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A: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States

Benjamin Franklin Issues the First American Trade Catalogues


In a Guide to American Trade Catalogues 1744-1900 (1960) page x Lawrence B. Romaine stated that the earliest American trade catalogue was the following list of books for sale issued by Benjamin Franklin in Philadelphia in 1744:

A Catalogue of Choice and Valuable Books, Consisting of Near 600 Volumes, in Most Faculties and Sciences, viz: Divinity, History, Law, Mathematics, Philosophy, Physics, Poetry, etc., Which Will Begin to be Sold for Ready Money Only, by Benjamin Franklin, at the Post Office in Philadelphia, on Wednesday, the 11th day of April 1744, at Nine a Clock in the Morning and for Dispatch, the Lowest Price is Mark'd in Each Book. The Sale to Continue Three Weeks, and No Longer; and What Then Remains Will be Sold at an Advanced Price. Those Persons that Live Remote, by Sending their Order and Money to Said B. Franklin, May Depend upon the Same Justice as if Present.

The 16-page pamphlet was divided into sections, following the traditional method of classifying the books by size: Books in folio, Books in quarto, Books in octavo, books in duodecimo, and, as a final item, a pair of globes 16 inches in diameter made by in London by J. Senex. (This information comes from Romaine p. 71.)

When I wrote this entry in November 2014 I could not find a digital facsimile of the rare original. I did note that a facsimile edition of the copy in the Curtis Collection of Philadelphia Imprints at the University of Pennsylvania Library was issued in 1948 with an introduction by Carl van Doren. When I returned to this topic in September 2020 I discovered that the Wikipedia offered a digital facsimile of the 1744 edition that apparently had been uploaded in 2015. Resolution of this facsimile is low.

Romaine page 358 also cited a pamphlet written and printed by Franklin on the Franklin Stoves issued the same year: An Account of the New Invented Pennsylvanian Fire-Places (Philadelphia, 1744). Though Romaine cited some disagreement in 1960 as to whether this was actually a trade catalogue, its commercial purpose seems to have become widely accepted, as per the introductory comments to the above linked-to copy of the text from the website of the National Archives.

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