Note #21, George W. M. Reynolds And Numbers

September 15, 2022

Note #21

George W. M. Reynolds And Numbers


R.E. Prindle

While no records appear to exist concerning actual number of copies sold to make Geoge the most popular author of the nineteenth century as is claimed, he does tell us this in The Mysteries Of The Court Of London, Vol. III, Rose Foster, Part 2, p.91:


Attired in an elegant deshabille, the beauteous patrician lady was now reclining in an armchair placed at a short distance from the cheerful fire in her bedroom; and when the Earl was readmitted to the chamber and the attendant’s had withdrawn, he availed himself of this opportunity to make revelations which were perhaps less anticipated by his wife than they are by any one of the two hundred thousand readers of this narrative.


So, George interjects himself into the narrative to claim 200,000 readers a week.  As it was only claimed that forty thousand or so read The Mysteries Of London per week, and that was considered sensational, it would seem that the popularity  of this work must have made it a sensation appearing every week for eight years.  It must have worked its way into the consciousness of a substantial slice of England.

Its popularity must have been sustained as by 1909 it was the only work of George’s sill available and that magnificently so.  It would appear that Boston USA contained wild Reynolds enthusiasts.  By Bostonians an Oxford Society was established that published the work in many editions at the same time, some limited some not. 

Of course Reynolds had been a mainstay in the US almost from his first book The Youthful Impostor published in the US in 1836.  A major reprint publisher T.B. Peterson of Philadelphia maintained a substantial selection of Reynolds efforts all the way through the eighties.  US publishers were mainly interested in Court of London which  they divided in strange ways.  Peterson published Rose Foster as one volume while making several volumes of others.  Peterson, but there were many other publishers also, especially esteemed Series IV The Fortunes Of The Ashtons under several different titles.

Perhaps then the Oxford Society had a fairly strong base to publish what they called The Works that were only The Mysteries of the Court of London.  At one point the Oxford Society had a sales office in London and then later combined with the Burton Society, also located in Boston USA.

There are Limited, DeLuxe, cheap hard back and a very nice flexible back editions.  Most in ten volume editions and one, at least, in a deluxe five double volumes.  Really amazing.  Thus, in the early twentieth century then, the Oxford enterprise believed that some several thousand ten volume sets could be sold.   Sales were probably active until 1914 when WWI began but when the war ended Reynolds was completely forgotten until fairly recently when interest was revived.  This seems rather strange because as late as 1959 I was able to buy Reynolds Newspaper in San Francisco while there was a number of people who revered him as a very radical publisher.

With the print on demand revolution many more titles have bee made available.  However they are all facsimile, hence in very small print and double columns but, nice illustrations.

At least we know that Court of London had 200,000 readers a week according to George.  If we knew the social status of the buyers that would be nice. At present it is assumed that the lower classes of England were the chief customers.  I would question that. 

The quality of Reynolds writing is erudite, the vocabulary is extensive and the complexity requires a very literate readership, and not that of the newly literate.  England was only about 50% literate at the time.  Remember there are degrees of literacy so 200,000 readers would include a  very significant portion of the affluent and upper classes.

 Of the Oxford Society editions, ten volume sets are not sold to low earners.  You have to be fairly comfortable and well educated to afford those.  Remember, Boston USA was perhaps the most cultivated city in the US and probably the most Anglophile.  Home to Harvard University and the snob capital of America.  Reynolds did appeal not only to the impoverished  slum dwellers but also to the elite. Over a period of eight years of weekly installments the impact of the novel must have been enormous.  Imagine the popularity of Downton Abbey on today’s TV.

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