Published online by Cambridge University Press: 28 March 2008
The late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries saw significant changes in both libraries and the book trade in Britain. It was a great age of private book-collecting, both as a scholarly necessity and as an aristocratic fashion. It was a time in which the commercial provision of libraries transformed the accessibility of books and the pursuit of leisure reading across Great Britain. It was a period in which philanthropic and eventually public provision of libraries became established. It was also an era in which new institutional libraries were established, including a de facto national library for the United Kingdom, and existing institutions re-examined their objectives, their contents and their provision. In the book trade, there was unprecedented growth, interrupted only briefly by economic setbacks. New conventions of publishing were established, especially in fiction, but also in the development of periodical literature, the widespread use of subscription publishing, and the serial publication of books in parts on a large scale. New channels of distribution were opened by the improvements in inland transport which characterised the period. Bookshops proliferated across the whole of the British Isles. New manifestations of bookselling evolved from the antiquarian specialists for the collector to the remainder merchants and the national wholesaling houses who became essential cogs in the internal machinery of the trade. New materials and new production methods increased the number of books and reduced their prices. In 1750, the book trade was a pre-industrial activity, with a clear line of descent from the guild-dominated crafts and trade of the sixteenth century; by 1850 it was a modern commercial enterprise.