Canvassing books—also referred to in the literature as
prospectuses, specimen books, and salemen's dummies—and
canvassing outfits, which consist of canvassing books and
supplemental materials, were supplied by publishers and used by
book agents, or canvassers, to solicit subscriptions. Most canvassing
books are basically similar in format. However, they evolved into
more elaborate variations on a theme.
James Fenimore Cooper
The Pioneers, or, The Sources of the Susquehana
New York: W.A. Townsend, 1859
On cover: "Specimen Pages and Engravings of Darley's Illustrated Cooper"
This early canvassing book is extremely simple, consisting of the title page, a few sample pages of text, some with illustrations, and blank subscription pages. The only binding choice is shown here, gilt stamped on the front with identifying information and, on the back, a design for the completed book. The publisher is clearly using the front cover to advertise the illustrator of this work, F. O. C. Darley.
Adventures and Achievements of Americans
[New York: George F. Tuttle, 1858
This slim volume consists of the title page and sample illustrations but no sample text, a broadside advertisement, and subscription pages. The publisher has also included a sheet, attached to the front free endpaper, enumerating his rules and justifying the cost of the book. In addition, a blank "Certificate of Agency" and some "testimonials" (the equivalent of modern "blurbs") have also been pasted in the front of the book.
Francis E. Clark and Harriet Elizabeth Abbott Clark
Our Journey Around the World: An Illustrated Record of a Year's Travel
Hartford: A. D. Worthington, 1894[-1896]
Four copies of the same work, with slightly different dates on the title pages, and a facsimile of the title page
These four copies of the same canvassing book, with minor
differences, illustrate the typical canvassing book. The basic
The People's Companion to the Bible
Philadelphia, Chicago, and Kansas City: John C. Winston, 1890
With many additional loose materials included as part of the outfit
This canvassing outfit is unusual in still including the loose materials that originally accompanied it.
Much of this material was intended for the perusal or use of agents, to assist them in their work. Such slips as the "Certificate of Agreement" were intended to be completed and left with the subscriber.
1. A broadside advertisement for the work (on pink paper)
|12. The book itself also includes sales speech slips, often printed on pink paper and sometimes referred to as "pink slips," which provided the agent with material to use in describing the merits of each part of the particular work at hand. Typically found in canvassing outfits, but missing from this one, are the printed testimonials.|