Wednesday, February 2, 2022

2021: The Year in Collecting (part 4)

The Hoyle I purchase at a German auction in late November has finally arrived. Before taking a close look at it, let's return to the December auction where I bought four lots, fourteen books, including the whist manuscript discussed in the last essay. There were some early books on the game of ombre, but I'll focus on the Hoyles. My collection is deep and the opportunities for me are mostly with cheap literature and with translations. 

For cheap literature, it is hard to top this Hoyle's Games in Miniature, purportedly by Bob Short, Jun.

Hoyle in Miniature 1825c. wrapper

I've written about the chapbooks by "Bob Short," which I have shown is the pseudonym of Robert Withy (see "Who is 'Bob Short'?" parts one, two, and three). Like Hoyle himself, Bob Short became a brand. Withy himself wrote only about whist and quadrille in the 1780s and 1790s, but in the first half of the 19th century, you could find all sorts of chapbooks and cheap books offered under his pseudonym, sometimes, as here, with a disingenuous "Jun." appended. There is a charming and naive hand-colored frontispiece:

frontispiece and title page

This is a reissue of a book first published in 1820 or so. The original book was imposed in eights; the reissue in sixes, still the same setting of type. The reissue also adds eight pages on the games of brag and domino, which are listed on the title page, but not on the wrapper. These cheap books are quite rare. The only copy of the first issue is at the Bodleian Library and mine is one of two surviving second issues. 

I'll show without comment two French translations of Hoyle treatise on whist, one published in the Hague by Staatman in 1765, the other in Amsterdam by Prault in 1767. 

Staatman 1765
Prault 1767

Now onto the gem. In general, editions of Hoyle are objects of commerce, not luxury. With the exception of the first edition of Hoyle's first book, pictured here, the bindings are cheap, utilitarian, and not particularly attractive. Here is a second exception, albeit a bit stained:

deluxe Italian? binding

The book is an Italian translation of Hoyle on chess printed in Florence in 1768. 

Scacchi, Florence, 1768.

The long title translates as The game of chess with some rules and observations to play it well, by the Englishman Mr. Hoyle translated into our language and dedicated to incomparable merit of Mr. Dudley Digges, English officer of the navy in the service of his British Majesty. We'll return to Mr. Digges in a moment. The book is quite rare with only three institutional copies in major chess collections: the White collection at Cleveland Public (pictured here), the van der Linde collection at the Koninklijke Bibliotheek (available on Google), and the Fiske collection at the National and University Library in Iceland. A label in my copy says it is a duplicate from the collection of Lothar Schmid (1928-2013), so perhaps a fifth copy remains in that collection, which I understand is still intact.

The text is not from Hoyle's 1761 work on chess, as one might expect, but rather from the second half of Hoyle's treatise on piquet, first published in 1744, and included in all editions of Hoyle's Games thereafter. To give a sense of the typography, here is the beginning of the text:

Chess, part one

There are a few additions by the translator. The first is a two-page letter to the reader: 

Translator's preface

The translator is Ranieri Collini and the preface expresses fawning admiration of Digges. Some rough translations: 

"To whom better than you to be able to dedicate this book..."

"...having reendered yourself ably in the service of your august monarch..."

"...long undertakings, and painful voyages by land and sea..."

"I know that your soul is very alien to conceit..."

In the third and final section of the book, Hoyle had 14 numbered paragraphs and Collini adds a fifteenth: 

Part 3, paragraph XV

It connects the game of chess to antiquity, noting that the title of Augustus was given to one of the imperial Romans for having won ten games of chess in a row. I haven't seen that anecdote before!

So how did Collini and Digges cross paths? A Dictionary of British and Irish Travellers in Italy, 1701-1800, Yale University Press, 1997 is based on an archive assembled by Sir Birnsley Ford and edited by John Ingamells. It is an alphabetical listing of visitors to Italy, many undertaking the grand tour. The dictionary shows Captain Dudley Digges and his brother West Digges visiting Florence in 1767, a year before the Hoyle was published:

Dictionary p301

Astonishingly, the source document, Gazzetta Toscana, is available on Google books. An entry marked "Florence, December 26, 1767" reads:

Gazzetta Toscana, p215

Correcting the misspelling of the names, this translates in part:

"Among the foreign gentlemen who came to this capital in the space of eight days are...Messrs. Belven, West Digges, English gentlemen, Mr. Dudley Digges, captain in service of his British Majesty."

