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In 1817, J. & J. Harper published its first book. Most of their early sales were from reprints, which the Harper brothers had to pay for the right to print. Unfortunately, many printers of this era did not feel the need to pay, as reprint piracy was very common in the 1800s.
The competition to get new materials out first was intense back in those days. According to The House of Harper: A Century of Publishing in Franklin Square, when a ship would arrive “a messenger would board the incoming packet before she was made fast to the wharf to secure as soon as possible the early sheets. Every compositor was then put on the work, and every press stood ready for the printing.” This resulted in extremely fast printing of new material for the Harper brothers which quickly built their printing empire.
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