North American Bookstores, 1915

This dataset is a near-comprehensive record of bookstores and dedicated booksellers in the U.S. and Canada in 1915, compiled by Publishers’ Weekly.1 Though Americans had several non-storefront sources of books (including mail order and subscription), this dataset gives insight into the locations, volume, and types of stores from which Americans could purchase books in the early 20th century.

The Publishers’ Weekly directory primarily consists of American booksellers, but it includes a significant number of Canadian booksellers as well as a few in Cuba, Mexico, and the Philippines. The directory is not precisely clear how complete it is; it issues two qualifications. First, it limits coverage efforts to “the principal towns of the United States and Canada.” In practice this amounts to towns with populations over 4,000, though in less populous states exceptions are made for towns with populations as low as 2,000. Second, it limits entries to booksellers that at minimum “have book departments,” excluding the broader class of newsdealers or drug stores that only carried books piecemeal and thus “can scarcely be classed as bookstores.” Publishers’ Weekly was by no means the first to compile such a directory, but their subsequent annual consistency and their rigor with other records of the postbellum book trade underwrite this directory’s reliability.2

Population figures come from the 1910 census; I have supplied figures from the same where absent in the original directory. The original classifies many stores parenthetically by type. I have sorted these into two variables to maximize utility. Class categories pertain to the kind of store (ex. department store, second-hand). Subject categories pertain to the kinds of books sold (ex. medical, Japanese, Catholic). Aside from some light regularizing, I have added Class values not specified in the original document for entries that include one of the document’s established Class values in its title without also including the word “books.” Seller is retained exactly as listed, with original class parentheticals and sometimes (for larger cities) street addresses.

Download the file here (please cite where used).

  1. American Book Trade Manual 1915: Including Lists of Publishers, Booksellers and Private Book Collectors. ↩︎

  2. J. H. Dingman compiled several directories in the late 1860searly 1870s, A. C. Farley compiled at least one in 1886, and H. W. Wilson compiled several in the 1900s. I hope to transcribe some of these in the not-too-distant future to facilitate comparative analysis. ↩︎