I have not been able to track down Belven. West Digges is a quite well-known comic actor, but if Collini had met them both, he must have been more impressed with brother Dudley. The text in the gazette almost matches the dedication on the title page. So it is possible to connect Collini and Digges in time and space. It would be fascinating to learn how they came to meet.

It took more than six weeks for this gem to travel here, but it was well worth the wait, don't you think?


Sunday, January 9, 2022

2021: The Year in Collecting (part 3) Who is William H?

In part 2, I said that I wasn't ready to write about the bundle of books I bought at a mid-December auction. This essay will discuss just one of them, an extraordinary manuscript on the game of whist. First, the description from the auction catalogue:

Manuscript. Rules for the game of whist, circa 1820s, 196 leaves, written throughout in a neat legible hand in sepia and red ink, Contents at front with step index, some marginal toning, marbled endpapers, hinges splitting, armorial bookplate of Joseph Tasker, Middleton Hall, Essex, all edges gilt, contemporary straight-grained red morocco by Frank Murray of Derby, Leicester & Nottingham, with his label to front pastedown, flat spine ruled and lettered in gilt ‘Game of Whist’, spine rubbed and darkened, upper cover re-jointed, gilt single fillet on covers and edges, gilt roll on turn-ins, 8vo
Bearing the bookplate of Joseph Tasker whose library was sold at auction in 1862 and 1868.

A beautifully-written manuscript comprising rules for the game of whist, containing references throughout to Hoyle and Payne, and with a list of contents included at the front.

The manuscript consists primary of excerpts from Hoyle. It is peculiarly numbered--it is the openings that are numbered, rather than the pages or the leaves. Here is opening 11, which will give you a sense of the manuscript:

opening 11

 The paragraph in the upper right is one such Hoyle excerpt:

A and B are Partners against C and D; A leads a Club, his Partner B plays before the Adversary C; in this case D has a right to play before his Partner C, because B played out of his Turn.

Hoyle  50-9.                 
Payne  8-3.

This is what Hoyle and contemporaries called a "law" of whist. It was not a rule telling how to play the game, but a remedy to redress an irregularity that can occur at that table, here a play out of turn. 

It took some work to decipher the references to Hoyle and Payne. P refers to a page number and C a "case," as Hoyle frequently designated sections of his text. The hunt was on to find this text on page 50 of an edition of Hoyle.  It turns out that the Hoyle references are to the 1796 edition of Hoyle's Games Improved, revised and corrected by Charles Jones (Jones.5). Here is page 50, case IX of that book, matching the text of the manuscript:

Hoyle's Games Improved (1796)

The reference to Payne was more difficult. Payne wrote the second book on whist after Hoyle, Maxims for Playing the Game of Whist (1773), discussed here. In no edition of Payne did the laws appear as early as page 8. Finally I found the reference, not in Payne, but in the Charles Pigott's New Hoyle (Pigott.1.1). There were three issues of the first edition of that book, all with the same setting of type. Here is a photo from the third issue, again matching the text of the manuscript:

Pigott's New Hoyle (1796)

This oddity persists throughout the book. All of the hundreds of manuscript references to Payne are actually to this early edition of Pigott!

It might have been quicker for me to identify the sources had I reached opening 18 more quickly: 


It reads:

The foregoing Laws at Whist, with the following general rules for playing the Game, as well as the instructions for playing particular Hands, are taken from the revised and corrected edition of Hoyles Games Improved, by Chas Jones, Esqr; also, from a Publication called New Hoyle, Printed by Ridgeway, York Street, Saint James's, from the Manuscript of the late Charles Pigott Esqr; both were published in 1796. WmH.
WmH? This must be the monogram of the compiler of the manuscript! And that took me back to the preliminary material. In addition to the 196 openings with Arabic numbers, there are also 22 preliminary leaves with Roman numerals. The opening below shows an alphabetical table of contents and the step index mentioned in the catalogue. If you click on the image to enlarge it, you will see that the contents refer to pages marked in black ink and "cases" marked in red:

page III

Now I understood an entry which confused me on first reading:

H Wm, his observations 3-2-3. 4-1-2-3-4. 6-1. 8-1. 14-1. 17. 51-1-2-3-4-5. 86-1. 105-26. 192-3. 155-4 156-7.

