Porcelain figure: colporteur
Colporteur from the Cris de Paris cycle, Meissen porcelain, 20th century, based on a design by Johann Joachim Kändler from the 18th century
Deutsches Buch- und Schriftenmuseum der Deutschen Nationalbibliothek Leipzig


Literature “worn around the neck”

The works that are the object of this trade and which are usually printed in Reutlingen are generally partly ascetic books, partly other books for the instruction and entertainment of the country folk, e.g. cookbooks, popular geography, sample collections of letters, old folk novels, as well as various papers and songs.

Appraisal of the Oberzensurkollegium regarding the Ening colporteurs, 1812

In addition to lending libraries, book stores and reading clubs, colportage was one of the sources of literature in the 18th and 19th centuries. Door-to-door salesmen carried all manner of books, brochures and booklets in hawker's trays and baskets which they offered for sale primarily to poor country folk. The reading materials ranged from religious booklets to schoolbooks and “Volksbüchlein” containing popular stories.

The rising demand for reading materials, above all from the 19th century onwards, led to a torrent of booklets and colportage novels. These novels, issued in instalments of up to 200 booklets, were now affordable for poorer readers as well. Even encyclopaedias and Bible projects soon used this means of selling as well.