The Reference Catalogue for Current Literature (London)
Indices of Contributors and Advertisers 1874-1932

Publishers' Trade List Annual
An Index of Contributors and Advertisers 1873-1947
To: PTLA Indexes 1873-1947

This is the home page for an analysis of the U.S. publishers who contributed catalogs to, or advertised in, one or more volumes of the Publishers' Trade List Annual between 1873 and 1947. Indexes are available for each individual year; for each decade; and for the entire span of years. The remainder of this page provides summary background on PTLA which may be particularly useful in developing a strategy for using this large and complex resource. The creation and history of PTLA is presented in greater depth at PTLA's creation.

The Publishers' Trade List Annual (PTLA)

Frederick Leypoldt, editor of The Publishers' Weekly (PW) proposed The Publishers' Trade List Annual (PTLA) in the the editorial section of the PW issue dated May 3, 1873 (Whole No. 68, Volume III:18), pages 441-442. The proposal was commented on, changed in minor ways, and put into action by June with the completed first volme gathered, bound, and distributed in early October 1873.

Leypoldt was very aware that publishers were eager to get copies of their lists and catalogs in the hands of booksellers and bookbuyers, while booksellers, in particular, were eager to have easy access to lists and catalogs. PW existed, in part, to smooth a connection between publishers and booksellers, and to this end, it consisted largely of lists of newly pubished books and publishers' advertising. However, this information was difficult for booksellers to organize so that it could be used weeks and months later. Publishers were still required to spend considerable time and money responding to requests for catalogs while booksellers expended substantial resources requesting them.

Leypoldt's idea was straight-forward: ask publishers to submit by a specified date a specified number of copies of a catalog of their currently available publications. Collate the resulting catalogs, provide an index of contributors, and bind the result into a volume that could be distributed back to booksellers, libraries, and other potential book buyers and distributors, with one complimentary copy sent to each contributor or advertiser. To keep the investments of all parties balanced publishers would submit the catalogs gratis (in a number determined by advance subscriptions), PW would provide the index, charge subscribers only the cost of binding (which turned out to be $.50 for the first volume), and the volumes would be distributed via the New York City book and serial jobbers pubishers and booksellers already used to move stock around.

Response to the proposal was immediate and positive. July 1, soon moved to August 1, was set as the deadline for submitting catalogs, and on October 4 PW gave notice that 1864 copies of the 1658 page catalog, incorporating the full trade lsts of 144 American publishers, were to go out the following week. Each year thereafter the number of advance subscriptions and lists submitted grew, and the volumes became thicker. The process changed very little over time, and the founding idea remained the same while annual volumes tumbled out from R. R. Bowker until 2001 -- when the whole apparatus went online as BooksinPrint.Com and GlobalBooksinPrint.

Individual publishers controlled the content of their catalogs, and the content consequently varies. Some catalogs were little more than lists with price and order information. Others offered substantial descriptions of individual books and series. Relatively few are illustrated in the 1870s; by the late 1880s, however, more and more are illustrated with line cuts and half-tones, often of bindings, later dustjackets, but also of authors, factory buildings, and book manufacturing facilities. Paper quality varies but is, in general, not very good, and many existing runs are missing pages and portions of pages.

Surveys and extensive searching suggest that there no longer is (and perhaps never was) a complete run held by a single research library. Even substantial runs of the pre-1920 volumes of PTLA are far from common; copies of post-1920 volumes are more accessible. In at least the early years, only booksellers could subscribe (i.e., libraries were unable to subscribe directly); booksellers were encouraged to subscribe for multiple copies, gifting one to each major local book buyer in an attempt to encourage those buyers to place orders through them. Maintaining a run consequently required libraries to take special action each year, most easily, perhaps, by keeping up a cordial relationship with a local bookseller.

Since few publishers' catalogs survive, and those which do are widely scattered, PTLA, while never entirely complete, is an invaluable resource for research into many aspects of late 19th century imprints.

Indexes; The Meckler Microfiche Edition

Leypoldt hoped PTLA would prove a basis for a true "national bibligraphy" providing access to the work of authors, titles, and subjects regardless of publisher. He was not successful in this, although the H. W. Wilson Company began the Cummulative Book Index in 1898 and produced volumes of The United States Catalog (scroll to bottom of page) in 1899, 1903, 1912, and 1928. Leypoldt's ambition was first realized in 1948 when PTLA became the source document for Books in Print.

