[Newburyport bookseller’s letter to a Philadelphia publisher]. Thomas, booksellers Whipple.
[Newburyport bookseller’s letter to a Philadelphia publisher].

[Newburyport bookseller’s letter to a Philadelphia publisher].

Newburyport, Mass., 3 November 1806. ALS, 4to (11.75” x 7.5”). 2 pp. Postmarked address panel.

An interesting letter reflecting book publishing and selling practices in the early 19th century involving a Philadelphia publisher and a Newburyport, Mass. bookselling firm owned by Isaiah Thomas Jr. (Isaiah Thomas’s sole heir) and a Newburyport abolitionist bookseller.

Thomas & Whipple, Booksellers of Newburyport, Mass. consisted of Charles Whipple (1781–1859) and Isaiah Thomas Jr. (1773–1819), the latter strictly as an investor. Presumably written by Whipple, this letter addresses John Watts of Philadelphia, publisher of the Port Folio, a Federalist literary and political magazine. Whipple notes that they have received Watts’s last letter as well as his subscription paper and tells him it is improbable they will want as many as 100 copies of “Select Speeches” but will nevertheless take some of them, advising: “You may therefore invest our firm in the imprint, and forward the first Volume of the work as soon as it is completed.” Upon receiving the volume, they will determine the number wanted and reply. Regarding Watts’s “offer of the Port Folio,” Whipple notes that they “welcome its reception,” but points out that, at 12.5 cents, “no exchanges whatever can be expected to accrue to us.” While asking for new terms, he nevertheless asks Watts to "inform Mr. [Joseph] Dennie [Editor of Port Folio] that he may imprint the names of Thomas & Whipple among the lists of Agents, and forward several copies of the work to us." He promises to promote the work, noting they have “long considered it as an entertaining and highly useful paper.” He also requests the number of the Port Folio printed a year or two “since containing satiric lines on the Mammoth and Museum of Philadelphia.”

Published from 1801 to 1827, the Port Folio was initially published by both Joseph Dennie and Asbury Dickins. Dickins was later dropped and Dennie remained editor from 1802 to 1812. Dennie, a Federalist, wrote under the name of Oliver Oldschool; a number of other magazine contributors wrote under aliases, including members of the Federalist Party. John Watts was the printer and publisher in 1806. The book entitled “Select Speeches” referenced by Whipple was apparently never published. Watts issued a prospectus (a copy is held by AAS), but we find no record for the book itself in Worldcat. The lukewarm reception that Whipple gives it is likely indicative of a more general lack of sufficient interest.

Born in Boston, Isaiah Thomas Jr. was the only son and business successor of his father Isaiah Thomas (1749–1831), the prominent publisher, author and founder of the American Antiquarian Society. Thomas Jr. served as the Society's treasurer from 1813 until his death in 1819, and was remembered as “a man of large intelligence and fond of books.” Thomas Jr. was taught the printing business by his father, starting his career as a bookseller in 1792 at 19 years old. In 1799 he became the co-publisher of the Massachusetts Spy, sharing the masthead with his father until 1801, when he became the sole publisher and editor. Thomas purchased his father's printing, papermaking and publishing business in 1802 when Thomas Sr. retired. Thomas's business was adversely affected by the War of 1812—despite his attempts to expand his bookselling business by opening shops in Connecticut, Maine and Maryland. He died in Boston in the summer of 1819 from injuries sustained in a fall.

Active in Newburyport from the 1800s to the 1850s, Charles Whipple operated a bookstore in downtown Newburyport for some fifty years. Whipple was an active abolitionist (with links to the Essex County Anti-Slavery Society) and published a version of the pamphlet Immediate Emancipation. In contact with William Lloyd Garrison, Whipple is recorded in 1835 as having sent Garrison numerous books "for the benefit of the People of Color in Boston or elsewhere." (Whipple omitted some of these books in the invoice to Garrison, and recommended that Garrison cover the books in order to protect and conceal them (and thus "promote the object," i.e. abolish slavery).) Thomas & Whipple was succeeded by Whipple alone.

REFERENCES: Letter from Charles Whipple, Newburyport, [Massachusetts], to William Lloyd Garrison, 1835 June 12 at digitalcommonwealth.org; Isaiah Thomas, Mary Thomas Fowle Thomas, and Mary Weld Thomas Pastels at americanantiquarian.org.

CONDITION: Very good, no losses to the text.

Item #6776

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