A Catalogue of the Most Vendible Books in England

Making Shakespeare –  Selling Shakespeare

#43 William London, A Catalogue of the Most Vendible Books in England (1658)

The bookseller William London included “Mr. Shakespeare’s Plays” (one of the Folio collections) along with copies of King Lear and Richard II in his catalogue of “vendible” books. (A “vendible” book is one that is easily sold). However, London listed them in the section of “Romances, Poems, and Plays” which in a lengthy introduction he derides as “least useful of any” books. His catalogue thus demonstrates the conflicted status of printed plays. London was attempting to reverse the meaning of “vendible”—he prized ethical, not economic, profit—by utilizing the marketing strategies of the book trade. Most of London’s book lists the titles of important religious and academic books. In order to accomplish his goal of making knowledge more accessible, he embraced the world of commerce. Yet in doing so, he helped to consolidate the very genres he criticized. This copy was inscribed by three different owners—in the years 1684, 1749, and 1843—demonstrating the remarkable longevity and usefulness of London’s book.

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