Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Stay-at-home shelfie #61

No respectable home should be without a set of fine encyclopedias! I firmly believe this, even while acknowledging that predatory sales tactics of the past resulted in families buying overpriced sets they could hardly afford. "Encyclopedia Sale Abuses Go On Despite New Laws," an article by Grace Lichtenstein in the September 26, 1971, edition of The New York Times noted:
"The Department of Consumer Affairs ... charged, among other things, that [Encyclopedia] Britannica salesmen used language 'designed to instill fear and anxiety in parents that their children will fall in school unless an encyclopedia is purchased.' It also said salesmen first offered the 24‐volume set for $1,200 and then came up with a 'special deal,' which was actually the same set in a much cheaper binding.1 ...

"Many of the tactics mentioned in complaints were heard by a reporter when, posing as a potential customer, she was visited by salesmen from Field and Grolier last month. The two Field salesmen based their pitch on 'concern' for 'your children's education.' Declaring that children now must know a great deal when they enter kindergarten, they suggested both the 15‐volume Childcraft and the 20‐volume World Book encyclopedia for a special price of $320.35, plus finance charges2 if bought on an installment plan."
But time and changing access to information caught up with the encyclopedia salesmen. In 2012, Encyclopedia Britannica announced it was going fully digital; door-to-door sales had ended in 1996. The Saturday Evening Post wrote about the history of these knowledge peddlers in 2017.

My encyclopedia was inexpensive. I purchased it a couple years ago at York's Book Nook Bonanza (which has canceled its 2020 event because of COVID-19). It's the 1946 edition of Compton's Pictured Encyclopedia and Fact-Index, which was first published in 1922. Guy Stanton Ford (1873-1962) was the Editor-in-Chief. It wasn't until I got home that I realized — despite being sure I had triple-checked — that I was missing a volume. I had no M! How could I continue without "Macaroni" through "Mythology"? Eventually, an eBay seller came to the rescue with the single volume I needed (although it's from 1948 instead of 1946). Now I can read all about Mexico, Milwaukee and monks.

Laying across the top is Science Year, The World Book Science Annual for 1971, which I wrote about in March 2019,

1. $1,200 in 1971 is the equivalent of $7,682 today. Even with an installment plan, that's ghastly.
2. The finance charges were 12% annually!

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