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Print Collection 17: Zinman Collection of Canvassing Books

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The Zinman Collection of Canvassing Books comprises the largest collection of canvassing books and related ephemera ever assembled. Besides canvassing books, the collection includes a range of ephemeral items, such as pamphlets, order forms, letters, and handwritten testimonials. As an assemblage of materials that have remained largely untouched by scholars, the Zinman Collection constitutes an important resource for those wishing to learn about publishing, advertising, and culture in 19th- and early 20th-century America.

This depiction of a genteel book agent exemplifies the idealized image of canvassers in the 19th-century. Book agents were often assigned areas to "canvass" far removed from the nation's publishing centers, and thus canvassers believed they played an important role in providing the people of these areas with the knowledge, virtue, and happiness contained in books. However, the image of the canvasser as beneficent bearer of knowledge was not one embraced by all. Book canvassers were also seen as a nuisance, pushing inferior products on a less than appreciative public. Neither image paints a complete picture of the book canvasser, but both portrayals aid in understanding the historical and cultural landscape of America in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a time of rapid change, reform, and progress.

Catalog of the Zinman Collection of Canvassing Books

See an online exhibit of the Zinman Collection: "Agents Wanted:" Subscription Publishing in America

Learn more about the Ephemera in the Zinman Collection

Experience the sale of an individual canvassing book

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