Thursday, 20 August 2015

The Life of David Brainerd

Title page for The Life of Brainerd, signed on the flyleaf by Moses Peck
Today, I am reporting on the newest edition to my collection of antiquarian books, The Life of David Brainerd. This was Jonathan Edwards's most popular book, and has never gone out of print. It is a biography about a young New England missionary to Native Americans who died of tuberculosis at Edwards's house in Northampton, Massachusetts. Edwards's biography of Brainerd was first published at Boston in 1749 by the bookseller Daniel Henchman (1689-1761), who hired Samuel Kneeland (1697-1769) to do the composition and print work. The patriot printer Isaiah Thomas described Henchman as "the most eminent and enterprising bookseller that appeared in Boston, or, indeed, in all British America, before the year 1775." Henchman's daughter Lydia married Thomas Hancock, another bookseller and merchant in Boston, and the uncle of John Hancock.

Subscription list for The Life of Brainerd, showing Moses Peck's name
Henchman hired Kneeland as his printer on several occasions, but The Life of Brainerd represents their largest collaboration. The book was printed as an octavo of nearly 350 pages, and contains a subscription list of nearly 2,000 people after Edwards's preface. One of the subscribers on the list was Moses Peck (1717-1801), a silversmith and watchmaker who attended the Old South Church along with Henchman and Kneeland, pastored by the evangelical minister Joseph Sewall and Thomas Prince. Peck was friends with the revivalist Eleazar Wheelock (founder of Dartmouth College) and the Mohegan evangelical minister Samson Occom, and was very supportive of missionary work among Native Americans. My particular copy was signed by Peck at three different times on the flyleaf sheets, including the leaf opposite the title page, as shown in the first image above.

An extant proposal for The Life of Brainerd describes the condition of the sale to subscribers, offering a number of binding options. It could be bought "halfbound, with pasteboard and cover'd with blue or marble paper," for twenty-four shillings in Old Tenor Massachusetts currency, "common plain bound" in sheepskin for twenty-eight shillings, or plain bound in sheepskin and "sowed on bands" for thirty-two shillings. According to the proposal, half the impressions for this book would be printed on one kind of paper, and a second would be printed on a paper of an inferior grade that would reduce the costs listed above by two shillings.

In the colonial period, books could be bound in a variety of ways. One of the cheapest options was to use pasteboard, made by layering several poor quality sheets of paper together by pressure until a certain thickness had been achieved. Pasteboard was often covered with inexpensive blue or marbled paper to add some color to the boards. Mention in the proposal that the books with pasteboard and marbled paper would be "halfbound" meant that the spine and part of the boards would be overlaid with leather. The other options to subscribers were for full leather bindings in sheepskin. As the cheapest form of leather available in the colonies, sheepskin provided a sturdier and better option than books "in boards" alone, although still inferior to those bound with a more durable product like calfskin or goatskin.

Even though the proposal only presented the book to subscribers in these three options, I have located several records indicating that about seventy copies or so were bound in calfskin, and some with elaborate gilt work. The most prominent name featured on the subscription list, Governor Jonathan Belcher, for instance, ordered three copies at forty shillings and another three at 37s.6d. These expensive copies were assuredly bound with gilt work and at least three seems to have had a black label on the spine (one of the purchasing orders contains the description "black" next to the entry).

Moses Peck's book was clearly bound in sheepskin and with raised bands (see images above). This means that Peck paid either thirty-two or thirty shillings for his copy, depending on the kind of paper that the printer used for this particular copy (In the days ahead, I will be analyzing the paper used within the book). The tooling work on the boards of Peck's book is also very interesting to me. It mirrors other copies of The Life of Brainerd that I have seen at archives, such as the Library Company of Philadelphia. Based on my research, I think that either Henchman or someone in his shop did the binding work, and not Kneeland, who was hired solely to do the printing.

In my forthcoming book, I will be talking a lot about the publication of The Life of Brainerd. With nearly 2,000 subscribers, it surpassed the average print run for colonial books by at least 1,500 copies. An army of ministers and magistrates gathered subscriptions for the book, including Brainerd's Yale classmate Samuel Buell (debited for 141 copies) and friend Ebenezer Pemberton (71 copies).

In order to complete the composition and print work, Samuel Kneeland ordered at least ninety-four reams of paper. At twenty-two sheets in octavo per book, this number of reams would have been enough to complete the print work for roughly 2,000 copies. With the help of Professor Michael Winship at the University of Texas at Austin, my preliminary analysis is that at first Kneeland thought that he could print the book with eighty-eight reams of paper, forty-four reams for each of the two kinds of paper mentioned in the proposal. However, at some point, it appears that he notified Henchman that he would need at least an additional six reams to complete the job. The English Short Title Catalogue (ESTC) contains a note signifying that a number of sheets were reprinted and inserted into the middle of the book. These sheets presumably came from the extra reams of paper that Kneeland ordered from Henchman. I will be studying the collation formula in my copy in order to figure out how many of the pages were reprinted and inserted into the book, and on what kind of paper. A quick look at some of the pages at the beginning of the book and in the middle of my copy, shows that this was a different kind of paper by comparison to most of the other pages. In the image below, if you look closely, you may be able to see small sections of light colored paper at the beginning and middle of the book.


In my forthcoming book, I will be including much more detailed information on the publication of The Life of Brainerd and other books by Jonathan Edwards.

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