Friday, July 31, 2009
Canvassing Books / Sample Books
Above are two sample covers for this book.
To the left are three possible spines for this book
In the mid-late 19th century many books were sold door to door by agents. These salesmen would commonly go into areas where bookstore access was limited. They carried with them books called canvassing books (also salesman's samples and sample books) which would supplement newspaper and magazine advertisements.
The books generally would consist of several parts.
1. Specimen pages
2. Specimen plates
3. promotional text
4. subscription leaves
5. sample bindings
These 5 components were then bound into a book which included one or more sample bindings frequently inside the front or back covers.
Here is a sample page and sample plate. This canvassing book has inserts which basically annotate the stories of this volume.
In fairness, these salesman's samples have always been a curiosity to me. They are interesting but I just didn't know much about them. In addition, until I found one that was related to a collecting area within my interest it seemed they were irrelevant. Then I found one that advertised George W. Peck's Bad Boy Series (see a future blog) and I changed my tune. I never really gave it much thought that many first edition points might be seen in these books.
I have discovered one great reference. Canvassing Books, Sample Books, and Subscription Publishers' Ephemera 1833-1951 in the Collection of Michael Zinman by Keith Arbour. Published in 1996 by The Hadyn Foundation. This book explains about the book selling agents and their wares. Several thousand canvassing books are also listed.
This is the page of promotional text.
Note that there are four different bindings advertised. The salesman's book does not show them all.
I have included an example of the components of the usual sample books here. They come from a book entitled My Mother's Bible Stories. This canvassing book only advertises one title. Oftentimes these books promote several titles. I have included the subscription page from another book since this book's is blank. Must have had a lousy salesman.
I hope to show some of the interesting canvassing books I find from time to time.
Above is a sample subscription leaf. Here is where the agent records the information about the buyers.