The manuscript has many interpolations by the compiler. Not all of them were indexed in the table of contents. The most interesting is from opening 14. First, the compiler transcribes a law from an old edition of Hoyle (one of four such references in the manuscript) and notes that it is obsolete:

page 14

The laws reads:

No Person may take new Cards in the middle of the Game, without the consent of all Parties. 

Hoyles old Edtn 81-23                 
The law addresses the right of a player to request a new pack of cards, feeling that that the old ones were running against him. I believe that the reference is to the "eleventh" edition of Hoyle's Games from 1757 (Games.2), pictured below. There is another possibility based on the page and case numbers for the 4 references to the old edition of Hoyle, so I'm not 100% certain.

Hoyle's Games
"eleventh" edition (1757)
It is the commentary below the law that is of the most interest:

NB. The above Law is Obsolete.

I betted Ten Guineas that no Person might take fresh Cards in the middle of the Game without the consent of the Adversaries; it was referred to the first Whist Club in England held at that time (1792) at Martindales St. James’s Street; when they decreed, that either Party might have fresh Cards at any Point of the Game, (the Party calling paying for them) without consulting the opposite Party. WmH.
Martindales was a club that took over the premises of another club, White's, in 1789. I suppose the new law is a money-maker for the club--likely they mark up the cost of the cards and are delighted when someone wants new ones! From the anecdote we can deduce that WmH was an adult in 1792 and a man of sufficient means to make a frivolous ten guinea bet. Perhaps he was a member of Martindales.

So who is WmH?
My first thought was that he must have owned one of the early editions of Pigott, which are quite scarce. Might one of the few surviving copies have a revealing bookplate or signature? The only copy of the first issue is at the Bodleian Library. There are no surviving second issues and only two third issues--one at the Bodleian and one in my collection. Sadly, none of the three books was helpful. The first issue has the ownership inscription of J. Muzio whom I cannot identify, and there was nothing useful in the other two.

Second, I went through all the whist literature looking for a William H of the right time period. I found nothing about members of Martindale's club. A book about White's Club notes that General William Howe (1729-1814), commander in chief of the British army in North America, was a member. There is a lot of Howe manuscript material online, but I don't feel qualified to compare the handwriting.
The Jessel bibliography records a four-volume set called Rational Recreations by William Hooper, but that does not particularly deal with whist. The index in Courtney's English Whist and Whist Players (1894) lists artist William Hogarth and writer William Hazlitt as connected to whist. Hogarth (1697-1764) is too early. The samples I've seen of Hazlitt's handwriting do not match the manuscript, but of course the compiler and the scribe may be two different people.

The identity of WmH is likely to remain a mystery. It has been great fun digging into the manuscript and trying to understand it. My conclusion is that it has very little material that is not in any late 18c edition of Hoyle, but that the material is much better indexed and cross-referenced. What a treasure!

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

2021: The Year in Collecting (part 2)

Well, sometimes things don't work out as planned. I was hoping this essay would include a lovely Hoyle I won at a November 25 auction in Germany. Sadly, shipping was delayed due to the resurgent pandemic and the book hasn't yet reached the US Postal Service. On the other hand, I won four lots totaling 14 books (some real gems!) in a December 16 auction in the UK and those books arrived yesterday. But I'm not ready to write about them yet!

So we're left with a short essay discussing two other late 2021 acquisitions. Regular readers will know that I love original bindings and I love manuscripts. You'll see one of each today. Two things unite the books: both are interesting for reasons other than their text and both are one-of-a-kind.

The first item is a stitched pamphlet, never bound, on the game of piquet.

