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Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Clarendon Harris - Worcester Book Store


Here is a fine old bookstore receipt from 1847, illustrated with a likeness of the shop's proprietor, Clarendon Harris of Worcester, Massachusetts.

It came to me accompanied by an even older piece of paper with a record of accounts that included Isaiah Thomas, the patriot printer during the American Revolution, bookseller, and founder of the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, Massachusetts, which pioneered the collection and preservation of printed ephemera pertaining to American history.

Isaiah Thomas was also a mentor to Clarendon Harris in the publishing and bookselling trade. But these were only part of Harris' original business interests. In 1823, Harris teamed with Dorr & Howland to sell wallpapers in Worcester, likely through his book store. Book stores traditionally have had to offer more products than just books, unless the bookseller's specialty was rare or antiquarian books. Wallpaper and stationery, as well as blank books and ledgers, are the most frequently seen items on old billheads and related ephemera. Over the next few years, the company offered more and finer French and American papers.


Competition increased throughout the 1830s. According to an article by Jane C. Nylander at the Old Sturbridge Village site:
Harris at the Worcester Book-Store offered "a better assortment than has ever been offered for sale in this place"; early in 1837 he offered "French Satin and Common Paper, suitable for Halls, Parlors, &c., which will be sold at manufacturer's prices"; in September of 1837 he announced the imminent closing of the business, selling "what they have now on hand at less than cost."
The 1847 dates on the bill head indicate the bookselling end of business was able to continue.


I was able to find out something about the fruit book indicated on the billhead, which he sold for $1.50 on August 18th, 1847. From the Historica Botanica blog (which appears inactive the last few years), I learned the full title of the book, The Fruits and Fruit Trees of America, and that it was a collaboration between Charles Downing and his younger brother Andrew.

The illustrated book was originally published in 1845, but subsequent editions in 1847 and 1850 are noted for the addition of some 70 chromolithographs. I'm guessing that William Green, the buyer indicated on the billhead, bout the 1847 edition, judging by the date of the billhead. Today, surprisingly, early editions can be found for prices that won't break the bank--less than $250.

The order date and the payment date vary by more than a month. Perhaps the August 18th date is an order date and the book came in on September 23rd. Or maybe the book was purchased on credit and the account paid later.

Of the buyer, William E. Green, Esq., I have other receipts for books he, or another Wm. Green, bought in Worcester in the years before and after the Clarendon Harris purchase, most notably from Isaiah Thomas. There may have been different William Greens in Worcester at that time, as the middle initials vary on the hand-written scraps of paper (nothing as fancy as Clarendon's illustrated billhead). These receipts require further research and will be the subject of a future post.

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