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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Smith, Elder & Co.   12 September 1837

London 65 Cornhill

12th Septr. 1837

To Chas. Darwin Esqr | &c &c &c


1—Referring to our interview with you respecting the Publication of your Zoological work we now beg leave to offer the following suggestions which have occurred to us as most likely to farther the objects you have explained—

2—The end contemplated by Government in making a grant for this work of £1000, at least the end which the Publishers have to bear in mind seems to be the lessening of the Price to the Public, and the general benefit to Science of its consequently more extended circulation—

3—The best way to attain this end will be at once ascertained by observing what is the character of the different outlays necessary in the Publication of such a work, and we shall find that may be advantageously separated into two classes

4—The First class comprises those which are alike necessary to be incurred whether the Edition required be one of five or of five hundred Copies and which must be provided for by distributing them—not over the whole Number of Copies of the Edition equally—but over such number of Copies only, as you may securely calculate on disposing of, so that this class of expenses, affects the selling price of the work not only by their absolute amount, but in a degree proportionate to the anticipated extent of sales—

5—The second class of expenses again is that of a nature requiring only to be incurred for completing Copies of the work as these are wanted to supply the demand, & which therefore need only affect the selling price of the work to the extent of their exact net cost pr. Copy—

6—By keeping these distinctions in view we arrive at a point which enables us to say that if the first class of expenses be met by some extraneous means (such as the Govt. grant in this instance) the necessity of laying on a speculative price remunerative of risk in the extent of sale is entirely removed and we arrive at this result—that the Public could be supplied with the work under the double advantage of participating in the lowness of price caused by the Government Contribution, and in paying for the remaining expenses no more than their net cost.

7—In now proceeding on the above principles to estimate the probable expenses attending your proposed work, and in ascertaining how far the Govt. grant of £1000 can be made instrumental in reducing the selling price of the work, we beg leave to premise, that as the state of the Materials and the nature of the work do not enable a positive estimate of each item to be formed beforehand, we can only state what we conceive will be the general average cost of the Engravings &c—& as the Engravers & Printers Bills would be submitted during the progress of the work to you for the satisfaction of Government, & would at all times be subject to your control, we presume that a general estimate of the probable sum total of the expenses will for the present purpose suffice—

8—The work you say will comprise when complete about 250 Plates & 800 pages of Letter Press of the size of “Richardsons American Zoology”1 & would be published in Periodical Numbers of smaller portions until the whole is finished—

9—The Expenses of the First Class (Par. 4) attending the above may be estimated as follows— diag Engraving or Lithographing 250 Plates £750 – “ – ” various subjects averaging 60/ – each Paper & Printing an edition of 500 of the Letter Press extending to about 800 pages 452 – 10 – ”


£1202 – 10 – ”ramme

to the liquidation of which expenses so far as it will go we propose devoting the Government grant of £1000—leaving still a sum of say £200 to be provided for by the Sales of the Work as will be subsequently explained—

10. The Expenses of the Second Class (Par 5) comprises the Plate Paper—Printing & Coloring the Plates—Charge for use of Lithographic Stones—Doing up Copies of the work—Advertising & various minor expenses—but as you cannot with any certainty decide before hand how many of the Plates may require coloring we cannot now enter into minute details with any advantage— Supposing however that a portion of the Plates are colored & the rest plain we may calculate the cost of this class of expenses as averaging £4. to £4 . 5 . ″ pr Copy—

11. It now remains to form a conclusion from the above data, what is the lowest price for which the work might be offered to the Public, & in doing so we have to consider the sum of £200 unprovided for under the head of Expenses of the First Class (Par 9)—the Cost pr Copy of the Second Class of expenses (Par 10)—the necessity of preparing a certain Number of Copies for delivery gratis to Public Institutions & others—and a provision to be made to allow of the usual deduction being made on Copies sold to the Trade, & the result of our calculation on all these points is, that the Selling Price of the whole work might be fixed at about £9– ″ – ″:—& that the Work might be advantageously brought out in 18 Nos., Each containing on an average 14 Plates—part plain & part cold,—with a proportionate quantity of the Letter Press, to sell for 10/– pr. No.—

Trusting that these details may be intelligible, and with offer of every farther explanation We have the honor to be | Sir | Your most obedt Servants | Smith Elder & Coy


Richardson, John. 1829–37. Fauna Boreali-Americana; or, the zoology of the northern parts of British America. Assisted by William Swainson and William Kirby. 4 vols. London and Norwich: John Murray; Richard Bentley; J. Fletcher.


Suggestions are presented respecting CD’s proposed publication of his zoological work in accordance with the Government requirement.

Letter details

Letter no.
Smith, Elder & Co
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
London, Cornhill, 65
Source of text
The National Archives (TNA) (T1/4524 paper 25824)
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 377A,” accessed on 18 May 2022,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 2