coming eventsComing Events

February 7 

PBA Galleries

February 8-10 

CA Book Fairs

February 21 


February 21 

Swann Galleries

February 6 


Find More Events in the FB&C Calendar

In the News

"The Federalist" and Other Firsts at Heritage's Rare Books Auction in NYC

Dallas, Texas - A rare copy of The Federalist: A Collection of Essays, Written... read more

Time-Capsule Collection from the Virginia House Museum Comes to Freeman's

Philadelphia - Declared by the National Register of Historic Places to be “a noteworthy... read more

Waverly's Feb. 28 Auction Spotlights Presidential Material & First Editions

Falls Church, Virginia - A letter written by Abraham Lincoln in the early days... read more

Boston Athenaeum Announces Expansion

Boston—The Boston Athenæum, a distinguished and vibrant independent library and cultural institution, announces its... read more

NY International Antiquarian Book Fair Returns to Park Avenue Armory March 7-10

New York—The beloved New York International Antiquarian Book Fair (NYIABF) produced by Sanford L.... read more

Littmann Collection of German Expressionism & Avant-Garde at Swann March 5

New York-Swann Galleries’ March 5 auction boasts property from the Ismar Littmann Family Collection,... read more

"Lacock Abbey: Birthplace of Photography on Paper" Opens March 2

New York - Photography on paper was born in 1839 in England at Lacock... read more

The Morgan Announces the Restoration of J. Pierpont Morgan’s Library

New York-The Morgan Library & Museum announced today the exterior restoration of J. Pierpont... read more

Follow us on TwitterLike us on Facebook
Auction Guide
Advertise with Us
2015 Bookseller Resource Guide
Special Report

The Big Sell

More than anything, it was the book agent’s unrelenting persistence to make a sale that seems to have brought the industry universal public disdain. Newspapers of the day carried regular anecdotes from distraught readers who fell into the clutches of a determined agent. When Manitoba’s Winnipeg Daily Times declared book agents along with mosquitoes, houseflies, and mad dogs as the summer’s worst pests, there were probably few homeowners who would have disagreed. It is no wonder the Brandon [Manitoba] Mail concluded that there “is probably no class of workers … that has received more abuse, has had more ill-natured flings thrust at it” than the book agent.

The book agent’s unrelenting persistence to make a sale brought the industry universal public disdain.

In the end, Elizabeth Lindley had to give up the door-to-door book business after only a month’s trial. She seems to have largely ignored her training manual. Several times the publisher made an honest attempt to assist her—he substituted different titles for her to peddle and directed her to different parts of the state where the homeowners might be more receptive. Still, she never came close to making the $35 a week she had been promised. But at no point did Lindley demonstrate the energy, pertinacity, and shrewdness that successful agents required. She took many a customer’s rebuke personally, not realizing it was only a comment by a person prejudiced against her calling and determined not to be influenced by her representations. Perhaps her young age was the problem. If she had more experience in the ways of the world, she might have been better equipped to judge people’s character and exploit their vulnerabilities.

Elizabeth Lindley’s efforts were not completely in vain, however. Through her little venture in book canvassing, Lindley met her future husband.

1 Endnotes: Elizabeth Lindley, The Diary of a Book-Agent, New York: Broadway Publishing Co., 1912, pg. 3.

Jeffrey Murray is a Senior Archivist at Library and Archives Canada in Ottawa. He is the author of Terra Nostra: The Stories behind Canada’s Maps, 1550-1950, McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2006.

comments powered by Disqus