America's first bookshop caravan

Nearly one hundred years ago, the idea of a portable bookshop, motorized on wheels, was just that--an idea. Then along came Christopher Morley's little book, Parnassus on Wheels, in 1917, and the idea soon became a reality in the summer of 1920 thanks to a woman named Bertha Mahony.

Bertha Mahony was the driving force (no pun intended) behind the bookshop caravan. She was the founding editor of the Horn Book Magazine (publications about children's literature) and later founded the Bookshop for Boys and Girls in Boston in 1916. She began to envision selling books from a rolling caravan throughout rural New England before Morley's Parnassus on Wheels was even published, but Morley's book may have provided the encouragement she needed to make her dream a reality.

The Horn Book site has a Virtual History Scrapbook with articles and images of the Bookshop Caravan. Barbara Bader wrote an excellent piece in 1999 about its history, titled Treasure Island by the Roadside.

I initially learned about the caravan from an obscure source (a footnote in a book), which I wrote about on the Archaeolibris blog. My search on the subject led to the 1920 advertisement below (now in my collection) for the "Miniature Bookshop on Wheels," as it was referred to. Extracted from a contemporary publication, it also offers an illustration of the caravan, as it was envisioned at the time, along with a schedule of stops on its inaugural route.

Real photos of the caravan, as well as related images of a log book, can be seen HERE. For another set of scrapbook entries, which feature original clippings of publicity for the bookshop caravan, click HERE. There, you'll also find a link to a readable format for the clippings.

For a related post about book automobiles, I recommend Larry T. Nix's fine article HERE.


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