During the 1970s, the Meckler Corporation produced a microfiche edition of PTLA 1903-1963 (which missed at least some pages), published in 1980. A supplement, 1964-1980, followed in 1984. The microfiche set was accompanied by an index in two volumes, the first (1903-1963) compiled by Anthony Abbott indexed about 4000 publishers by noting the year each publisher contributed a catalog; the fiche number on which images of that catalog appear; and the row and column number assigned to the first page of that catalog. The second similarly indexes the supplement (1964-1980) without acknowledged compiler. The microfiche edition does not seem to have been widely purchased by libraries, but it is more available than the original volumes.

To date only a handful of the pre-1903 volumes have been digitized and made available in full text through HathiTrust; most of the post-1920 volumes are there in limited view only. For more information on what is held where (for selected libraries), see PTLA holdings.

PTLA's List of Contributors & Advertisers

Each volume of PTLA is prefaced by a single alphabetical list of publishers contributing catalogs and of publishers and others who offered display advertisements in lieu of catalogs. Most catalogs arrived in a timely way with respect to the set deadline and were arranged in alphabetical order by name of publisher; a few, inevitably, arrived late and were placed in a supplement bound after the primary sequence. Advertisements might appear on the cover of the binding, on endsheets or preliminary pages, or on pages inserted after the supplement. The principal purpose of the index was to point to these various locations.

While catalogs seem to have been fairly consistently ordered by surname of publisher, the numerous cross-references suggest that a secondary purpose of the index was to help point readers to the filing point of publishers whose firm names were generally known to begin, for example, with initials or a name: H. M. Caldwell Co. to Caldwell, H. M., Co. or Orange Judd Co. to Judd, Orange, Co.

The index entries are thus of two kinds, either main entries or cross-references. The main entries contain only a few data elements: name of firm; often but far from always the city in which it was located; and the general location of its catalog or advertisement in the volume. In our cumulative index we have preserved name and city but not the location designation. This means that some publishers on our list may be represented by a single, small, display advertisement or by a catalog of publications running a hundred pages or more (although the range of information in the catalogs themselves is itself unpredictably variable). The work required to record the amount of information to which a particular entry points would have required extensive examination of each annual volume and this was far beyond our capacity.

Methodology of Our Index

We began by photocopying the two-to-five page index of contributors and advertisers that begins each PTLA volume. When the project first got underway (about 1995), optical character recognition (OCR) software did not cope well with text in columns. The columns were therefore cut apart and marginal text trimmed away. The resulting strips were scanned and OCRed in alphabetical order, and the resulting text file was edited as necessary. Global search-and-replace made it possible to associate the PTLA year with each entry in the list of publishers and advertisers for that year.

Ten or more years were then copied into a single file. This text was selected and point-size made very small in order that no paragraph (i.e., entry) exceeded one line. The entire text was then re-alphabetted and edited to eliminate redundant information. Information on which year or years a particular publisher's catalog appeared was abbreviated; e.g., "1888, 1889, 1901, 1902, 1903" became "1888-1889, 1901-1903." Decade files were later merged in the same way to produce the cumulative list for 1873-1947.

When both initials and a full form of name appeared in a span of years, the fuller form has been preferred. Changing designations such as "Co.", "& Co.", "& Son", or "Inc." have generally been retained for firms that are represented for several years; they have not been noted consistently for firms represented in only two or three years when the form of entry differed only slightly (this on the grounds that either "Co." or "& Co." -- or neither -- might in fact have been "correct"). Incidental changes, such as "Jones, Smith W., Co." in one year and "Jones (Smith W.) Co." in another, have not been retained as the index format varied in these stylistic details from year to year (and was not always entirely consistent even within a year). Cross-references have been retained on the grounds that they seem at the time to have been necessary -- even though in many cases they now seem entirely obvious.

Alphabetting of the draft lists is largely that dictated by Microsoft Word paragraph-ordering rules, modified in some cases to put original and successor firms in chronological order. A final alphabetting reviewed firm names that begin "Mc", "Mac", "O'", "St.", etc.

Spans of years - e.g, "1873-1888" - are inclusive.

The process by which the indexes were compiled should have reduced omission errors -- OCR almost always picked up something, even if garbled, and entries were then carefully hand corrected. Nonetheless, errors are certainly possible, and we welcome notice of them: <>.

Last revised: 20 February 2020