellowship:
Over this summer, a grant from Friends of the Princeton University Library enabled me to spend four weeks working in the special collections department on my ongoing project, “Reaching the Market: Book Distribution in the United States, 1825-1950.” Most of my time was spent working with the Charles Scribner’s Sons archives: a week in June enabled me to survey this vast collection in order to better organize my return visit of three weeks in July. The result was an invaluable addition to the material that I am gathering for what will eventually be a scholarly book on American book distribution, and I am most grateful to the Library’s Friends for their support.
The Scribner archives are not only a vast, but also a very rich, resource for the study of American publishing history, although almost all their scholarly use in the past has focused on the editorial correspondence from the 1920’s when the firm was a leading publisher of important modernist authors such as Wharton, Fitzgerald, and Hemingway. My project, however, required me to focus on earlier portions of the archives, in particular the business records, including the financial records (series 8), ledgers (series 13), and legal records (series 14). Nevertheless, I discovered useful material throughout, especially in the correspondence of Scribner & Welford between the New York and London offices (series 16).
The ledgers, which are shelved offsite and, in many cases, still wrapped in the brown paper in which they must have left the firm’s offices in New York City, proved to be especially invaluable for documenting the size and nature of the firm’s business, not only as publishers, but also as importers and distributors of books. Of the 150 volumes in the series, I was able to examine and describe roughly half, mostly those from the 19th and early part of the 20th centuries. One benefit from my visit will be that I will prepare a supplementary guide to these records that identifies their nature and dates. This will be helpful not only for my own work (I am hoping to return to Princeton this fall to continue my research), but should also encourage other scholars to use this portion of the archives.
Finally, I would like to commend the curators and staff of special collections, all of whom were unceasingly helpful, courteous, and interested in my work. Without them, my time at Princeton could not have been as pleasant and productive as it was.