Ebenezer Howard and Swan Sonnenschein

Ebenezer Howard and Swan Sonnenschein

Much has been written about Ebenezer Howard’s ground breaking book ‘To-morrow: a Peaceful Path to Real Reform’ published by Swan Sonnenschein in 1898, including a fac­simile edition with expert supporting commentary released in 2003. Apart from refer­ences to the fact that Howard used a £50 gift to fund the book’s publication, very little has been written about the relationship between author and publisher.

Reading University Special Collections include a series of letter books comprising carbon copies of Sonnenschein’s outgoing correspondence to clients including those to Howard that begin on 11 October 1897 and end on 23 June 1910. The letters are all business related without personal insight into the relationship and while the archive contains some 600 incoming letters, sadly there are none from Howard. Reading the outgoing letters allows us to speculate on the content of Howard’s responses.

As the letters are carbon copies, now more than 100 years old, a few are completely illegi­ble and some are partially unreadable but nevertheless there is much of interest.

11 October 1897: “We have read your MS [manuscript] entitled “The Master Key” but regret that we do not see our way to make you any proposal for publication. It is not in our opinion suitable for our Social Science Series. Thanking you for your offer”.

In spite of this rebuff, Howard must have made a further proposal as the first cost estimate for printing and publication was prepared only a month later. At this point Sonnenschein explains its costs are higher than another publisher because of the low quality of the com­petitor’s work.

4 November 1897: “…. the paper they send for the plates is very good but that for the text is wretched…”

This first cost estimate is £44 for 1,000 copies, £71 5s for 3,000 and £94 10s for 5,000.

There are then exchanges about the terms of a possible contract between author and pub­lisher from which it is clear that Howard is weighing up how he might structure the arrangement including it seems whether he will deal with the printer directly or leave this to Sonnenschein. Also there are thoughts about the book’s title.

10 November 1897: “…. We think 3,000 copies would be quite sufficient to start with……..”To-morrow etc” is a very good title, we think. We do not feel it has been used elsewhere for a book”.

Howard seems also to have asked for 1,000 of the print run for himself with the remainder available for general sale.

There is a gap of a few months in the correspondence and then on 12 July 1898, a further costing is provided with a price of £73 15s 6d for 3,000 copies, on the basis of Howard using the format of another of Sonnenschein’s books. The pub­lisher also notes that Howard is arranging the printing of the now famous colour plates. By this date Sonnen­schein are keen to place an order, saying they could produce the book very quickly as the printers are “ all very slack of work and daily asking us for composition”.

15 July 1898: “We enclose contractual agreement, signed by ourselves & containing receipt of the cheque £49 2s 10d paid to us this day. We have at once sent the MS to press and hope to forward you proofs very shortly. We return you the four (? word not clear) diagrams inserted in the MS which we understand are to be separately printed and are part of those estimated for to you by Messrs Harrison & Sons…..”.

Even at this late stage, a decision on the book’s ultimate title remained subject to possible change.

19 July 1898: “We have sent on the fresh MS to the printers. We will look up “Tomor­row” as a title. It is, in our opinion a better title than “The Next Step”, which has we fear, too general a meaning to connote the contents of your book. It would, in fact, better suit a novel than an economic treatise”.

Howard seems to have remained cost conscious throughout the process, including adver­tising. Sonnenschein proposed to spend £5 on advertising and “see meantime how the book is received”. By 13 October this had become “We will stop expenditure on adver­tisements – very little has been spent”.

Sonnenschein had sold 60 copies of the book by 13 October and on 1 November, a sum­mary was provided to Howard confirming that they had by then sent him 650 copies. It is well known that Howard distributed ‘To-morrow’ to national newspapers, the editors of other publications and others sympathetic to his cause. He received 7 copies on 29 Sep­tember but the first large batch of 242 was received on 4 October, which could be con­sidered perhaps the ‘official’ publi­cation date if a single date is to be selected.

Early sales were slow. By 30 June 1899, about 150 had been sold and 1,021 dis­tributed for free, leaving about 1,800 of the 3,000 printed still in unbound sheets.

The first annual statement for the period to 30 June 1899 shows that Howard had made two further small injections of cash to the project since his first payment to Sonnenschein in July 1898. In total, Howard had contributed £69 3s 10d which together with book sales income of £10 17s 6d left Sonnenschein £3 18s 8d out of pocket.

To October 1900, sales remained at low levels and 1,200 were still unbound. There seems to have been no further written contact until a year later in October 1901. At this point there is a first reference Howard’s new book ‘Garden Cities of To-morrow’ [although not named here]…” a reprint might be desirable but we think that would depend chiefly on the prospects of the Garden [City] Association……”

Contractual arrangements for the new book then start in earnest – it seems that Howard was to have more control over the printing than he had with ‘To-morrow’; Sonnenschein acting more as agent. Opinions on the book’s prospects were rather more upbeat:

25 October 1901: ”…if the whole 3,000 sold (as they no doubt will)…..”

29 October 1901: “…we are anxious to give you favourable terms….”

28 November 1901: “We have a good many inquiries for your book. We think we could sell it pretty well, if it were ready early in January & it would be as well to go to press as quickly as possible”.

12 December 1901: “Can you give us an idea when you will have the new edition of your book? The demand for it is pretty frequent & our travellers should have it for their January journeys”.

There was clearly a positive knock on effect to the sales of ‘To-morrow’ and by February 1902 stocks of the cloth edition were exhausted.

By July 1902, ‘Garden Cities’ was on sale and from then until 1910 the remaining brief exchanges between Howard and Sonnenschein concentrate on sales, distribution and annual financial statements. References to ‘To-morrow’ are also at an end.


David Metcalfe, June 2014