Friday, June 22, 2012


My first post on this blog was June 22, 2011 making today the first anniversary. It's time for celebration, reflection, and looking forward.

I have been collecting books on gaming for more than thirty years and Hoyle is preeminent in the English literature. The Hoyle collection is pictured below in its new home, an exquisite arts and crafts bookcase.

The Hoyle Collection
Two events sparked my research. In 2006, I acquired a first edition of Hoyle's first book, A Short Treatise on the Game of Whist. I felt that owning such a rarity obligated me to learn more about it. In 2008, I took a class in descriptive bibliography at the Rare Book School at the University of Virginia. In applying to the class, I wrote:
Lastly, I am currently researching the early writings of Edmond Hoyle and the circumstances of their publication. Hoyle was the first to write scientifically about games and his early work is bibliographically complex. He published treatises on the games of whist, piquet, quadrille and backgammon from 1742 to 1769..My research may to a bibliography, updating and expanding on the current literature. And that in turn leads me to the course in Bibliographic Description so that I may understand and accurately describe Hoyle’s body of work. 
In the class, I became aware of how much there was to learn from the physical book and how it reveals much about the story of its production. I became interested in book history, learning about the book trade in 18th century London, the history of copyright, the economics of publishing, etc. In 2010, I published an article "Pirates, Autographs, and a Bankruptcy: A Short Treatise on the Game of Whist by Edmond Hoyle, Gentleman" (available for download). My intention is to write a descriptive bibliography of the writings of Edmond Hoyle. I also intend to write more journal articles.

How did I come to start the blog? Unfortunately, the book is years away and journal articles take a surprisingly long time to do well. However, having spent a career in the corporate world, I'm trained to be happiest when I am producing, so I started this blog to give myself a more immediate sense of accomplishment. I thought it would be easy to turn out one or two 750 word essays a week based on research I had already done.

This is essay number 64, so I have managed slightly more than one post per week. Each essay requires substantially more work than I had expected. The research that I thought was all done often proves inadequate when I begin writing. The most painful example is the essay on changes in the text of whist which took me days and days to write. After I originally published it, I found major errors that caused me to rewrite it. Twice. I hope I have stripped away the inaccuracies.

I am really proud of some of the essays. From an analytic point of view, my favorite is on the Osborne collections of Hoyle where I put some order to a confusing set of books. I also like the one on the Cogan collections where I trace through physical books and auction records to learn that Cogan likely issued collections of Hoyle. I also learn that my hero, bibliographer Frederic Jessel, seems to have dismembered a rare example of a Cogan collection. My favorite story is "A Discovery at the Morgan Library" where I learn about the publisher's binding of Hoyle's first book. I'm also pleased with the essay which used publisher's business records to put together a P&L for the 1800 Charles Jones edition of Hoyle. The essays on copyright (beginning here and continuing here and beyond) show the impact of law and trade practices on Hoyle's body of work. 

The blog has had approximately 7400 page views in a year. I would guess that half of those are trolls looking for ways to monetize my blog while the other half are interested in the content. While this is hardly viral by Internet standards, it has connected me with the bibliographical and book history communities. The most popular post was a book history mystery that I submitted to the rare book mailing lists, with a possible solution appearing here. The blog has been cited in bookseller catalogues, such as here, referring to this essay. Other times booksellers have used my research without crediting me. In one such case I even ended up buying the book!

My writing also led to one happy ending. A woman purchased a rare Scottish Hoyle at auction and, seeing an early version of this essay, contacted me for my thoughts on value and disposition. We spoke on the telephone and traded emails. One of my suggestions was to contact the National Library of Scotland which did not have a copy--and that's where the book is now. The purchaser made a nice profit and Scotland now has one of four known copies of the work.

Where do I go from here? I've almost covered the set of books I'd originally planned to discuss. I have more to say about the "twelfth" edition of Hoyle's Games. I have not yet written about An Epitome of Hoyle published in the late 18th century in London and reprinted in Dublin. Other than that, my coverage of Hoyle in English through 1800 has been thorough. I may expand the brief treatment I gave to translations of Hoyle. I may also extend my analysis beyond 1800. I have a pretty good sense of the major editions of Hoyle in England, Scotland, and the United States that were published until 1850. I would also like to talk more about provenance as a factor in collecting gaming literature, as I did in the essay on Henry Hucks Gibbs.

Finally, I would like to spend more time on journal articles, which may mean fewer essays on the blog.

If any of my readers have suggestions for where they'd like me to take the blog, please leave a comment or contact me by email. 


  1. Happy anniversary David!

    I think you need to decide if your blog is a means to an end or an end in itself. And that might have changed since you set out a year ago.

    My academic blog was only ever intended for notes that are not worth the trouble either writing up formally or finding a publisher for, so I can go on endlessly.

    But if you set out to sketch out the material you plan for a book (as I sort-of did on another blog) then you will have to give up the blog to write the book, or the articles that will comprise the book. (As I did, after four years.)

    I guess you also have to decide whether the blog is building an audience for the book, or diminishing it (since many people will prefer your early thoughts (for free) to your final ones (for a fee).

    If it is building a audience, then you do need to keep posting regularly at least once a fortnight). As for what to fill those posts with … you might need to either expand your collection, or look at it in more detail. Both should be fun!


  2. Thanks, Patrick, for you good wishes. Like a good professor, you ask many questions that I can't answer just now. I am going to stay the course for another month or so, as I have some unfinished business and some new acquisitions to talk about.

    I have a journal article that needs a couple of weeks of close attention to be ready to submit. The book requires travel, not yet scheduled, to distant libraries.

    I hope the blog is building interest in Hoyle and in bibliography of 18th century literature. Whether that translates into interest in an eventual book, I can't say. What do you think?

  3. Sorry David, it took me a while to get back to this. Only you can judge the level of interest -- you and a publisher I guess -- because you are the one one privy to stats on visitors, feedback on the blog, off the blog, off line etc. Patrick