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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XI. The Period of the French Revolution.

XIV. Book Production and Distribution, 1625–1800

§ 35. Circulating Libraries and Book Clubs

The earliest recorded date of the establishment of a circulating library in London seems to be 1740; but, for some fifteen years before this, Allan Ramsay, the poet bookseller, had been lending out to the citizens of Edinburgh English novels and romances at a penny a night, possibly to the scandal of the unco guid, but thereby letting a breath of wider air into the particularism of the Scottish literary taste of the time. The movement soon spread, both in the metropolis and in the provinces: in 1751, the enterprising William Hutton of Birmingham added a library to his bookshop; and, in the same decade, a subscription library was established in Liverpool. John Nicholson, familiarly known as “Maps,” had his library in Cambridge; and, by the end of the century, others were to be found in most towns of any importance. The numerous private book clubs which existed in every part of the country also formed a considerable channel for the distribution of books. In these clubs, members contributed a certain sum periodically for the purchase of books, which were circulated in rotation among subscribers, much in the same fashion that still obtains.