Thursday, 3 September 2015

Robert Hodge's Edition of A History of the Work of Redemption

I recently purchased two antiquarian books, adding to my collection of works by Jonathan Edwards. For the purposes of this post, I will be talking about my copy of the 1786 edition of A History of the Work of Redemption. The first edition of A History of the Work of Redemption was published at Scotland in 1774, and represented the first collaboration between Jonathan Edwards, Jr., who transcribed his father's manuscript, and John Erskine, who did the editorial work for the book from Scotland and arranged for its publication in Edinburgh.

The 1786 New York edition of A History of the Work of Redemption interests me because of its subscription list and advertisements. This edition was printed by Shepard Kollock for the New York bookseller Robert Hodge, who emigrated from Scotland around 1770 after serving as an apprentice in Edinburgh. Hodge first worked in Philadelphia for a printer before establishing his own bookselling and printing business in New York City.

Looking at the proposal for this book to the right, one will see that subscribers would pay ten shillings in New York currency, and non-subscribers twelve shillings. I estimate that these amounts would have been worth about 5s.6d./6s.6d. in British pound sterling at the time. The advertisements states that for every twelve books that subscribers bought, they would receive one copy gratis, with no money being required until it was delivered, that the book will be printed as an octavo of about 400 pages, that printing would begin once 500 subscriptions had been accounted for, and that it "will be printed on good paper and type," and "in a neat and elegant manner." One final notable feature in the advertisement is that the publisher would include a subscription list within the book.

My particular copy was bound in mottled sheepskin, and lettered on the spine, with raised bands,  and some gilding. Overall, this would have been an attractive copy when it was first bound.

Hodge did include a subscription list at beginning of the book, with some 476 names purchasing 736 copies. If he sold these books at the minimum price of 10s., and factoring in the number of free copies, he could have earned about £360 in New York currency as a gross sales figure, or roughly £200 in British sterling. Even after paying Kollock for the expense of composition and printing, it probably was a profitable venture for Hodge.

I am currently working on plotting the geographical distribution of subscribers for this book, but for now I can say that most of the people who ordered copies came from New York and New Jersey. What this seems to indicate is that the place of publication, in this case New York City, essentially dictated who the subscribers would be. The evidence points to Hodge using his personal and professional network to round up subscribers for the book in the surrounding regions. Even though the author, Jonathan Edwards, lived in Massachusetts, the subscribers for this particular edition of A History of the Work of Redemption predominantly came from the areas around the place of publication. Some of the largest orders came from nearby booksellers, such as Isaac Beers in New Haven, Connecticut and Thomas Dobson of Philadelphia, who would have been buying books wholesale in order to sell them in their shops at retail prices for a small profit.

At the end of Hodge's edition of A History of the Work of Redemption, there is a bookseller's advertisement (see the image to the right), dated from New York on August 29, 1786. In the advertisement, Hodge "returns his unfeined thanks to the public, for the generous encouragement they have given towards" the publishing of this edition. Due to the success of his version of A History of the Work of Redemption, Hodge offered detailed plans of publishing a new edition of Edwards's Religious Affections. The conditions of the sale for this book are the same as before: 10s./12s. to subscribers/non-subscribers for an octavo of about 400 pages, with a gratis copy given to those who subscribe for twelve.

Hodge published his edition of Religious Affections the following year in 1787, but this book does not appear to have sold very well. In the published subscription list, 308 people bought 462 copies, figures significantly less than the ones for his edition of A History of the Work of Redemption. Also interesting is the fact that Hodge included about 100 pages of additional material that he did not mention in his first advertisement. Besides the content of Religious Affections, Hodge's 1787 edition also added biographical material on Edwards, his daughter Esther Edwards Burr, and Sarah Edwards.

In my forthcoming monograph, I will be talking more about Hodge's editions and perhaps why some books sold better than others.

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