The Reading Communities of Collecting: Sale Catalogues, Sociability, and Ephemerality, 1676-1862

An important dimension of the circulation of books and the sociability associated with that circulation is the second-hand book trade, a notable contemporary example in Australia being the charitable book fairs organised by the counselling support service Lifeline in cities such as Canberra, Sydney, and Newcastle. Such occasions, held in large exhibition spaces or sports halls, on which massive numbers of books are donated and resold to raise funds for Lifeline, can be described as a communal drawing in and recirculation of the oxygen of books and reading. They are a kind of book lung. Second-hand book dealing of a more strictly commercial rather than charitable nature has a long history, one of its various forms being the disposal by auction of private libraries by booksellers and auctioneers, a practice that dates in Britain from the late seventeenth century (Raven 106-09; Mandelbrote). The first such sale was that of the library of Lazarus Seaman, held in London in 1676, for which a printed catalogue was produced, establishing an important genre of book trade related ephemera that would endure until the rise of the internet (Catalogus; Waters).

Library sale catalogues are a valuable bibliographical tool, used for researching the provenance of particular titles and for the study of the histories of book collecting and libraries in general (Pearson; Taylor). Sale catalogues also represent a distinctive form of reading pleasure, as the bibliographical historian and book collector A.N.L. Munby noted in 1952: 'No ephemeral literature approaches them in fascination. To receive one at breakfast, to skim through it with one's porridge, possibly leaving the table to dictate a telegram if circumstances demand it ... these are among the highest pleasures in life' (Munby 38-39). Munby's enthusiasm was echoed by the book collector and historian of children's literature Peter Opie, who declared: '[w]hen I die my heart will be found pressed between the pages of a book catalogue' (qtd in Woudhuysen 124).

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Published 1 October 2014 in Reading Communities and the Circulation of Print. Subjects: Book history, Reading, Sales catalogues.

Cite as: Russell, Gillian. ‘The Reading Communities of Collecting: Sale Catalogues, Sociability, and Ephemerality, 1676-1862.’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 29, no. 3, 2014, doi: 10.20314/als.4a6750e32e.