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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

From button chaser to bookseller

Here's a pair of Victorian trade cards that offer a bit of bookselling and printing history, with an unintended vocabulary lesson thrown in.



As usual, these cards offer images that are colorful and attractive (children playing games in this case), but have nothing to do with the business they represent. Oftentimes, the bookseller would have his business particulars printed on the reverse side. With these cards, that information is printed on the illustrated side in only three lines. The reverse side is blank.



Both cards were printed by Eugene Ketterlinus in Philadelphia (fine print in lower-right corner), whose building, coincidentally, was demolished in the 1960s for the U.S. Mint building (so... from print to mint). On that same site in the 1850s, a bookseller had plied his trade. Ketterlinus demolished that building and built a new structure in the 1850s, ensuring a long business history at that location from books to printing (from trade cards to money).

William Patton, the bookselling proprietor listed on the above trade cards, was born in 1809, probably in Brooklyn, NY, as that's where his Scotch-Irish parents immigrated. Here's where the vocabulary lesson comes in. Patton grew up in New York and became a button chaser. Taken literally, that occupation conjures up some strange visuals.

It took a bit digging around the Internet and even a few books (old-fashioned research) to find what I think is the answer. A button chaser was an engraver of some sort. Perhaps silver or perhaps prints. For Patton, I would think prints because he was known to be an avid reader and discovered he liked bookselling better than button chasing (apologies to the grammar police if I just verbed a noun... oops, I did it again).

He came to Waterbury a button chaser and became one of the first in town to engage in that line of work. His love of books and reading, however, turned his attention to the bookselling business, and he became the pioneer bookseller of Waterbury--the very first one. He continued in that business for over forty years, adding newspaper publishing and a bookbindery to his business in 1848. He had his trade cards printed in Philadelphia (why not New York, I wonder?) by Ketterlinus. At the time these trade cards were issued, the name of the business appears to have been Ye Anciente Bookstore, but I don't know if the business always had that name.

William Patton died in 1883. Before he died, though, he sold his business to George N. Ells, under whom the business was known as The Book Haunt. In the preceding link (information about Ells' death), a good bit of history on Patton's business location was provided, which may be of interest to Philadelphia historians:
In 1848 he located in the old Lyceum Building, and connected a book bindery with his store. In 1852 the store was removed to the Arcade, and in 1859 to the Hotchkiss Block. Shortly afterward the store was removed to the present Ells Building, on Bank Street, where the business was carried on by Mr. Patton until 1883. In that year it was sold to George N. Ells, who conducted The Haunt under his name until his death a few years ago. The George N. Ells Company was then organized and the business has been carried on under its management since the death of Mr. Ells.
A good source for information on William Patton and the history of Waterbury, Connecticut was found in the book, The Town and City of Waterbury, Connecticut, from the Aboriginal Period to the Year Eighteen Hundred and Ninety-Five, edited by Joseph Anderson, D.D.
with the Assistance of Anna L. Ward (Price and Lee, 1896).

Alas, this and other sources took it for granted that a reader or researcher in 2010 would know what a button chaser was. I'm still not completely sure, but I think I've narrowed it down, though the term's etymology eludes me. I still don't see any connection between the name and the work involved.

Thankfully, bookseller is a name that has run a consistent course of nomenclature throughout the previous millennium. I wonder, though... In 2110, will some historian researching an old seller of bits and bytes of digital information puzzle over the term bookseller?

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