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The advertising of books is almost as old as the trade of printing them. Originally, books were advertised through prospectuses--proposals for works not yet completed. Publishers used such prospectuses to sell their books on a subscription basis before publication. In this way, money was raised to finance the printing. Today, book prospectuses provide primary source materials to social historians and researchers studying the histories of literature and publishing.
The Gough Collection: reflecting an antiquarian tradition Richard Gough was the leading topographer of the 1700s--a man who devoted his life to travel and study. He was also Director of the Society of Antiquaries from 1771 to 1797 and a major contributor to The Gentleman's Magazine.
Gough avidly collected books, papers, and prints. He died in 1809, having bequeathed his collection of book prospectuses to the Bodleian. Some are for subscription publications of county histories; others were gathered for the third edition of British Topography, a bibliography of publications and unpublished records on local histories which Gough originally edited in 1780. In addition are pamphlets, newspaper ads for books, and 150 book prospectuses for topographical and antiquarian works of the late 18th century.
The Johnson Collection: documenting the history of the English book trade John Johnson, Printer to the University of Oxford from 1925 to 1946, developed this collection while at Oxford to provide researchers with materials on the history of the book trade and the cultural history of England during the last two centuries.
The prospectuses include subscription pamphlets on dictionaries, encyclopedias, histories, and books such as John Dunton's The compleat library (1692); John Hughes' A complete history of England (1706); Bibliographia Britannica (1747); and John Trusler's Detached philosophic thoughts (1810). Also included are schemata for books that were never actually published.