Piquet (Bruyeres: Chez la Veuve Vivot, 1784)

It is a word-for-word reprint of the chapter on piquet that appeared in Almanach des Jeux, published by Fournier in Paris annually from 1779 until 1790 or so, and sporadically thereafter. The text is, therefore commonplace, but many other things fascinate. First, it is an uncommon provincial reprint--from Bruyeres, rather than Paris. Second, it was printed Chez la Veuve Vivot, that is at the shop of the widow Vivot, who succeeded her husband Jean-François. As in England, women who could not themselves set up a business, could carry on that of their husband. Third is the binding--stab sewn and never put into the sort of fancy binding that French collectors love. Finally, as near as I can tell, the book is unique. I can find no recorded copies in any of the online library catalogues.

Another one-of-a-kind find is a manuscript on the game of trictrac. The title is Le jeu du trictrac, comme on le joüe aujourd’huy. Enrichy de Figures and the text is taken from on of the many "Amsterdam" imprints of Académies des Jeux, though it was likely printed in Paris. The Académies  appeared with great frequency from the 1750s into the late 1780s.

The manuscript is 194 numbered pages followed by a table of contents. I believe it is a quarto gathered in eights. It is 22.5 x 16.2 cm, the chain lines are horizontal, and the watermarks are where one would expect for a quarto, but each signature is eight leaves. I don't think I've seen that format before.

The handwriting is precise and readable. The scribe reproduced in ink illustrations of the trictrac board that were woodblocks in the Académies:

Sample illustrations

 They are quite lovely!

I'm not quite ready to date the manuscript. It appears to be circa 1800, but I suspect more can be learned from the paper with the digital subtraction techniques shown in the previous essay.

A final mystery is the inscription on the final page:

The final bit reads "Je suis à Mr. Bernard Duhaut-Cilly." There is a large family with the surname Bernard in Bretagne who added "du Haut-Cilly" to their name when they entered the nobility. The family included the explorer/trader Auguste (1790-1849) who visited California in the 1820s. A friend in Paris suggested the most likely candidate is Robert-François Bernard, sieur du Haut, who died in the late 18th century.

More soon...

Monday, November 22, 2021

2021: The Year in Collecting

Until a flurry at year end, 2021 was a quiet year, even though it was the year that my Hoyle collection surpassed that of the Bodleian Library, at least according to my idiosyncratic way of counting. The depth of my collection makes it hard to find new things. 

The most fun purchase was a parcel I bought at auction. The auction house described it as follows:

Playing card, gambling and other interest books to include Beeton's Book of Acting Charades, The Mott St. Poker Club 1888, Ten days at Monte Carlo at the Bank's Expense by V.B., Middleton's Astronomy and the Use of Globes 1862, Cavendish on Whist, Hoyle's Games, Systems and Chances by R.W. Richardson, signed by the author and signed note from the author to Lord Braye, Potter on Gamesmanship and The pawnbrokers act 1872 by Francis Turner.

I wrote them to ask about the Hoyle, and it turned out there were two copies of Hoyle Made Familiar by Robert Hardie, a book I complained in the essay "Kicking and Screaming into the 19th Century." I already had one of them, but the other was a rarity, with only one other copy recorded, of course at the Bodleian. For the parcel, I bid what I was willing to pay for the rare Hoyle and won the lot. Shipping from the UK cost nearly as much as the books themselves.

Unpacking the box reminded me of the old days of going to a second-hand book shop and sitting on the floor, going through the gaming books. Yes, the gaming books were invariably on a bottom shelf! As in the book shop, going through the parcel was a multi round game of "junk" or "treasure." There were 20 books on gaming, only a few of which were identified in the auction catalogue. I ended up adding eleven books to the collection. Of course, the rare Hoyle was the highlight, even with (or perhaps because of) the crude frontispiece:

Hoyle Made Familiar (1852)

There were other nice books:

  • A first edition of Round Games at Cards by Henry Jones, who wrote under the pseudonym "Cavendish" (London: de la Rue 1875).

