Collecting Delaware Books

Delaware Book Prospectuses

This article, written by Thomas E. Doherty, was published in the very first issue of Collecting Delaware Books in February 1992. Tom was one of the earliest supporters of the newsletter and a frequent contributor of articles.

When collecting books one often ends up collecting other things: bookends, prints, letters, and various kinds of ephemera, those printed items like postcards and trade cards, which are not books yet have a certain charm that bibliophiles can not resist. I collect books relating to the history and literature of Delaware, and among the ephemera in my collection are book prospectuses.

As I have suggested about all ephemera, there is a visceral appeal to book prospectuses. They display at a glance what one can expect in the book. Basically prospectuses are one way for a publisher or bookseller to sell copies of a particular book. However, prospectuses not only tell one the book's title, author, illustrator, publisher, price, expected date of publication, and how to acquire a copy, but they are also like the book itself. Prospectuses are often printed an the same kind of paper as the book, printed using the same typefaces, designed in the same way as the book, use illustrations found in the book, reproduce title or table of contents pages, or include a photograph of the book.

The prospectus for Gilbert Byron's Delaware Poems is printed an the same paper as the book and reproduces, in smaller format, one of John B. Moll, Jr.'s illustrations from the book. (On the order form that is part of the prospectus one could even indicate whether or not one wanted an autographed copy of the book.) The prospectus for Volume II (I have never seen one for the first or third volume) of A Calendar of Ridgely Family Letters… shows a typical page to demonstrate " … method of arrangement, the type of abstracted letters and the typographical style." Robert R. Tatnall's Flora of Delaware and the Eastern Shore prospectus presents the title and table of contents pages.

The prospectus for the first edition of Delaware Tercentenary Almanack… reproduces the dust jacket of the book and is printed an the same Curtis Paper Co. (Newark, Del.) "Curtis Rag" paper used for the book. Two illustrations, one by Stanley Arthurs and one by N.C. Wyeth, are reproduced and surely helped sell copies of the book even as they do today. The prospectus for An Anthology of Delaware Papermaking is also printed on the same paper as the book, and the prospectus reproduces the design of the title page. The prospectus for Friends in Wilmington, … 1738-1938 lists the illustrations in the book, including the cover design and endpapers.

prospectus example
Prospectus for Weslager's
Brandywine Springs

The Greenwood Book Shop's prospectus for C.A. Weslager's Brandywine Springs … (see illustration) looks very much like the book's dust jacket. Another way a prospectus can promote a book is to show a photograph of the book. The publishing firm The Jared Company used full-color illustrations to promote two books on a single prospectus: Michael Bigg's Delaware… A Photographic Journey and William H. William's The First State: An Illustrated History. The prospectus for Harry V. Ayre's Hotel du Pont Story also shows a photograph of the book. The "Delaware Tercentenary Bulletin" (No. 5 - May, 1938) functions as a prospectus for Christopher L. Ward's New Sweden on tbe Delaware and Charles Lee Reese, Jr.'s Old Swedes Church… . Photographs of both books are used as illustrations and both books are fully described.

Prospectuses also promote books by excerpting from book reviews. Anna T. Lincoln's Wilmington, Delaware, Three Centuries Under Four Flags… presents five opinions from "… four eminent men who have read the manuscript" (all Delawareans) and the mayor of Wilmington, who was apparently not eminent because he had not read the manuscript. Two-thirds of Clement B. Foust's prospectus for his The Life and Dramatic Works of Robert Montgomery Bird is devoted to six excerpts from critical reviews by, for the most part, Ivy League academics.

Another way a prospectus can encourage one to buy the book is to offer a special pre-publication price. A Treasury of Delaware Poetry, 1967 uses this technique on its prospectus saying, "Save 50 cents!" The prospectus for Charles J. Truit's Breadbasket of tbe Revolution… encourages one to order directly from the publisher by offering free shipping and handling.

Sometimes more than one prospectus is issued for a single book. Several of Albert Kruse's illustrations for Henry Seidel Canby's Tbe Age of Confidence… were reproduced to make different prospectuses. Raymond W., W. Martin, and Elizabeth B. Dill's Souls in Heaven — Names in Stone: Kent County, Delaware, Cemetery Records has two different prospectuses: one promotes the book to genealogists and historians and the other promotes it to probate, estate, and real estate attorneys. The latter prospectus includes an excerpt from a review by a member of the Delaware State Bar Association. There was a prospectus for the first edition of Charles M. Wetzel's American Fishing Books in 1950. When the book was reprinted in 1990 another was issued.

Sometimes the prospectus stage is as far as the book progressed. The Press of Kells of Newark, Delaware announced in a prospectus a deluxe edition of William Kerris' Story of an Unknown Church. This book may never have been published. A leatherbound trade edition of C.A. Weslager's New Sweden on the Delaware… was announced in a prospectus, but there were few subscribers and the cost of producing the book exceeded the price of subscription, so the book was never produced.

Prospectuses come in different sizes from the 3¼"x5½" postcard size of Jeanette Slocomb Edward's Inland from the Sea to 8½"x14" legal paper size of Evald Rink's Printing in Delaware to 3¼"x14" for Frank Stephen's Some Songs. Some are letterpress printed offset printing is used for others. Some are photocopies or mimeographs. Some are black and white while others are produced in full color.

The earliest prospectus I have is from 1918, and the latest is from 1991. Prospectuses are as varied as the books they promote this is their appeal and why I enjoy collecting them.

The following is a list of other Delaware book prospectuses in my collection: Recovery… by Janet Grubb Taylor Kurt Vonnegut. Jr., A Descriptive Bibliography… by Asa B. Pierratt (a University of Delaware librarian) and Jerome Klinkowitz The Delaware Seashore… by Michael Biggs Swedes in America… by A.B. Benson and N. Hedin Shorebirds: The Birds. The Hunters, The Decoys by John M. Levinson (a Wilmington physician) and Somers G. Headley Milford Neck, A Short History by L. Roland Beebe and I Well Remember… by Clarence A. Fulmer.

I work for a bookselling and publishing company that issues prospectuses for its publications, but the books do not relate to the literature or history of Delaware. [Editor's update 2006. Tom as long since moved to another employer.] The only Delaware connection is the imprint. This does not stop me from keeping in my collection a copy of each prospectus. They are still examples of Delaware ephemera to my mind.

Delaware collectors will understand how difficult it is to draw the line on what constitutes a Delaware book or Delaware-related piece of ephemera. Wherever the line is drawn, Delaware book collectors should not overlook book prospectuses as they present an important record of the history of Delaware books and bookselling. — Thomes E. Doherty

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