Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Merrill's Circulating Library

Title page to Merrill's Circulating LibraryWhile digging around in the book collections for materials to support the English Department's "1850s America" class this term, we stumbled on an 1852 catalog for Merrill's Circulating Library in Concord, New Hampshire. The class is reading Susan Warner's The Wide, Wide World this week and Nathaniel Hawthorne's The House of Seven Gables next week, so we had to check the catalog. Sure enough, Merrill's had both books available for rental at six cents per week per volume.

But what was odd was how the books were classified. The House of Seven Gables was reasonably in the "Novels and Romances" section, but The Wide, Wide World landed at the end in the "Miscellaneous" section with books like Poe's The Raven and other Poems, Charles Lamb's Essays of Elia, The Blues Laws of Connecticut and other StatesSam Slick, and The Pirate's Own Book.


Start of Novels and Romance sectionStart of Miscellaneous section
Maybe it was the theme? Perhaps Warner's moral and social commentary trumped her plot and pushed the book out of the "novel" classification. Did Merrill's think readers were turning to Susan Warner for something different than when they picked up The House of Seven Gables, Agnes Grey or Last of the Mohicans?  One thing is for sure, Wide, Wide World, as a two volume book, cost twice as much to read as the single volume House of Seven Gables.

We have the first editions of both The House of Seven Gables (Rare PS1861.A1 1851) and The Wide, Wide World (Rare PS3155 W6 1851). You can see what else was at Merrill's Circulating Library by asking for N.H. Imprints, Concord 1852e. For a couple other posts that mention lending libraries, see The Triple Headed Monster, and Mathematical Principles.

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