Pedlars and the Popular Press

Itinerant Distribution Networks in England and the Netherlands 1600-1850


Itinerant salesmen, also called pedlars, street hawkers, hucksters and ballad singers are considered to be the most important distributors of popular printed matter in Europe between 1600 and 1850. A general assumption is that the pedlar travelling from town to countryside was strongly distinct from the role of the established booksellers in the towns, selling books to the educated and affluent buyer. The commercial position of the urban pedlars, however, is very often underestimated. In this book, therefore, the itinerant book trade is studied in an English and Dutch, urban context, leading to a new perspective on the role of the pedlars as an intermediary between the established booksellers and an extensive, socially diverse reading public.
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Biographical Note

Jeroen Salman, Ph.D. (1997) is Assistant Professor Comparative Literature at Utrecht University. He has published on early modern popular culture, literature and book history, including the volume New Perspectives in book history. Contributions from the Low Countries (Walburg Pers, 2006).

Review Quotes

“This is a commendably ambitious project. Not content to investigate the history of Dutch pedlars of printed matter across more than two centuries, Jeroen Salman provides a thorough comparison with itinerant sellers in England, while maintaining a clear view of the wider European context. In the process he assembles a wealth of new information about Dutch and English pedlars, hawkers, ballad-singers, and news-vendors gleaned from a vast range of sources. While London and Amsterdam are central to the study, the author uses records from Utrecht, Leiden, and Exeter to furnish detailed case studies of the situation in provincial towns. […] Jeroen Salman is to be congratulated not only for identifying those aspects of the trade in cheap print in both countries hitherto largely ignored but also for demonstrating what can be done by exploiting to the full an immense variety of documentary, textual and visual resources.”
Maureen Bell, Newark. In: The Library, 7.16.3 (September 2015), pp. 346-349.

Table of contents

Chapter One: Reputation and Representation
in collaboration with Karen Bowen
Confusing terminology
Authorities and Booksellers
A growing danger in England
Tolerance, repression and economic interests in the Netherlands
Pedlars in the World of the Imagination: Textual Representations
Dutch literary representations
English textual representations
Pedlars in the World of the Imagination: The Visual Perspective
English ballad singers
Dutch images
Pedlars and Their Self-Image
The struggle for life
Battling a bad reputation
Distributor of respectable goods
Conclusion: Stereotypes, Motives and Change

Chapter Two: The Pedlar in the English Distribution Network
The Scale of Itinerant Distribution
Organisation and control
Itinerant book trade
Number of pedlar licenses
Pedlars and hawkers with printed wares
Itinerant booksellers in London
Itinerant book trade in the provinces: Devon and Exeter
Categorisation and Trade Practices
Occasional pedlars
Pedlars of books and other goods
Pedlars with printed wares exclusively
Ballad sellers and singers
News pedlars
Chapbooks, prints, almanacs, children’s books and other printed wares

Conclusion: Distribution Networks and Patterns in England

Chapter Three: The Pedlar in the Dutch Distribution Network
The Scale of Itinerant Distribution
Categorisation, Networks and Trade Practices
Occasional Pedlars
Pedlars with books and other wares
Pedlars with printed wares exclusively
Specialist pedlars
Conclusion: Distribution Networks and Patterns in the Netherlands

Conclusion: A Comparative Perspective on Itinerant Networks

Archival and Manuscript Sources
Published Primary Sources
Electronic Sources and Databases
Secondary Sources


All those interested in social-economic history, book history, the history of popular culture, criminal and legal history as well as literary and art historians.


Collection Information