University of Virginia Library


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Mathew Carey's Proofreaders
Rollo G. Silver

Quite naturally, the division of function in the American book trade evolved gradually and at times imperceptibly. The first hundred and fifty years witnessed the progression from booksellers to some who were bookseller-publishers, and then to those who were primarily booksellers and those who were primarily publishers. As the economy grew in the 1790's the publisher apparently found that his volume of business no longer permitted him to do all the work himself. It is during this time, for instance, that Mathew Carey began to employ certain proofreaders over extended periods in addition to calling on others for extra help or for particularly specialized jobs. This was especially necessary when the author was not available or when new editions were issued. By examining the bills Carey preserved, it is possible to determine who these proofreaders were, some of the titles they worked on, and the prices they charged.[1]

The bills discussed in this paper comprise those submitted to Carey before January 1, 1817, when the firm became Mathew Carey & Son. From 1785, when he began publishing, to the day he took his son into the firm, he had published more than 650 editions, exclusive of his many Bibles and Testaments. It is not possible, of course, to account for the proofreading of every item, but the number of surviving bills is great enough to warrant study. They fall into three general classes: bills from his "regular" proofreaders, bills from proofreaders on special assignments, and bills from printers which include charges for proofreading.

In length of service and amount of work, Samuel Lewis heads the list of Carey's proofreaders. Known at various times as "map maker,


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draftsman, geographer, writing master,"[2] he was evidently an accurate, careful, and erudite person of some reputation. According to his death notice, "Mr. Lewis was well known as a Geographer, and the most celebrated Master of the Pen in the United States;"[3] today what little reputation he has rests upon his ability as a mapmaker. Lewis became associated with Carey about 1794 and continued into 1816, if not longer, doing a variety of tasks, sometimes on a free-lance basis, sometimes full-time, and, at certain periods, no work at all. A few abstracts of his early bills show that Carey originally engaged him to work principally on geographical material:                                
March  18  Extracting and making list of Plates in Animated Nature ...  $ 1.00 
Correcting Map of North Carolina ...  .75 
23  Selecting and arranging Plates of Animated Nature ...  2.00 
Correcting and examining Map of New York ...  1.75 
25  Small Map of Kentucky ...  3.00 
Small Map of Pennsylvania ...  3.00 
Additions to Map of Tennessee Government ...  1.50 
April  Small Map of New York ...  3.00 
11  Compiling Tables of Exports ...  1.50 
17  To selecting Plates of Animated Nature ...  2.25 
To copying Tables of Exports ...  .75 
25  To correcting Tables of Monies of various Places ...  1.50 
June  20  To drawing Map of British possessions in North America ...  12.50 
To correcting and making additions to Map of Virginia ...  1.50 
Dec.  27  To Colouring three dozen St. Domingo ...  4.80 
The tabular matter was probably prepared for William Guthrie's A New System of Modern Geography (1794-95) and the plates for Oliver Goldsmith's An History of the Earth, and Animated Nature (1795). In the following year, Lewis did a few more odd jobs. Some are:        
Feb.  To correcting proof of Map of Virginia ...  $ .33 
21  To correcting proofs of Geography ...  2.42 
To correcting proof of South Carolina ...  .25 


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March  13  To small Map of Maryland ...  3.00 
To do. Virginia ...  3.00 
To do. Tennessee ...  3.00 
To do. Georgia ...  3.00 
Thus did he begin to proofread for Carey. Six years later, his bills cover a much wider range. Scattered throughout his bills, one comes across:                                      
Jan.  To correcting 200 sets of Bible ...  $ 5.25 
April  20  To making four hundred pens ...  1.00 
May  22  To reading three proofs of an Oration ...  .75 
27  To reading thirty-five proofs of Conductor Generalis ...  8.75 
June  To reading one proof of Columbian Spelling Book ...  .25 
To do. three proofs of quarto Bible ...  2.00 
To making additions to, and correcting set of Maps for the "American Pocket Atlas" ...  5.67 
To writing proposals for publishing do. ...  .25 
12  To examining Index for Conductor Generalis ...  .25 
26  To double reading proofs Q, R, S, T, U, of Bible ...  6.67 
To reading two proofs, D, E, of American Atlas ...  .50 
To 149 lines of additional matter, in Sheet B, of the American Pocket Atlas, at 1 dollar per page of 44 lines ...  3.38 
Aug.  14  To reading proof D of Apocrypha ...  .67 
To reading two proofs, B, C, of Almanack ...  .50 
To reading two proofs, Z, aA, of Complete Measurer ...  .50 
To reading proof O of American Atlas ...  .25 
To 34 lines of new matter in do. ...  .75 
Time employed in copy Bon mots, &c. for Almanack ...  .21 
Other bills show that the printer might be charged for the first proofs of the Bible; on October 16, 1801, Lewis billed Joseph Charless $36.40 for reading the first proof of ninety-one sheets although payment for this was made by Carey. Occasionally, one may get a glimpse of the perennial troubles between printer and proofreader. The bill for July 24, 1801, includes this item:
To extra time in attending at Mr. Humphreys', at Mr. Charless' and at


