Thursday, November 10, 2011

A Short Treatise on the Game of Brag (1751)

(updated February 26, 2012 as I have located additional copies)

In 1748, Hoyle added "thirteen new cases never before published" to the section on whist in Mr. Hoyle's Treatises. Those few pages were his first new writing since 1744. As I discussed in a recent essay, booksellers Thomas Osborne and William Reeve reissued Mr. Hoyle's Treatises under various titles a number of times from 1748 to 1755.

Hoyle's next writing was an entirely new work, A Short Treatise on the Game of Brag, in 1751. The game of brag most resembles three-card poker, but with betting rules that look strange to a modern player. Interestingly, the treatise on brag was never incorporated into the any of the London collections of Hoyle's works. There is every reason to believe that it was an unsuccessful effort for the publisher.

Hoyle entered A Short Treatise on the Game of Brag in the register of books at Stationers Hall on January 18, 1750/1, listing himself as the sole copyright holder. On January 22, 1750/1, an announcement appeared in the General Advertiser:
This day is published, A Treatise on Bragg by Mr. Hoyle. To which is added the laws of the game, with some calculations. Sold by J. Jolliffe, Bookseller, next door to White's Chocolate House in St. James's Street, at the same place may be had, neatly printed to frame, The Laws on Bragg separate, Price 2s. 6d. Where subscribers may have their books on sending their receipts. The books and laws are sign'd by the author, and whoever pyrates or sells any pyratical edition will be prosecuted, they being enter'd in the Hall Books.
There are many points of interest. First, Hoyle has found a new publisher, John Jolliffe. Recall that Hoyle originally contracted with Francis Cogan to publish all of his early works. Cogan also paid Hoyle to autograph each copy (see my Pirates, Autographs, and a Bankruptcy, p144). Cogan, nearing bankruptcy, sold the rights to Thomas Osborne in 1745. I find it striking that Hoyle chose not to work with Osborne on Brag, but found a new publisher. No evidence survives detailing the financial arrangement between Hoyle and Jolliffe. Second, as the advertisement makes clear, Jolliffe was familiar with the publishing history of whist. As Cogan and Osborne had done with Whist, Jolliffe published the laws of brag separately, secured Hoyle's signature on the books and the laws, and warned against piracy. Third, Jolliffe sold the book by subscription, with customers paying in advance for the book. There certainly must be pre-publication advertisements offering the book, although I have not found any.

There are two reasons to believe that the subscription price was half a guinea, that is, 10s. 6d. First is an advertisement for the Irish reprint of Brag that I shall discuss below. Second, in 1754, Jolliffe sold another Hoyle treatise, An Essay on the Doctrine of Chances, by subscription for half a guinea. That work will be discussed in a subsequent essay.

A month later, Jolliffe had a briefer advertisement offering the treatise for 2s. 6d. and the laws for 1s. (Whitehall Evening Post or London Intelligencer, February 28) If the treatise sold by subscription for half a guinea, the new price was a substantial reduction. Jolliffe dropped the price of the laws from 2s. 6d. to 1s. Likely neither sold well. No further London editions of Brag were published and few copies survive today. No copies of the laws survive—perhaps they were destroyed unsold, as were hundreds of copies of the Osborne laws of whist.

Bookseller John Exshaw quickly reprinted Brag in Dublin. He advertised in the Dublin Courant of March 2, 1750/1 :

(click to enlarge)

Thursday next will be publish'd by John  Exshaw, price 4d. A Short Treatise on the Game of Brag: containing the laws of the game, also calculations, shewing the odds of winning or losing certain hands dealt.
N. B. The price of the London edition is half a guinea. 

It is the Exshaw advertisement that suggests that Brag sold for half a guinea by subscription, although it ignores the fact that Jolliffe lowered the price to 2s. 6d. by late February.

Like its London counterpart, the Exshaw edition is scarce, with copies at the Dublin City Libraries and UNLV in addition to mine. A copy at the British Library was destroyed in World War Two. The UNLV copy is bound with a 1752 of The Polite Gamester printed for Peter Wilson and I suspect that an examination of more copies of the Gamester will show that they contain the brag treatise as well. Updated February 26, 2012: I have been in touch with other libraries holding a copy of the Wilson's 1752 Polite Gamester. It turns out that the Cleveland Public Library and the University of Strathclyde (Glasgow) also have copies containing the treatise on Brag.

Neither the game of brag, nor Hoyle's book were especially popular. Indeed no other books have been published on the game, although many gaming anthologies discuss it briefly. It remains Hoyle's most obscure work.

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