Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The (missing) Laws of Whist Designed for Framing

I am an amateur bookbinder, having studied with the patient and talented Eleanore Ramsey. When I don't care much about a book, I'm happy to repair it myself. When I do, I send it to Phil Dusel. Phil does not now have a web presence, but dealers are certain to mention his name when they sell a book he has worked on. See ViaLibri for examples of his superb work. I've never met Phil--we interact by telephone and UPS. 

I called Phil and told him to expect a UPS delivery of an edition of Hoyle's Games for rebacking. The book consisted of autographed copies of the Thomas Osborne editions of Hoyle's treatises on Whist (1746), Quadrille (1745), Piquet (1746), and Backgammon (1745) all bound together, as is typical of the copies I have seen. The text block had broken in several pieces and the spine was not salvageable, but the boards and text block were in reasonable condition and worth preserving. After he received the book, he called with a surprising question. "Is it possible there was a plate removed from the book between the treatises on Whist and Quadrille?"

(click to enlarge)

At left is what Phil saw, photographed in raking light, so that some of the impressions of the absent "plate," circled in red, are visible. Rotating the book 90 degrees would make visible similar impressions in the paper running parallel to the spine.

I was a bit disappointed that I had never noticed the impression, but quickly knew what had caused it. To understand the story, we must go back to Hoyle's first publisher, Francis Cogan.

Cogan bought the rights to Whist from Hoyle, but before he could issue a second edition he was the victim of piracy. He had planned to sell the book for one guinea (21 shillings), but was forced to meet the pirate's price of 2 shillings. For the full story, see my article "Pirates, Autographs, and a Bankruptcy." Cogan was desperate to recover from his bad investment and found some interesting ways to make more money from the copyright. One was to reprint the Laws of Whist, a small section of the Whist treatise, and sell it separately. Cogan advertised in the General Evening Post of March 5, 1743:
At the particular desire of several persons of quality, the laws of the game are printed on a fine Imperial paper, proper to be framed or made screens of, that the players may have 'em before them to refer to, if any dispute should arise. Price 2s. 6d.
Interestingly, Cogan was selling the Laws for more than the 2s. he charge for the full book. Unfortunately, no copies of Cogan's Laws survive.

Cogan later published additional treatises on Backgammon, Piquet, and Quadrille and sold the copyright for all of them to Osborne in 1745. For a time, Osborne continued to sell the works individually, reprinting them as necessary. His October 26 advertisement in the London Evening Post offered the four treatises and the Laws for sale "at 1s. each, or 5s. the whole bound; and those that take the whole together, have the binding gratis in a neat pocket volume..."

So what Phil was seeing was the impression left by the folded Laws of Whist, originally folded and bound into the volume, but apparently removed by the purchaser after sale, perhaps to hang near his whist table. What a shame!

The Osborne edition of the Laws of Whist is rare. ESTC lists a single copy at the Bodleian Library. It is still bound with the four treatises and must be unfolded carefully to its full size of 38.5 by 24.6 centimeters. I've seen a second copy in the Taxe Collection at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, although it is not catalogued. There is apparently a third copy in the collection of the United States Playing Card Company, unfortunately now closed to the public (see Hargrave p414). My niece discovered another copy in Special Collections at Vanderbilt University. I know of no others. As I don't own a copy, I'm unable to provide a photograph, though an image is available to subscribers on ECCO.

But the real tragedy happened on July 28, 1767. On that date, a month before his death, Osborne left the trade and sold his books and copyrights by auction to other London booksellers. I'll save a discussion of the Hoyle copyrights for another essay, but unsold at the auction were 325 copies of "Hoyle's Laws of Whist, a sheet." With no purchasers, the sheets were undoubtedly treated as scrap paper and disappeared forever.

We are left with three copies of the Laws and the impressions left when copies were removed from surviving books, impressions that bookbinder Phil Dusel was the first to notice.

Note: Look for the missing Laws of Whist in the collections with the "sixth" or "seventh" edition of Whist. It will not appear in all of them. With the "eighth" edition and beyond, the Laws were never included.

  • Catherine Perry Hargrave, "Bibliography" in A History of Playing Cards and a Bibliography of Cards and Gaming. (New York: Houghton Mifflin Company. 1938) pp368-446. Reprinted in facsimile (New York: Dover. 1966).
  • A Catalogue of Books in Quires and Copies, being the Genuine Stock of Mr. Thomas Osborne, of Gray's-Inn, which will be Sold by Auction, At the Queen's-Arms Tavern, in St. Paul's Church-Yard, On Tuesday, July 28, 1767. A photocopy of this catalogue, with prices realized in the hand of bookseller Longman, is available at the British Library. See their "Guide to Sale Catalogues."

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