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the store, to collate and examine proofs, and to revise last proofs 2O, 2P, 2Q, of Bible, viz.
Sunday morning  2 hours}  besides attending at Mr. Charless' at 
Monday do  1 do.}  appointment, at one o'clock, and 
Tuesday do  3½ do.}  until ½ past 4, for a proof to be ready— 
Wednesday do  3 do.}  they saying it would soon be completed 
9½,  including waiting for Mr. Humphreys. 
In the bill for February 23, 1816, Lewis pointed out that he did not read three signatures of Travels in the Interior of Brazil, "in consequence of hurry, Mr. Griggs read himself — and in a note on Mm, said he should read the remainder."

From 1801 to at least 1816, Lewis served as part-time and full-time assistant to Carey. When he worked full-time, the bills read "To one week's attendance at Books, reading proofs, &c. $15.00." Part-time bills were more specific:

Dec. 26, 1801  To Time employed this week, at Books, 36 hours  $ 8.00 
Jan. 15, 1803  To 25 hours employed at Books ...  4.16 
March 26, 1804  To 21 hours correcting Bibles ...  7.00 
April 27, 1804  To 18 hours correcting and enlarging Letterpress Copy of Traveller's Directory ...  6.00 
June 15, 1804  To time correcting Bibles, 30 hours ...  10.00 
To reading H, O, S2, AA, whole sheets Bible ...  2.00 
June 18, 1804  To 5 hours employed making list of American Books ...  1.67 
June 15, 1805  To time employed at Books, &c. 
viz. May  16  3½  headings to Ledger 
18  3½} 
23  2½} 
June  4½  Ledger 
12  3} 
list of Books 
15  9} 
26 hours ...  $ 8.67 
Feb. 10, 12, 1807  To 4 hours, making entries in Day Book and Journal ...  1.00 
The phrase "time employed at Books" is, therefore, so ambiguous that


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the price per hour varied greatly. Proofreading, however, was usually noted separately in bills for part-time work:      
Jan. 15, 1803  To 25 hours employed at Books ...  $ 4.16 
reading proofs Q, R, S of Parent's Friend ...  .75 
do. do. D, E of Vade Mecum ...  .50 
Or, to cite another example:        
Aug. 10, 1805  To 13 hours employed at Books ...  $ 3.25 
reading G, H, Clerk's Assistant ...  .50 
do. I American Preceptor ...  .25 
do. B, C, D, E, and 4F, Doway Bible ...  3.33 

As publisher, Carey sometimes employed more than one printer for a book. The following bill, possessing bibliographical as well as historical interest, exemplifies the publisher's proofreader at work:

Aug. 27, 1812  To reading 14 Sig. printed by Dickinson of Weems's Life of Washington ...  $ 3.50 
Reading 2 do. -- printed by Aitken (O. P.) ...  .50 

Throughout the period he read for Carey, Lewis maintained a rather stable price scale. Most of the proofreading jobs were billed at twenty-five cents per sheet; the Bible cost sixty-seven cents with the price doubled for a "double reading." As would be expected in so many documents, exceptions to these prices appear from time to time. Among them, two may be noted: in 1805, Lewis charged fifty cents a sheet for a Testament "as per agreement" and in 1816 he charged thirty-one and a quarter cents each for the proofs of Travels in the Interior of Brazil.