  • A ninth edition of Cavendish on Whist (London: de la Rue 1872). I knew that the tenth edition included an important chapter on the history of whist that did not appear in the eighth edition. I had never seen a ninth edition before and now know that the tenth was the first with the historical notes. I've written about Cavendish many times, identifying him as the successor to Hoyle in one essay. We'll see a particularly interesting Cavendish item below.

  • An early edition of Boaz on the Laws of Bridge (London: de la Rue 1898). In 2020, Thierry Depaulis (with the help of Philippe Bodard, Edward Copisarow, and Dave Walker) published an article in The Playing Card identifying Boaz as the pseudonym of Ernest de la Rue, a member of firm Thomas de la Rue & Co. which manufactured playing cards and, as you will have noticed, published gaming books. 

The parcel also included books I plan to get rid of. Is anyone interested in the Pawnbroker's Act of  1872? Charades? Globes?

The next item is a manuscript on the game of whist, likely from the late 18th century: Wisht

The four-page manuscript is printed on interesting paper. This back-lit image shows a watermark of a crowned shield with a horn inside over the name of the paper-maker, C & I Honig, who was active in the Netherlands from the early 18th century into the 19th:

C & I Honig watermark
I placed a higher resolution photograph on my web site. I found a similar watermark online from a drawing at the Morgan Library and was curious if the paper could be dated from the watermark. I queried the booklists Exlibris-L and SHARP-L and received many interesting replies. One respondent pointed out two letters from Thomas Jefferson in the Gravell Watermark Archive with similar Honig watermarks, here and here

Another engaging reply was from Ian Christie-Miller, author of the recent book Revealing Watermarks. He said that if could send him front- and back-lit images without moving the paper or camera, he could extract the watermark more clearly. I sent him the two images below: 


[Aside: if you click on one of the above photos to enlarge it, you can use the arrow keys to toggle between the two pictures and see how they line up.]

Ian used digital subtraction to remove the text and sent me an image essentially of the paper alone:

C & I Honig paper

I've shared the text with some French friends who collect and study whist. They were struck by several unusual spellings: "wisht" for "whist", "a tout" for "atout", "robert" for "robre" and more. Their thought was that the manuscript was not copied from a book, but the author wrote down rules he heard. 

Both the paper and the rules appear to be from the late 18th or early 19th century, but it is difficult to be more precise. 

As promised, back to Cavendish. I purchased a letter from Henry Jones on stationery with his printed address, dated January 16, 1891. The unidentified recipient had written a letter to The Field, a British monthly treating field sports and games, of which Cavendish was the card editor. The original letter apparently complained about the lack of uniformity at whist, that is, the proliferation of conventions (partnership agreements) governing card play. Cavendish replied that the writer's proposed scheme for regulation "has no chance whatever of adoption" and could not recommend that the letter be printed in The Field. Cavendish suggested a more open-ended query--whether the lack of uniformity does call for a remedy.

Cavendish letter p1

Cavendish letter p2-3

Cavendish letter p4

The writer did take Cavendish's suggestion and wrote a second letter to The Field which was published on January 31, 1891. There we learn that the author was W. H. Collins, best known for his leadership of the British Lawn Tennis Association. He gives an example of the lack of uniformity:

First hand [holding] King, queen, knave, ten. Some players lead the ten under all circumstances; others the king with four and the knave with five or more.

and continues with another half dozen specifics. All four cards would have equal trick-taking power-- the choice of which to play is a matter of partnership agreement, a subject I discuss in the essay "The Nature of Gaming Literature (part 2)."

More generally, Collins notes:

[I]n the present stage of whist development, half one's time when playing with strangers is taken up in discovering to what particular school they belong, and how far their reading is up to date. 

Cavendish replied in The Field

It is to be regretted that so many points of difference exist in whist play, but it appears to us to be a necessity of the case. It must be borne in mind that within the last few years changes have taken place in the game which amount to a revolution. In cannot be expected that the whole body of whist players will accept these changes at once, and in their integrity. It will take at least a generation to settle what is good in the proposed changes.

Alas, Cavendish's prediction did not come true. As the 19th century gave way to the 20th, whist died out in favor of early forms of bridge. The 1898 Laws of Bridge by Boaz, mentioned above, foreshadowed the future. 

