Saturday, August 12, 2006

THE TECHNOLOGY OF BOOKSELLING
Part I - Our First Lists and Catalogs

This is a picture of our farm house on the Rockville Road, Near Glen Rock, PA

In our earliest years at the farm books started accumulating at a startling rate.

We soon realized that just quoting through AB would not move enough stock. We had to start sending out LISTS. To call them CATALOGS was a presumption that we did not assume until they started to contain 500 books, and more.

The first step was to begin a card file of the books we then had for sale - mostly Americana (mainly priced under $ 20.00, and often under $ 5.00). The lists would then be created from the card file.At a local auction we bought a very old A.B. Dick mimeograph machine, that used paper stencils which had to be cut with a typewriter. The process was something like this.

(1.) Typing out the list one page at a time, on a special coated paper stencil; using a manual or electric typewriter (or writing by hand). [In the beginning, Belle's ancient portable typewriter, that was sometimes used for quoting, was our only way to cut the stencils].
(2.) Covering the mistakes with a special correction fluid, which had a noxious odor.
(3.) Waiting for the correction fluid on the stencil to dry.
(4.) Carefully aligning the stencil in the typewriter to correct the typos.
(5.) Placing the stencil in the mimeograph machine.
(6.) Clamping the stencil into place without creases or tears.
(7.) Placing the special paper to be copied onto, into the feed-bin
(8.) Fill the machine with a thick-ish black ink, that tended to get into unwanted places.
(9.) Find a good place to run the machine and neatly stack the copies.
(10.) Cranking the machine (usually by hand - over and over and over and over) .
(11). Repeat the process when you screwed something up.

It was a labor intensive task that tested ones patience.

The whole thing came out a bit of a mess... but we sent the first list out anyway, to be joined by about a dozen brothers and sisters of different lengths and qualities.

Lo and behold, we sold quite a few books.

In those days there were a lot of mimeographed lists that were avidly read. Those from the original Whitlock Farm Booksellers were especially valued, but there were many other excellent booksellers that issued lists using this cheap technology.


A friend of ours had an old IBM Executive Model 41 Typewriter that he no longer used and, as the price was right (free), I tried it for the stencils. The Executive had proportional spacing, with each letter getting a different space according to its width [Mm takes up more space than Ii]. It even had a split spacebar for spacing of two or three "microspaces". It was a great machine, once you learned the tricks. It was a real leap forward for us.

The old Dick mimeograph machine was getting more troublesome and annoying. We replaced it with a Gestetner duplicator, which was a more modern and efficient mimeograph. A great feature was that it could print on a better grade of paper. But it was still hand cranked, and it took forever to complete a list of any length and quantity. Overall, the Gestetner was really no great improvement, but the better type quality began to show us new possibilities.

AMERICA ! Ca: 1975. This was the second or third catalog we produced by offset.

Late in 1974 we learned about a small printer that would produce 8 x 11" catalogs for us, by offset, from camera ready copy, at fair prices. We could use the IBM for the text body and employ press or transfer type (cut-out or rub-off letters printed on clear acetate sheets) to hand set headlines and display details. Later we worked in illustrations and more complex presentations.
The mimeograph machine went to the attic... and was henceforth used only for a few particularly suitable projects.

[To Be Continued]

3 Comments:

Blogger EJCrow said...

Geez, those were the days!

2:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

good work keep it up...

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10:23 AM  
Blogger David said...

Whitlock Farms!!! Brings back some wonderful memories.

10:22 AM  

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