On any given date of the year there are dozens of letters that were composed by the Stratemeyer Syndicate or by correspondents and sent in. This is an interesting letter from The American Boy magazine that gives a chance to explore how things were done 111 years ago.
Edward Stratemeyer was more than just a writer, he treated the production and publication of books as a business in ways that few authors did at the time and for many years afterward. Today, authors struggle to get attention for their books and the limited budgets of publishers means that a large portion of the promotional effort falls on the shoulders of the author. This includes attending, and paying expenses for, author signing events, reaching out to an audience, and even making a website. In the past, many authors turned in the manuscript to the publisher and let them handle all of the details of publication and promotion.
One of the ways that Stratemeyer promoted the books that he wrote and those that were produced through his Syndicate was to send out publisher brochures with his books listed. A lucky youth would receive such an envelope with a one-cent stamp containing thin catalogs from three or four publishers. The hope was that the youth would want some of the books for Christmas or another end-of-the-year holiday. To achieve this, these mailings were sent out in the most opportune time — right around Thanksgiving.
Of course, producing tens of thousands of copies the catalogs in a certain size and weight with the publishers’ cooperation had to be done by a certain time. This example from Grosset & Dunlap was described in further detail in another blog entry.
Another significant part of the process was figuring out to whom the envelopes would be sent and addressing them. The procedure at the time seems odd today. There were brokers of letters who would loan boxes of letters with certain criteria. The broker would perhaps say that they had a group of 3,624 names and addresses of families in large and small cities who had their houses painted recently.
If Stratemeyer thought the list had potential, he would rent the list and arrange to have it copied, by hand, to produce their own internal list as well as on that year’s envelopes. Initially this work might be done by a secretary or similar kind of worker at one of the publishers. However, before long he was having the work done by his niece, Anna H. Stratemeyer (1881-1969), the eldest daughter of Henry J. Stratemeyer Jr. (1851-1917).
When Stratemeyer had communication with a newspaper or magazine, especially one that ran one of his stories, he tried to get a list of young people who might be interested in his books. Some publications were more willing to rent their lists than others.
In 1906 and 1907 Stratemeyer had two serials running in The American Boy magazine. One was one of his Horatio Alger Jr. completions, “The Young Book Agent” (Stitt, 1905). The other was a long Civil War story that was serialized as “In Defense of His Flag.” After the serial was done, Lothrop, Lee & Shepard published it as Defending His Flag (LL&S, 1907). Stratemeyer had good enough relations at the time that he was able to get a promise to get a list of subscribers.
The Sept. 28, 1906 letter is related to this list of names and addresses. Cotner mentions a “Dick Mailing Machine.” This labor-saving device was used by companies, especially publishers of magazines, to simplify addressing of issues sent to subscribers each month.
This device was pretty well known in publishing circles. One was described in an illustrated entry in The American Encyclopaedia of Printing (1871).
As with most inventions, it received a number of improvements over time.
Some history of the company and the mailer machine is available on this blog page.
As noted, Edward Stratemeyer employed his niece to hand address the envelopes in time for the Thanksgiving mailing of his catalogs. However, it is interesting to see how things were done by magazine publishers of the Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries, long before computers, printers, and adhesive labels would be used for the same purpose.