Home  »  Volume XVIII: American LATER NATIONAL LITERATURE: PART III  »  § 13. Supremacy Passes from Philadelphia to New York

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XVIII. Later National Literature, Part III.

XXIX. Book Publishers and Publishing

§ 13. Supremacy Passes from Philadelphia to New York

During these opening decades of the nineteenth century, Philadelphia had been retaining her position as our foremost publishing centre. Two encyclopædias in twenty-one and in forty-seven volumes, one of them representing an investment of $500,000, had been completed there by 1824, works that would have probably overtaxed the publishing facilities of any other of our printing centres. Philadelphia has to her credit, too, the first American edition of Shakespeare and the first American anthology, though one had been projected previously at New York. The final word was said as to the reality of her supremacy when Barlow, a New England man, published there, in 1807, his Columbiad, “in all respects the finest specimen of book making ever produced [up to that time] by an American press.” Though Carey and Hart were ten years after their foundation in 1829 regarded as the leading publishers of belles-lettres in America, their place in this respect was soon to be taken by Ticknor and Fields of Boston. And while Philadelphia holds to the present day supremacy in the publication of medical literature, the foundation of her primacy running back well into the eighteenth century, the rising greatness of New York began somewhere about 1820 to relegate her, as a whole, to second place.

Perhaps the dominant reason for this change was the fact that during the period of bitterly intense rivalry to secure the latest European success for reprinting, the port of New York won a publishing victory over that of Philadelphia. One does not, however, have any too comfortable a feeling in asserting that primacy ever did belong to New York until the sixties. Philadelphia declined slowly; and up to the Civil War it, conservative and neutral, was the chief distributing centre for the South and, to a considerable extent, for the West. Moreover, evidence is not clear as to when Boston, for the second time, began to lead, though we may say probably some time in the early forties.