Carey's other principal proofreader was Daniel Humphreys, known today for the books and newspapers he printed and published. But his contemporary reputation included an additional occupation: in 1812, William McCulloch, writing to Isaiah Thomas, called him "the correct proof reader."[4] His earliest bills in the Mathew Carey Papers bear the date of 1801 and all of them refer to reading or revising Bible proof. In that one year, he corrected more than 275 sheets at a charge of five shillings each for reading and one shilling ten and a half pence for revision.[5] Two years later, he continued on Bible proof at the same


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rate until September when what must have been a special job came along:                
1803  £  s   d  
Sept.  26  To reading 23 sheets Old Testament A to Z, &c.mmat; 10s ...  11  10  ... 
To do. 19 do. Apocrypha 2X to 3Q, &c.mmat; 5s ...  15  ... 
Nov.  To reading 43 sheets in Old Testament, &c.mmat; 10s ...  21  10  ... 
To. do. 19 do. in Apocrypha, &c.mmat; 5s ...  15  ... 
To do. 27 do. in New Testament ...  15  ... 
To do. 4 do. in Index ...  ...  ... 
To second reading one half of above ...  10  ... 
More than likely this is the proof of Carey's "standing" Bible of 1804, though the reason for the double charge on the Old Testament is not clear. It may have been for a double reading.

In 1803, Humphreys also read proof for the edition of Pennsylvania laws, printed for Carey by John Bioren, and the cost of this, $99.26, appears on Bioren's bill to Carey. During the following eight years, Carey gave Humphreys a variety of texts, some of which were:

Aug.  15  To reading 9 proofs Vade Mecum ...  $ 2.70 
To do. 140 do. Walker's Dictionary ...  70.00 
Sept.  20  To do. 26 do. Ferg. Mechanics, vol. 1 ...  6.50 
To do. 38 do. do. vol. 2 ...  9.50 
Jan.  15  To reading 16 proofs Beattie's Elements ...  4.80 
To do. 13 do. Black's Lectures, vol. 1 ...  3.25 
To do. 55 do. vol. 2 ...  13.75 
To. do. 59 do. vol. 3 ...  14.75 
Feb.  15  To making Index for do. ...  5.00 
Dec.  15  To reading 14 proofs Goldsmith's History ...  4.20 
To do. 69 do. Roman Antiquities ...  20.70 
Sept.  20  To reading 17 proofs Concordance ...  12.75 
To do. 7 do. Psalms ...  3.50 
To do. 2 do. Astronomy ...  .50 
To do. 21 do. Tacitus ...  10.50 
To marking References for do. ...  1.00 
May  To reading 7 proofs Gulliver's Travels, &c.mmat; 52 cts. ...  3.64 


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To do. 19 do. Washington's Life, &c.mmat; 28 cts. ...  5.32 
To do. 4 do. Ladies Library, &c.mmat; 63 cts. ...  2.52 
July  15  To 4 proofs Charlotte Temple, &c.mmat; 73 cts. ...  2.92 
Dec.  30  To 10 do. Letter Writer, &c.mmat; 33 cts. ...  3.30 
About 1808, the charges became more precise and extended over a wider range. In 1811, Humphreys' lowest price seems to have been twenty-five cents a sheet for Breslaw's Last Legacy; his highest ninety cents for Moore's Fables for the Ladies; various other proofs were read at odd prices in between.

Of Carey's other proofreaders, only one, James Hardie, has been discussed in recent literature.[6] Hardie's career, pathetic though it be, did produce some useful publications and his name has not been forgotten. But one searches in vain for information about four of Carey's proofreaders. Who was the "Frans. Wright" who billed Carey in 1792 and 1793? The charges, one shilling three pence per signature, covered corrections for such works as Blair's Lectures on Rhetorick and Belles Lettres, Crèvecoeur's Letters from an American Farmer, and O'Keeffe's Wild Oats. A Francis Wright appears in the Philadelphia directories for 1794, 1795, and 1796, listed in 1795 as a carter. It might be he. It could not, however, be the Frances Wright whose work Carey later published for she was not born until 1795. Nor does any information appear to be available about John Edington who, in May and June, 1795, received one pound four shillings for correcting eight proof sheets of Goldsmith's History of the Earth. John Lithgow's activities, at least, show some progress. According to the Philadelphia directories, he was a hosier in 1795 and 1796, a shopkeeper in 1800, and an "accomptant" from 1802 to 1804. His bill to Carey, dated 1800, is printed verbatim:

about two months ago I told you that you owed me for one week and one day which was chiefly for the first Volume history of Greece, some proofs reading, and arranging Cuts for small Books. all that I had done for you 
for about a month before ...  8.00 
Since I have read 20 proofs ¼ per ...  5.00 
half a Day at the library ...  .50 
Another obscure person, John M. Robinson, billed Carey on September 23, 1809, for "reading proof ½ of 5 days, 128 pages quarto Bible $4.16."


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Whether these individuals possessed the background and skill required cannot now be determined, but other proofreaders employed by Carey were certainly well educated. Some were teachers, others ministers. Those perennially low-paid scholars most likely found proofreading rather agreeable as part-time work and Carey, in turn, could call on their talents whenever needed. Jesse Waterman was one such person, listed in the Philadelphia directories as schoolmaster and "teacher of the French and English languages" from 1791 to 1829.[7] His bill, submitted in 1796, shows that he was given appropriate work:

£  s   d  
For correcting  10 Sheets of Perrins french Grammar &c.mmat; 2/6  ... 
18 Goldsmiths animated nature 2/6 ...  ... 
32 do. Guthries Geography 2/6 ...  ...  ... 
8 do. of Edwards affections &c.mmat; 2/6 ...  ...  ... 
15 do. Jefferson's Notes &c.mmat; 2/6 ...  17 
Eleven years later, when Carey planned to issue a revised edition of Fenelon's Adventures of Telemachus in French and English, he turned to his son's tutor, Lewis C. Vallon, who had been French Teacher at the University of Pennsylvania in 1795.[8] Vallon's bills consequently show his combined efforts:                      
Feb. 7, 1807: 
To 4 months French Tuition of his Son, at $12 a quarter, due the 5th inst. ...  $16.00 
To fire wood, quills and ink for said time ...  1.33 
To altering the proofs of the 1st Vol. of Telemachus ...  9.00 
To 1 quarter French Schooling of his Son, due May the 5th ...  12.00 
To fire wood quills & ink ...  1.00 
To correcting 8 books, adventures of Telemachus ...  6.00 
June 8, 1807: 
To 1 month French tuition of his Son, due the 5th inst. ...  4.12½ 
To correcting the last 4 books of the adventures of Telemachus  3.00 
Vallon must have done a satisfactory job; in December of the following year, he corrected some proofs of Lhomond's Élémens de la Grammaire Françoise, charging four dollars. Thus Waterman and Vallon, both proficient in languages, could be employed on specialized jobs. Another


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teacher, Edward Farris, did occasional reading in 1802.[9] Four of his bills fail to specify the texts he corrected at five shillings a sheet, but a fifth refers to twenty-three sheets of Bible and Testament at the same rate. In the sixth bill, the text is again unspecified and the charge is four dollars for four sheets.

The frequent references to Bible proofs indicate the great care exercised in the publication of Carey's editions. His autobiography tells about the 1801 quarto:

I had eighteen various editions to collate in the reading of the proof sheets, — four London, three Cambridge, three Oxford, six Edinburgh, and two American, — those of Isaac Collins and Isaiah Thomas, — and found a most extraordinary number of discrepancies, some of which are incredible.[10]
Along with Lewis and Humphreys, the Rev. William Marshall, minister of the Scots' Presbyterian Church, also read proof of an 1801 Bible.[11] Because two Bibles were issued in that year, a quarto as well as a duodecimo, it is not possible to assign the bills to the editions. Marshall corrected more than a hundred sheets at the same price per sheet paid Humphreys — five shillings; Lewis received sixty-seven cents.

As the volume of the publishing business increased after the turn of the century, proofreading gradually became an established occupation. William Christie, for example, is listed in some of the Philadelphia directories of the second decade as "translator and corrector of the press."[12] During the first decade, he preached Unitarianism, published some sermons, and also, at times, worked on proof for Carey in 1807, 1808, and 1809. One of his bills, June 10, 1807, refers to correcting nine sheets of Telemachus in French and English at fifty cents per sheet. Vallon, evidently, was not the only competent person to read the text even though his name is on the title page as reviser and corrector of the edition. This instance of distributing the sheets of one work among readers is, of course, not unique. In August, 1804, both Lewis and Humphreys read sheets of the Laws of the United States; two years later, both submitted bills for correcting sheets of Ferguson's book on mechanics. Unfortunately, Humphreys did not specify the


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signatures he read, precluding verification of whether both read the same or different sheets. One may assume that, with few exceptions such as the Bible, sheets were given to the reader who could return them soonest. Then, as now, the publisher was anxious to see the book completed.

In his bills, Christie was usually careful enough to note the imposition as well as the specific pages, as in these:

[c. 1807] 
For reading, and correcting for the press, as follows, viz. 
The Letters of Junius, from p. 49 to the end inclusive, with the Notes, Index and Contents p. 273, 12mo is 11⅓ sheets at 50 cents per sheet ...  $ 5.66 
Dodsley's select Fables &c. 240 p. 12mo. is 10 sheets, at 50 cents per sheet ...  5.00 
Abridgment of Christian Doctrine for the Use of the Catholic Church &c. 48 p. 24to. is 1 sheet ...  .50 
For correcting for the press Adam's Roman Antiquities, a work consisting of 632 pages 8vo. including preface contents &c. is 39½ sheets at 75 cents per sheet ...  29.62½ 
Carey also gave Christie some foreign language jobs. Christie corrected some of the sheets of Lhomond's French grammar (as did Vallon) for one dollar per sheet and he corrected twenty-one sheets of Horace in Latin and English at the same price. But when, in 1809, he billed Carey for sheets of the School Bible, the price was one dollar and twenty-five cents.

A few bills in the Carey Papers show that an editor of a work sometimes included proofreading as part of the job. In 1813, Thomas Clark edited Caesar for a group of publishers. Carey took one-fourth of the edition and Clark's bill of April 12 is for one-fourth of $152.00, "being the amount of editing & proofreading of Caesar." For a cooperative edition of Horace, Clark's bill of Dec. 8, 1813, reads: "For revising; & for the collecation of the Delphini edition of Horace, with the original one of Paris, & with other [sic] of approved accuracy; — —— Like wise for Proof reading of the same —— a 3/20th part of the whole amount $200." In another joint publishing venture, the 1810 edition of Cornelius Nepos, the bill came from the printer. Nevertheless, Lydia R. Bailey added a proofreading charge of $3.88 to her bill for printing.

Finally, it must be noted that a proofreading charge also appears on a few printers' bills for books which Carey alone published. This may be seen in James Carey's bill of August, 1794, where proofreading


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six sheets of Bunyan's Holy War was billed at $4.33 and proofreading 2½ sheets of Bunyan's Divine Emblems cost $1.66. It can also be seen in Abel Dickinson's bill of January, 1809, where he included Christie's fee for reading part of the seventh edition of Mary Findley. But such occurrences are so rare that one wonders whether there were some special circumstances which are not noted on the bills.

As large as the Carey archive is, it still leaves many questions unanswered. The rather unsystematic bookkeeping of the period plus the lack of detail in many items cause puzzlement if not confusion. Yet in this group of bills, the beginnings of work specialization in American publishing can be observed. In the 1790's and early 1800's, no American firm was large enough to support a full-time publishing staff. But bigness was approaching, and proofreading became, during this period, a part-time occupation.



These bills are in the Mathew Carey Papers at the American Antiquarian Society and the information in them is printed by kind permission of Dr. Clifford K. Shipton, Director. Because the bills are indexed at the Society, citation footnotes will be omitted. In the abstracts, spelling has been modernized and the texts edited for purposes of clarity.


H. Glenn Brown and Maude O. Brown, A Directory of the Book-Arts and Book Trade in Philadelphia to 1820, (1950), p. 75.


Poulson's American Daily Advertiser (Philadelphia), October 7, 1822, p. 3, col. 3.


"William McCulloch's Additions to Thomas's History of Printing," Proc. Am. Ant. Soc., XXXI (1921), 94.


According to The American Repository of Useful Information (Philadelphia, 1797), p. [64], $1.00 equalled 7s 6d in Pennsylvania currency.


Lawrence B. Romaine, "Talk of the Town: New York City, January 1825," Bull. N. Y. Pub. Lib., LXIII (1959), [173]-188; Rollo G. Silver, "Grub Street in Philadelphia, 1794-1795: More about James Hardie," op. cit., LXIV (1960), [130]-142.


Biographical information about Waterman also appears in Donald L. Jacobus and Edgar F. Waterman, Descendants of Richard Waterman (1954), pp. 635-636.


Information in a letter from Mrs. Constance C. Rake, University of Pennsylvania, June 28, 1962.


An interesting account of Farris is in Philip S. Klein, ed., "Memoirs of a Senator from Pennsylvania: Jonathan Roberts, 1771-1854," Pa. Mag. Hist. Biog., LXII (1938), 68-74.


"Autobiography of Mathew Carey," The New-England Mag., VI (1834), 230.


Mrs. M. N. Lane informs me that biographical information about Marshall is in the Historical Foundation of the Presbyterian and Reformed Churches, Montreat, N. C.


Brown, p. 31.


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