Dan Snow returns with another profile of a vendor supplying Missouri Province Jesuits with Catholic books in the mid-nineteenth century. His research reveals an important question about how we interpret economic data from the book trade.
I’ve gone back to the Jesuit book order ledger, again looking at the vendors that the Missouri Jesuits in the 1840s were buying from. In my last post, I wrote on two priests – Fr. Lutz and Fr. Timon – whose orders comprise less than half of those placed through clergymen. Of these fourteen orders made through priests, eight were placed through Bishop Kenrick, the Bishop of Philadelphia.
Francis Patrick Kenrick (1791-1863) was one of the early leaders in the American Catholic Church. Born in Dublin in 1797, and ordained in Rome in 1821, Kenrick accepted a call from Bishop Benedict Flaget in Bardstown, Kentucky for priests to come to aid the US Church. A skilled speaker and educator, Kenrick was asked by Bishop Flaget to give public lectures around the diocese, which at that time covered a ten state area. Kenrick was made coadjutor of the Diocese of Philadelphia and became its bishop in 1842, overseeing extensive growth in the diocese, especially in Catholic education. In 1851, Kenrick was transferred to Baltimore, and became archbishop there. He would serve in this capacity until his death in 1863.
Kenrick’s place in this ledger is not all that surprising. As an important figure in the American Catholic network, Kenrick would have been known nationwide and would have had a good pool of resources available to him. The bishop was the author of the first American-published textbook on Catholic moral theology, and numerous other theological works. As such, it isn’t odd to see Kenrick’s name in this order record; he would likely have been a good source of texts for the Jesuits.
All the same, Kenrick’s orders in the ledger do raise a few questions. Namely, it seems as though the bishop was charging more for his products than other publishers at the time. Comparing Kenrick to Baltimore-based publisher Fielding Lucas, and Philadelphia-based Eugene Cummiskey, Kenrick on the whole charges more for his texts. For example, per copy of the Holy House of Loretto (which was written by Kenrick’s brother, a fact I’ll address later), Kenrick charged 75 cents, whereas Lucas charged 50 cents per copy. Granted, Kenrick sold 12 copies, and Lucas only six, and Kenrick’s order in April 1842 took place nearly a year before Lucas’s.
Yet, Kenrick’s prices seem consistently higher. Kenrick sold three copies of a text at 75 cents in April 1842, and a month later Cummiskey sold six copies of the same text at 50 cents. In this example, time and quantity do nothing to explain why Kenrick would charge more, and the question is compounded by the fact that Cummiskey and Kenrick were both operating out of Philadelphia. Moreover, it should be noted that the text in question was written by Bishop Kenrick – in this case it was his treatise on justification, but in other orders Kenrick also sells his textbook on moral theology and his treatise on baptism to the Jesuits.
The case is the same with nearly every publisher that sold the same texts as Kenrick. The more surprising thing to me was that Kenrick also charged more than other clergy, namely Fr. John Timon. In April of 1842, Kenrick sells three copies of Alban Butler’s Lives of the Saints and six copies of Visit to Rome (likely the Trappist Ferdinand Géramb’s account), charging 50 cents and 75 cents respectively. In the same year, Fr. Timon sells three copies of the Lives of the Saints at 40 cents, and two copies of Visit to Rome for 50 cents. For the majority of comparable texts between Kenrick and other vendors, there seems to be a clear pattern of the bishop charging more for his texts.
It could very well be that Kenrick’s prices were competitive in many cases. I have found a few examples wherein his prices were lower than other publishers (though these are in the minority of my findings). Looking at a price catalogue from the back of one of Eugene Cummiskey’s works from 1841, one can see that for a copy of Visit to Rome, Cummiskey charge the same price (75 cents) as Kenrick did. Compared to the whole gamut of Catholic publishers, it could be that Kenrick’s prices were not out of the ordinary. However, even if his prices were generally higher than other publishing firms, this does not necessarily suggest impropriety.
In comparing Kenrick’s prices with Cummiskey’s, it is worth noting that in 1841, the bishop published seven works, and each one was published through the firm of Eugene Cummiskey. Peter Kenrick, Francis’s brother and a fellow bishop, published two works that year, which were also published through Cummiskey. It seems likely that the relationship between Kenrick and his publisher would have had an effect on the prices each offered. Due to Kenrick’s status as a frequent customer of Cummiskey, Cummiskey could have sold Kenrick copies of the bishop’s works back to him at a discount price. In these dealings with Cummiskey, Kenrick appears to have bought works other than his own, such as the copies of Visit to Rome. Cummiskey may have offered Kenrick a discount across the board, encouraging the bishop to order from him, and encouraging Kenrick to buy these works and distribute them across the country. Yet, lacking the resources of a publisher, he would have had to charge more.
There are many reasons why Kenrick would have charged more for his works, and these reasons speak to the nature of publishing trade in the 1840s. The most logical reason to me would be the fact that Kenrick was not a publisher and would have had higher operating costs. As he needed to buy his works from other firms before reselling them to the Jesuits, it is understandable that he would charge more in order to make a profit. Publishers would have had an apparatus and staff for receiving orders and shipping them, something Kenrick could have lacked. While other publishers may have had contacts or branch offices in or near St. Louis that made shipping easier, Kenrick would have had to rely on Church structures to facilitate his orders. It is worth pointing out that Francis Kenrick’s brother, Peter Richard Kenrick, was a bishop in St. Louis from 1841 until 1895, serving as Archbishop from 1847 onward. Peter Kenrick likely had contact with the Jesuits in St. Louis, and could have been a middle-man for any dealings with his brother in Philadelphia, possibly after being approached by the Jesuits.
Perhaps as a prelate, Kenrick did not have a good sense of the publishing trade, and lacked information on pricing. It is possible his prices weren’t higher, but that the firms I’ve compared him to were selling at lower, more competitive prices. The issue of wholesale pricing may also come into play, although I struggled to establish a pattern with this in my examples. Maybe Kenrick’s books were bound differently, in leather, board, or paper. Leather bound works would have cost more than board, which in turn would cost more than paper bound texts.
In all, there are a few reasons to explain the differences in prices observed in the order ledger, none of which can be seen as definitive. With a good database of all the information in the ledger, it would be very easy to compare the prices between publishers for any given text. Still, in regard to non-publishers like Bishop Francis Kenrick, we are left to speculation. The circumstances of his situation, as a writer and a clergyman, help to explain why his prices varied compared to other firms. From a wider view of the trade, these differences do not seem out of place. If Kenrick kept notes of these transactions on his end, or had correspondence with the Jesuits he was selling to, such records would help in viewing not only these orders, but the Catholic book trade overall. Kenrick was one of the most important American Catholic writers and leaders of this time period. Understanding his place in this trade could shed light on both his works, the trade he participated in, and the groups that utilized his books.