Book Trade Archive Deemed Dispersible: G. & C. Merriam Co., Springfield, Mass., 1830s-1860s

About two years ago, 19th century American book trade circulars, announcements, advertisements and such like ephemera started appearing on the antiquarian market. They all had one thing in common — they were originally once part of the 19th century business records and working papers of the successful American dictionary publisher G. & C. Merriam Co., Springfield, Mass. How and why did this happen?

The short answer, I am told, is that a branch of the Merriam family put them into the hands of a bookseller in Tolland, CT., the firm Eclectibles. Even though substantial, important parts of the company archives were already preserved in two major research libraries (Yale [GEN MSS 370] and the American Antiquarian Society[Mss. Dept., Mss. boxes “G”]), this trove was deemed dispersible. And, scatter it did. Here’s a list of booksellers who in turn hived off portions from the Eclectibles tranche: Peter Luke (New Baltimore, NY), Robert Rubin (Brookline, MA), M & S Rare Books (Providence, RI), James Arsenault (Arrowsic, ME), Lawbook Exchange (Clark, NJ), David Lesser (Woodbridge, CT), Between the Covers (Gloucester City, NJ), Bartleby’s Books (Washington, DC), Richard Thorner (Manchester, NH), Bookworm and Silverfish (Rural Retreat, VA), … (and others yet to be identified.)

Curators, historians, private collectors, and library donors have been following this dispersal. While it is not yet fully known where bits and pieces have come to rest, the following table summarizes institutional holdings:

• American Antiquarian Society – Adding Merriam items to its broadside collection, such as two items listed in its recent ‘2010 Adopt a Book’ catalog. See numbers 58 and 65.

• Dartmouth College Library — Richard Thorner, chair of the Friends of the Dartmouth College Library purchased and donated a small collection of Merriam material relating to Dartmouth. These can be discovered in the Library’s catalog by searching the terms “Charles and George Merriam” joined with “Dartmouth College”

• Princeton University Library — About 20 items, dating between 1834 and 1868, recently acquired, such as the 1854 circular pictured above. More items will be added. Holdings can be found by searching for “Merriam Company records” in the Library’s main catalog.

• Yale Law School — More than 30 items: “catalogues, invoices, book orders, prospectuses, and advertisements …[which] demonstrate Merriam’s importance to mid-nineteenth century legal publishing and the nature of the field at that time.” See:

Even though the dispersal has proceeded briskly in the past two years, as of March 18, 2010, Eclectibles (Tolland, CT) had the following (to quote my notes):

“Business records relating to the G & C Merriam wholesale and retail book trade during the 1830s to the 1860s. Total of about 1200 to 1300 items, consisting of the following record groups:

1. Invoices, incoming printed circulars such as stock listings and trade sale announcements, covering letters for shipments, requests for consignments – all from publishers and booksellers from chiefly the major centers (Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Cincinnati) as well as from country locales such as Great Barrington, Mass. About 750 items in this group, distributed into 6 folders and 6 loose leaf binders. Folders and binders cover sub-arrangements such as: incoming records with publishers of children’s books, incoming records with San Francisco publishers such as Bancroft, incoming materials with southwestern US publishers, a notebooks of about 30 printed trade sales announcements chiefly from Bangs (NYC), etc.

2. Freight shipment receipts for payment by Merriam to various RR and steamboat firms. Such are still in docketed bundles. About 500 items.

3. Bills of lading incoming material, ca 75 items.”

Someday, I am hoping to report that this remaining, residual group has been acquired by a research library, thus preserving a remarkable asset for understanding American book history.

UPDATE – October 4, 2010 — Today, Eclectibles (Tolland, CT) reported that the tranche of Merriam material held by them has been acquired by the Beinecke Library at Yale University and is now in Yale’s possession.