The Birth of the Book Auction
The late 17th century saw the arrival of a new way of buying and selling books. Amy Bowles explores the impact of the book auction on those with a commercial and scholarly interest in the printed word.
In 1679, three years after the first recorded book auction was held in England, an Anglican preacher Edward Stillingfleet was embroiled in a series of printed refutations and counter-refutations with a Catholic priest Thomas Godden. The debate concerned Stillingfleet’s ‘charges against the Church of Rome’ and the year saw him respond with a volume entitled Several Conferences Between a Romish Priest, A Fanatick Chaplain, and a Divine of the Church of England. This series of four imagined conversations is set within an early book auction, a newly available social arena that encapsulated intrigue and uncertainty for its early attendees. The characters’ discussion begins when the Priest addresses the Chaplain: