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Wednesday, August 11, 2010
Best Seller Numbers from 1,000 to 1,000,000 ...
In 1947 Frank Luther Mott wrote a most excellent book, Golden Multitudes, the Story of Best Sellers in the United States. The following is gleaned from his book,. need I reiterate the book is a fascinating read, with much worthwhile information concerning , not only authors, but publishers as well ...and, of course, public taste through the centuries. For a book published in the U.S. in 1662 to be a Best Seller it had to sell at least 1,000 copies. For 1662 it was Michael Wigglesworth's The Day of Doom - (Those Puritans - always obsessed with ... well ... Doom!) By 1710 the required number of sales to be considered a best seller was 4,000. In 1719 Mother Goose's Melodies for Children published by Thomas Fleet took numbers far past 10 little piggies. It shared the honors with Isaac Watts's Divine and Moral Songs for the Use of Children. Mother Goose was a sure antidote to The Day of Doom and Watts was a decided improvement. By 1800 the number of required sales had jumped to 50,000! In 1800 Mason Weems's famous (or infamous, depending on your point of view) book, Life of Washington was the best seller. Weems was an itinerate book peddler who roamed the eastern sea board selling the printed word. Lay a little axe at his feet, for it was he who promulgated this pretty little myth. By 1820 the number has doubled - to 100,000. Walter Scott's Ivanhoe was the best seller. Consider that 1820 heralded James Fenimore Cooper as an author with his Precaution (2 volumes). Precaution was an abject failure, complete with the publisher's printed warning against Cooper's word-sense. No doubting the greatness of Ivanhoe - a most delicious read!.... But reading Cooper's first effort would have led one to doubt the wisdom of his venturing further as an author. Cooper wrote Precaution because he had read Jane Austen and vowed that he could do better. He could, but not in her "baliwick". However, in 1821 Cooper hit the 100,000 mark with The Spy. By 1850 the required number was 225,000. Seven authors shared the honor: Giovanni Boccaccio for The Decameron; Robert Browning for his simply titled Poems; Charles Dickens, with David Copperfield; Nathaniel Hawthorne for The Scarlet Letter; Donald G. Mitchell (Ik Marvel) for Reveries of a Bachelor; William Makepeace Thackeray for Pendennis (is this still read?); and Susan Warner's The Wide, Wide World. The Scarlet Letter was not the bane of schoolboys but the latest hot read! Warners book was not the Prequel to "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World"; nor was it the inspiration for the multifarious Wide Awake Stories thrust upon toddlers. Not surprising the inclusion of The Decameron - it passed for racy in 1850 and the reading public, despite the efforts of Mrs. Grundy, has always been favorable to a little spice ... and all the better that it took place far across the ocean and far, far long ago - why, it's an ancient classic, Mrs. Grundy ... hmmm it still can match any modern work for spiciness. Another 50 years and the number required for a book to be a best seller was 750,000. Irving Bacheller's Eban Holden and Winston Churchill's The Crisis shared the take. Both are endemic at FOL sales, but bear up to reading. Churchill was extremely popular in his day. Winston was no relation to Winston. It was in 1920 that the required power number reached One Million (1,000,000). E. Phillips Oppenheim made it with The Great Impersonation (who impersonates whom?), and H. G. Wells with Outline of History - another FOL favorite as well as the darling of the book clubs, where it was transformed from a big fat book into two smaller and cheesily made volumes.