There are a few more items either in transit or coming up at auction before year end, so perhaps there will be a second part to this essay. I find it striking that two of the items described here are manuscripts, the rules of whist and the Cavendish letter. I find myself more and more attracted to manuscript material. The items are unique, unlike printed books which may be produced in hundreds or thousands. I am not alone. As digitization brings more and more printed texts online, collectors, both institutional and private, are seeking out what cannot be found elsewhere. 

Did I mention that one of the items in transit is another manuscript on the game of trictrac?

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Hoyle in Halifax?

In the essay "250 Years," I noted Hoyle's involvement in a maritime insurance venture in Rotterdam in the 1720s. That refuted my earlier assertion that nothing is known of Hoyle's life before he began to tutor and write about the game of whist in the 1740s. 

A recent email from Dave Walker hints that we may be able to find even earlier information. Dave sent me a snippet from Halifax Books and Authors by J. Horsfall Turner (1906), p177. You can find the book in the Internet Archive. The passage begins: 

THE HOYLES. As with the families of several other local authors that we have named, the Hoyles have resided in the parish ever since surnames were adopted, that is, before 1400, or even 1300 in many cases. The Hoyles take their name from their original place of residence, possibly places of residences, for there were Hoyles of Hoyle or the Hole in Hipperholme, Hoyles of the Hole in Sowerby, besides a family similarly named from the Hole in Colne Valley. I believe these had not a common origin...

In the essay "The Yorkshire Hoyles and the Doctrine of Chances," I've rejected the view that Edmond was one of the landed Hoyles of Yorkshire. The key reference is: 

Yorkshire has been called the county of [Edmond Hoyle's] birth, but the present representative of the Yorkshire Hoyles, who acquired (temp. Edward III.) estates near Halifax, Mr. Fretwell Hoyle, has taken great pains of his genealogy, and has come to the conclusion that the Edmond Hoyle of whist celebrity was not in any way connected with his family. (Julian Marshall, "Books on Gaming" in Notes and Queries, 7th Ser. VII. June 22, 1889, p481)

Turner suggests that the were multiple Hoyle families in Yorkshire. Perhaps Edmond was one of the others? He goes on to say:

Besides EDMOND HOYLE, whose work on "Games" reached numerous editions, claimed conclusively by Mr. E. J. Walker, in the "Halifax Guardian" Portfolio, as productions of a Halifax man...

Now, that is new and interesting! Before we look into the Halifax Guardian, let's consider Yorkshire geography. The image below, from Google Maps, highlights Rotherham, the home of the landed Hoyles in the 19c and Halifax, where it is suggested that Hoyle came from.


So is Edmond from Halifax after all? And from a different Hoyle family than Fretwell? 

I've found more about the Halifax Guardian and it's "Portfolios." The Guardian is no longer published, but there was an article in the Halifax Courier of March 13, 2015 (available here) that described the portfolios. The article was called "Recording tales of old Halifax" and continued "Newspaperman Walker collected stories that tell history of our town in years gone by." Edward Johnson Walker wrote a series of 100 columns in the weekly Guardian beginning in June 1856 called "Our Local Portfolio," devoted to "interesting matter connected with the parish of Halifax." The Portfolio was published nearly weekly--by the end of July, 1858, nearly 100 articles had appeared. 

The Halifax Guardian is available on microfilm at the Halifax Central Library, the British Library and the Library of Congress. Perhaps one or more will open soon and I can find someone willing to spend a day with a microfilm reader. 

What did Mr. Walker have to say about Hoyle?


Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Two Beauties of Hoyle, both owned by women. Coincidence?

I am nearly done putting bookplates in my gaming books, with just a box or two of small pamphlets to go. You can see the bookplate in my 2019 collecting essay. The project has been largely tedious, but it has been fun to revisit each item in the collection. I have learned a lot from classes in provenance and binding at Rare Book School and from bookish Facebook groups on endpapers, bookplates, and bookseller labels.  I've become attuned to aspects of my books I had missed initially.

