- Historic Sites
Get The Prospect Seated … And Keep Talking”
August 1958 | Volume 9, Issue 5
Ten thousand canvassers fanned out over the countryside, all carefully drilled in the principles set forth in a power-packed little manual, How to Introduce the Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant , containing a groundwork of arguments to help the agent deliver a smooth and effective spiel. Go, it said, to the front door; you are selling a parlor book. Introduce yourself by name. Shake hands, if you can. Keep the “pros” concealed from view in a special pocket on the inside of your coat. The confidential instructions told the agent in rich detail exactly what to do, what to say, and how to say it. What chance had a clerk, former, or blacksmith, himself a former member of a regiment of volunteer infantry, when the comrade opened up?
“Each volume,” he would say, “will contain a facsimile of the Gold Medal presented by Congress to General Grant in 1863 in honor of his successes … the first and only medal ever presented to any man by the American Congress … this (produce ‘pros’ and explain) will be the surface size of the volumes, this (showing backs), the thickness. Each volume will contain 600 large octavo pages. Here is a fine steel portrait of the General, from a daguerreotype, taken when he was twenty-one years of age, and Second-Lieutenant in the United States Infantry. The General informs us that he cut twenty cords of wood to pay for the daguerreotype from which this portrait was taken.
“The work, you see, is copyrighted (pointing to copyright) by Ulysses S. Grant, and it is being published for his benefit. … The Table of Contents shows the plan and scope of the work. Volume I opens with a brief sketch of his ancestry. … This is a sample of the fifteen or twenty maps to be contained in the book. Here is the letter he wrote from Galena at the outbreak of the Civil War, offering bis services to his country.
“A fine steel etching … shows his birthplace. … The frontispiece of the second volume is a steel portrait of Grant as Lieutenant-General … a perfect likeness of the General as he looked at the close of the war.”
The agent then mentioned all the battles of the war fought under Grant and finally arrived at McLean’s house at Appomattox. “It was in the parlor of this house …” and so on. “There will be a facsimile of the original document … even to the yellow paper on which it was written. …” The canvasser now turned to a strip mounted on the inside of the binding that showed the cloth style, saying: “Bound in this style of binding, the work will be furnished at three fifty (Do not say dollars). Bound in full Library leather it will be furnished at four fifty per volume. … You see, General Grant owns this book himself, and the publishers simply issue it under his direction.” The half morocco was $5.50, but the full morocco was not mentioned until the name was clown on the dotted line. Then the agent shot for the really expensive editions, all the way up to the tree call at $12.50.
Leafing casually through the pages of the canvassing sample, the agent now said, “I presume it is simply a question with you as to your choice of bindings, as no American will want to have it said that he has not read General Grant’s book, a work that will descend to your children and will increase in value with every generation.” (Return to subject of bindings.) “You see the styles your neighbors are taking. Which style do you prefer? … (Do not wait for a reply to your question, but keep advancing argument after argument … Do everything quickly … above all have faith to believe you will get the order.)”
Among the Aids and Arguments contained in the Key were the answers to “Can’t afford it” and to questions about Grant’s politics (“Grant should be dear to all Americans”). A big card was the delayed payment (next December, next March). The book was sold as an investment (better than real estate), and on the need of the Grant family (pitiful). The manual said, “People … expect to hear you talk, and you must not disappoint them … keep pouring hot shot at them. …” The peripatetic bookman had every reason of self-interest to do so, for he did not get his full commission unless he met a quota of one hundred orders per thousand population. “Anyone outside the poor house,” the kit said, “can acquire the book if he wants to.”
When he sensed the moment to move in for the kill, the agent broke off and said, ”Just put your name on that line … on that line, please.” (But if the prospect is not ready, keep talking.) To teachers, read educator testimonials. To young men, quote Ben Franklin and warn all against competitors—“so-called ‘Lives of Grant.’” Get the prospect seated, in a fence corner, behind a stump, on the plow beam. Put the book right in his lap, but you turn the leaves … and keep talking. Remember Grant’s perseverance. Keep the pressure up. Avoid “the Bull Run voice, Bull Run appearance, Bull Run walk, and BULL RUN LUCK.” Notice the children, smell the flowers, and watch for that but … The agent aimed to make ten to twenty exhibitions daily in towns, eight to fifteen in the country. He was admonished to avoid controversy, keep away from saloons, learn to read men. “You can often satisfy people as to your honesty by admiring it in others.” Make your voice “similar to David’s harp,” and if you lose, retreat in good order, with colors flying: “Let your last glance be full of sunshine.”