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Early Days of McLoughlin Brothers

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Early Days of McLoughlin Brothers

When McLoughlin Brothers began publishing, the partners, John Jr. and Edmund McLoughlin, made several key decisions that would set them apart from their competition. First, they committed to includeing as much color as possible in most of their books, even the inexpensive titles. This caused one newspaper editor to comment on the firm’s 1866 edition of Old Mother Hubbard and Her Dog, “We are pleased to see that Mother Hubbard is as sprightly and active as when we first made that august old lady’s acquaintance twenty years ago, except she has taken to paint. This is a decided improvement, and the illustrations of these books are well colored and deserving of commendation.”

The brothers also chose to issue the majority of their titles in series. Even as early as the 1850s, they saw the advantages of offering the same stories in different formats and at varied price points. Popular rhymes and tales like Mother Goose and Cinderella came in penny editions and dollar editions. Each series was sold at a particular price point, allowing the company to reuse printing plates and designs in different sizes, bindings, and with judicious use of color or without. Over the years, McLoughlin Brothers would continually repackage series, changing the name of the series or titles offered in it, and push the books out as “new” to its wholesale markets. This approach created an enormous catalog of books on offer, even though many were repackaged or resized editions. This efficiency allowed the firm the opportunity to create original content and to expand its toy line, all while selling books to distributors who could offer them to the widest possible market, from low-income residents of the tenements in New York to middle-class families in Brooklyn and beyond.

View of Beekman Street

Finally, John Jr. and his brother Edmund decided to only sell material (books, games, toys) produced for the juvenile market. In this they were unusual. A survey of titles being promoted by 128 different New York booksellers in 1856, just as the brothers were about to launch their partnership, reveals that only fifteen other publishers listed children’s books as part of their core business. Certainly more than that were printing books for young readers, but when describing their stock for their colleagues, only twelve percent included juvenile or toy books as part of their focus, and all of those published other kinds of books, including novels, religious texts, or science books for adult readers. McLoughlin Brothers produced valentines for the seasonal February markets, but other than that, 100 percent of its products were intended for children.

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