Before the modern age, most people did not own a single book. This is because reading was considered inferior to writing. The cost of a single book ranged anywhere from two to twenty shillings. A single volume of English Grammar, for example, would cost about $1 to $3. In 1787, the value of a pound was seven dollars. A shilling in Pennsylvania was five cents.
Prices of atlases
The prices of atlases in the 1800s varied widely. They varied based on the contents, rarity, and condition of the map. Some maps were of particular importance, while others were just for decorative purposes. The price of an atlas in this period was also influenced by the cartographer. A famous cartographer, Victor Levasseur, published the Atlas Nationale in Paris in the mid-19th century. The book was one of the most commercially successful works of the century. Levasseur used talented artists from France to illustrate each small map.
As the world became more interconnected, the importance of maps became more apparent. The 1860s saw the publication of state atlases for Delaware, Pennsylvania, and New York. Frederick W. Beers was an avid publisher of county atlases in these areas and helped to boost their prices.
Price of three-decker novel
The price of a three-decker novel in the 1800s was not cheap. The cost of these novels was so high that they were not widely advertised, and they were only available through circulating libraries. Since publishers rely on large purchases of these novels from libraries to keep their prices low, they did not advertise their price.
In the nineteenth century, the average novel cost around one guinea, so it was impossible for the average individual to buy one. Fortunately, there were private circulating libraries that bought up most of the stock. The price of a three-decker novel was still very high, but this was less than half of the cost of a modern novel.
Price of paperback
The price of a paperback in the 1800s was considerably higher than it is today. It was common for books to cost 2s6d, 3s, 6s, 7s and even 21s. However, the book trade price profile gradually began to shift towards cheaper books. In the late nineteenth century, reprints of all kinds were selling for 6d to 3s6d. Trade journals failed to report on the low prices of these works, although the Oxford University Press was publishing Bible books for as low as 1d.
The German-language market was a strong supporter of inexpensive paper-bound books. In 1841, a German publisher, Bernhard Tauchnitz, issued the Railway Library of British and American authors, which was a precursor of mass-market paperbacks. In 1857, Reclam began publishing Shakespeare in paperback. It also pioneered the mass-market paper-bound Universal-Bibliothek series. After Pocket Books, a number of companies entered the paperback publishing industry. Most of these companies published reprints of books, and only a few published original works.
Cost of subscription libraries
While a subscription to a subscription library today might be expensive, it was far more costly in the 1800s. Subscription libraries consisted of serious collections of books that covered specific topics. Male subscribers paid annual fees which were used to purchase books. Unlike today, these subscription libraries were not open to the public.
A subscription library, or circulating library, was a business that was meant to serve a particular market, in this case, readers in poverty. These libraries were also used by people who had difficulty paying for books or who were out of town. By the end of the 1800s, there were twenty-six circulating libraries and more than 540 subscription libraries. Subscription libraries were often privately run and created as an alternative to public libraries. At this time, many subscription libraries were founded in neighborhoods where there was no circulating library.
Cost of cloth covers
During the 1800s, book cloth was a relatively new technology, with printing on cloth a much cheaper option than on leather. Prior to this development, books were sold in sheets or paper wraps. These were meant to serve as temporary covers until the binding could be completed. As printing became more efficient, book cloth became more popular. As a result, the cost of cloth covers decreased, and the books became more accessible.
By the 1860s, cloth covers for books cost two to three shillings per copy. However, the cost of bevelled boards and gilt edges made these covers considerably more expensive. A standard binding would have blind blocking on the lower cover, and the upper cover would feature identical blocking on the borders and central vignette. Books with gold stamping on the spine would also be priced higher.
Cost of Leipzig booksellers
Leipzig booksellers specialized in certain genres of books. In the 1590s, Michael Lantzenberger specialized in hymnals. Hymnals had a relatively low production cost and good sales prospects. Some were even promulgated by official decree. As a result, publishers were more than happy to underwrite these publications. Most of the hymnals printed by Lantzenberger and Am Ende were published by Jakob Apel. Henning Grosse also specialized in hymnals.
Leipzig was also a center for the printing of music. Most of the printers in the city produced music at a similar price to ordinary texts. Some of the local composers sent their music to Leipzig for printing.
Other factors that affected prices
In the 1800s, the printing press grew in popularity and the number of books available increased. As a result, many non-denominational publishers produced large runs of inexpensive texts. Before the end of the century, steam printing presses and paper mills were introduced, which lowered the price of books and increased their quantity.