The Printers’ File at AAS


What is the Printers’ File?

Since Isaiah Thomas’s research for his ambitious The History of Printing in America (1810), the Society has held the largest set of data on the early printing trade in what is now the United States. Starting in 1927, Avis Clarke, AAS’s first trained cataloger, compiled a card catalog that came to be known as the Printers’ File during her 43 year tenure here. Avis Clark For many decades, these twenty-five drawers of cards could only be accessed in our reading room, a resource that became known as the Printers’ File. The term “printers” here is somewhat misleading, as the cards detail the work of 6,145 printers, publishers, editors, binders, papermakers, and others involved in the printing trade through 1820. Culled from newspapers, local histories, biographies, and reference books, the information on these cards is a vital set of data for the early American printing trade, but that is not all that it is. Mini-biographies or prosopographies of these people’s lives, the cards contain information about their time before and after they joined the trade—their humble beginnings as farmers before they moved to the big city, their stint in military engagements ranging from King Philip’s War to the Revolutionary War to the War of 1812, their work with charity, their time in prison, their marriages, their fortunes, and their follies. In short, the cards chronicle the lives of these people as they moved in and out of the printing trade, and they therefore provide evidence of the ways in which the work of printing permeated quotidian life in colonial America and the early Republic.


Consulting the Printers' File and the North American Imprints Program (NAIP)

We encourage researchers to confirm information listed on cards through the use of sources listed on the “authority cards” in the file as well as recent bibliographical and digital sources that were not available to Clarke when she retired in 1970. In fact, no new cards nor information were added to the file after Clarke’s retirement; instead, such information was updated and added in our contributions to both the Library of Congress’s Name Authority File and the North American Imprints Program (NAIP). The NAIP catalog contains over 40,000 records descriptive of 17th- and 18th- century imprints, and records the locations of more than 120,000 extant copies. This catalog is a part of our General Catalog, and so our catalog offers the most comprehensive listing of pre1801 United States imprints. A name search in our catalog will therefore render the most exhaustive list possible of pre1801 imprints associated with a person in the Printers’ File. NAIP work is ongoing in the cataloging of 19th-century imprints, so imprints associated with those working in the books trades post1801 will be comprehensive, but may not be exhaustive. NAIP does not cover newspapers however, so for information about those involved in the newspaper production trades, see Clarence Brigham’s “Index of Printers” at the back of his History and Bibliography of American Newspapers, 1690-1820 (1947).

The Printers’ File Online

Referring to this file in his 2008 presidential address to the Bibliographical Society of America, John Bidwell remarked that “bibliographers can be grateful to the AAS for [this] valuable source of biographical information,” and pressed for the creation of a national biographical dictionary of the early American book trade. Rather than creating a dictionary, we are now transforming all of this data into a linked open data environment. The Printers' File Online (PFO) based on both the cards, AAS contributions to the Library of Congress’s Name Authority File,and the NAIP records is an effort to augment the types of queries our data can answer, to link our information to related data sets, and to allow greater access to a resource that is currently only available in our reading room. We have reorganized, reordered, and in short, “digitized” this information into Linked Open Data. The printers' information has already been scaned, entered as data, and transformed into BIBFRAME, the library standard for Linked Open Data. In contrast to a siloed database, the data we created from the digitization of the Printers’ File can be shared and expanded. The Printers’ File data now exists on, a domain owned by AAS and created by Zepheira, the company we partnered with to transform the Printers’ File data into Linked Open Data in BIBFRAME and a BIBFRAME extension. The data exists here, but it is largely unindexed and therefore difficult to search. The data can be found in spreadsheet and JSON formats in AAS's GitHub.

We are in the process of making this data and its structures available both by creating the Printers’ File Online, a front-end user interface to query, extract, and enhance the data, and by developing an ontology to describe the complex relationships between people, their occupations, and the objects they produced. In addition to the PFO, in consultation with the Bodleian Library and the Consortium of European Research Libraries, we plan to create the Roles in the Early Modern Printing Trade (REMPT) ontology. This work will render the Printers’ File data interoperable with preexisting large, international data sets related to print production in the hand press and early industrial printing periods. REMPT will also pave the way for future projects interested in creating suchdirector of scholarly programs and partnerships data sets.

Please contact John J. Garcia, director of scholarly programs and partnerships, with questions about the Printers' FIle cards as well as the Printers' File Online.


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