So here's something I just noticed, and it has me wondering...

In my essay "Eighteenth Century Whist Literature," one of the books I discussed was The Beauties of Hoyle and Paine by General Scott (London: 1792). The Oxford English Dictionary says that "beauties," a term now used rarely, is found in titles of anthologies to mean "the choice passages from a particular writer, genre, etc." So The Beauties of Hoyle and Paine includes choice passages from Hoyle's Whist and Payne's Maxims for Whist (discussed here). General Scott misspelled Payne as Paine.

I have two copies of the first edition of Scott and no others are recorded in WorldCat or ESTC. I have vague memories of seeing a copy in the trade about ten years ago, so perhaps a third has survived.

Scott, London 1792

What is remarkable is that both my copies show evidence of ownership by women. The copy above has a seemingly contemporary ownership inscription "Mrs. Buckland" on the title page.

The other copy is presented by R. Coningham to Mrs. Hewit.

Can you help me make out the third word in the next line? I read "from her affined Hoyle" with "affined" meaning "bound in relationship." If I'm reading that correctly, it's rather charming! A reader sent a more plausible reading: "my assured Hoyle".

What is striking is that both copies of Beauties manifest ownership by women. Coincidence? Or are these Beauties intended for female readers? 

There were hundreds of Beauties: of Shakespeare, of popular magazines, of biography ("for the instruction of youth of both sexes"), of history ("designed for the instruction and entertainment of youth"), of the poets, of English drama. The beauties of Johnson and Fielding and Goldsmith and Hervey and so many more. I extracted phrases from the long title suggesting an appeal to the young, but there is also The Lady’s Poetical Magazine; or, Beauties of British poetry.

I've never seen books on whist offered to youth, so I wonder...might this Beauty have been created for women?

Monday, January 25, 2021

Who printed Piquet for Francis Cogan? Thank you Compositor!

(udpated 3/13 to link to Patrick Spedding's post, with his discussion of Compositor)

Last week, I watched Joseph Hone present a paper 'Secrets, Lies, and Title Pages' (now available on YouTube) sponsored by ODSECS, the Open Digital Seminar in Eighteenth-Century Studies. Joseph discussed how 18c printers "corrupted title pages with false names, dates, and disguise the origins of dangerous  books or piracies." I recommend the talk highly. 

In general, we don't know who printed a particular book in the 18c. The imprint, if honest, tends to identify the publisher and only occasionally the printer. Several times, Joseph made reference to the Compositor database of 18c printers' ornaments which he used to unmask printers who would otherwise have stayed hidden. I knew that Compositor was an upgraded version of Fleuron, a site I had used frequently. In my online Hoyle bibliography I had links to Fleuron which no longer worked in Compositor. It had been on my list to update the links and Joseph's talk prompted me to do so. Done!

I also explored Compositor and was blown away by a new feature: "image search", with a tutorial on their blog. It allows you to take an ornament in one book and find matches in others. Sometimes, those matches will be in books that identify the printer, suggesting a printer for the original book. Before giving an example, here is some background:

  • Printers ornaments are decorative elements, generally woodblocks, used in books through the late 18c. For a charming example, see the squirrely headpiece here
  • The source for Compositor is ECCO, Eighteenth Century Collections Online, a subscription database of nearly 200,000 18c books that can be accessed through most university libraries. ECCO began as microfilm and was digitized from the film. For a great history of ECCO, see Steven H. Gregg's paper "Old Books and Digital Publishing: Eighteenth-Century Collections Online" available here. The path from film to digital means that the reproductions are not always of pristine quality. 
  • The Compositor/Fleuron team must have done an immense amount of image processing that I can imagine only vaguely. They extracted the ornaments from full pages, developed ornament metadata, and, most magically, allowed visual search. Well done!

Okay, enough talk. Let's figure out who printed Piquet for Francis Cogan. My description of the book is here. The imprint, "Printed for F. Cogan at the Middle-Temple-Gate", is silent as to the printer. Scroll down to the contents where it says ‘[headpiece] | SOME | Rules and Observations | FOR | Playing well at CHESS. | [...]’. Click on the link to see again the headpiece with squirrels and then click on "Load Ornament in Visual Search". 

