Saturday, 18 January 2014

A Piece of History

I was excited to receive by post today, my first edition copy of Jonathan Edwards's Religious Affections, published at Boston in 1746. I can see that this particular copy was originally bound in calfskin, but at some point, the front and back covers were overlaid with a cheaper form of sheepskin. It is cool to think that the copy that I now own was most likely bound in Samuel Kneeland's shop, and might have been purchased by one of Edwards's friends in his New England network.

Religious Affections is one of Edwards's most important books, and, significantly, published first in America (as opposed to London). By 1746, Edwards had already established an international reputation by authoring such works as A Divine and Supernatural Light (printed by Kneeland and Green at Boston in 1734), A Faithful Narrative of the Surprising Work of God (first published by John Oswald at London in 1737), a volume of sermons printed by Kneeland and Green at Boston in 1738, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God (Boston: Kneeland and Green, 1741), The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God (Boston: Kneeland and Green, 1742), and Some Thoughts Concerning the Present Revival of Religion in New England (Boston: Kneeland and Green, 1742). Although Kneeland was involved in producing a number of Edwards's writings, Religious Affections is the only time that I know of when the Boston printer acted as a publisher for Edwards.

There is a really interesting advertisement at the end of the volume by Kneeland in which he discloses the approximate number of subscribers and his fear that he did not produce enough copies of Religious Affections to meet the public demand. In my current book project, I explain why Kneeland's advertisement at the end of Religious Affections actually hurt the sale of this edition. You'll have to read my book when it is completed to get the full explanation of this part of the story.

Kneeland published a separate proposal for Religious Affections in a broadside that he printed at Boston in the spring of 1745. Although he doesn't provide the price in this printed proposal, I found a manuscript from one subscriber who said that he paid 28 shillings Old Tenor for his copy of Religious Affections. Even though this person probably purchased his copy at a discounted price, we can use his cost as a basis and multiple this amount by the approximate number of subscribers stated in Kneeland's advertisement to arrive at a gross sales figure of £1,820, or roughly £230 Lawful Money. This amount would not have made Kneeland rich, but he certainly could have made a tidy profit on this venture had he been able to unload his inventory.

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