Now for the part requiring some dexterity. As described in the tutorial, you can use the right mouse button to select a rectangular area in the ornament. It will highlight red as you drag, and turn yellow when you are done.  

Selecting an Ornament

When I clicked "search", I found 103 matches: 

Matching an Ornament

You can click on a match and the original image on the left and the match on the right. If you click the middle image, it will toggle between the two and you can determine whether they were made from the same woodblock. Many things can account for differences even when the block is the same: Woodblocks become worn from use. Any given impression can use more or less ink. The microfilm and digitization can introduce artifacts. Despite the differences, I'm awestruck by how well this works! Truly, this be miraculous!!

Now for the part I found a bit clunky. You can click on the filename of the rightmost image to go to a page like this and then click on the link "This ornament was extracted from this book". In this example, you see the first of ten volumes of Moliere's works with the suggestive imprint "printed by and for John Watts at the Printing-Office in Wild-Court near Lincoln's-Inn Fields". One match does not a printer identify, so you'd want to look at more ornaments and more matches. That entails a lot of clicking. And a lot of keeping track of what you're seeing. Well, I wondered, couldn't I automate that?

Did you notice the little button that let you export the search results as a .csv (comma separated variable) file? Well, I saved the 103 matches to a file and dragged out some rusty Python skills to read the .csv file, visit the 103 matches, visit the book from which the ornament was extracted, extract the imprints, and print them out. Ninety minutes of coding; sixty lines of code. It took longer to write this blog post. If you run it for the 103 matches of the squirrel ornament, the first eight results are:

filename:  105540010000600_1
ornament ID:  1171998
ESTC:  T048220
publisher:  printed for F. Cogan at the Middle-Temple-Gate

filename:  005770040202750_0
ornament ID:  944832
ESTC:  T052789
publisher:  printed for H. Lintot, J. and R. Tonson and S. Draper

filename:  041920010801090_0
ornament ID:  634261
ESTC:  T064098
publisher:  printed for John Watts at the Printing-Office in Wild-Court near Lincoln's-Inn Fields

filename:  025940030001100_0
ornament ID:  1028312
ESTC:  T064113
publisher:  printed for John Watts at the Printing-Office in Wild-Court near Lincoln's-Inn Fields

filename:  086630010201970_0
ornament ID:  166790
ESTC:  T089176
publisher:  printed for J. and R. Tonson and S. Draper in the Strand

filename:  025940040000700_0
ornament ID:  838797
ESTC:  T064114
publisher:  printed for John Watts at the Printing-Office in Wild-Court near Lincoln's-Inn Fields

filename:  094430010500090_1
ornament ID:  706629
ESTC:  T064441
publisher:  printed by and for John Watts at the Printing-Office in Wild-Court near Lincoln's-Inn Fields

filename:  015270010000960_0
ornament ID:  763509
ESTC:  T063293
publisher:  printed for Jacob Tonson in the Strand 

It would have been easy and useful to extract the title and date. And to replace the ' with an apostrophe. But that would have taken more than 90 minutes. Had I done so, you would have seen the first item listed is the source book Piquet. Only one of the eight imprints identifies the printer: "printed by and for John Watts...". Of the 103 entries, 31 of them include "printed by" and in all cases, the printer is John Watts. I've visually inspected a good number of the ornament matches and similarly checked other ornaments from Piquet. I'm completely confident that I have identified the printer. 

There are some caveats in working with ornaments to identify printers. The printing of a book may be shared by more than one printer. A printer may loan out his ornaments. You have to be careful about when a printer died--another printer may have inherited the ornaments. My sense is that these caveats are mostly (repeat mostly) theoretical, but you should be aware of them. 

In fact I had done a lot of pre-Compositor ornament searching and had already identified Watts as the printer of Piquet. But with this new tool, I have identified printers for some of the Dublin Hoyles and for some non-Hoyles in my collection. 

Thank you Compositor! And thank you Joseph for the nudge!

For Patrick Spedding's take on Compositor, see his blog essay here.