Saturday, June 22, 2013

Second Anniversary: Continuities and Disruptions

Today marks the second anniversary of my Hoyle blog. As you will see below, the title does not refer to the blog! Some quick data on the past two years before I clarify the title:
  • This is essay number 89 and if they average approximately 750 words, I have written in excess of 65,000 words or more than 200 pages worth of text.
  • My pace has slowed from the first year in which I wrote 64 posts, slightly more than one a week. The 25 that have been written average to a post every fortnight.
  • Total page views will reach 18,000 today, most of which are from serious readers, though some are marketers trying to make money from my work.
  • The most popular posts are those that I have linked to on mailing lists or bulletin boards. Three of the top five provided background for queries I posted to the Exlibris listserv. Two of these concerned the Rimington-Wilson Library ("The J. W. Rimington-Wilson Library (part 1)" and "More on Rimington-Wilson's Chess Manuscript ") and one asked about a seeming inconsistency in the ownership of the Hoyle copyright, with the group's received wisdom summarized here. Number three in terms of popularity was “Eighteenth Century Backgammon Literature” which I shared on the backgammon forum BGOnline. That essay will be reprinted next month in a British Backgammon periodical. 
My future plans for the blog revolve around my other publishing ambitions. I have a second journal article that has been stuck at 60% completion for more than a year. I have a research trip planned next month that I expect to provide the information that will enable its completion. I have thoughts for another journal article or two.

My longer-term dream is to write a book about Hoyle. I originally conceived of the book as a descriptive bibliography of editions of Hoyle through 1800, with essays on topics in bibliography and book history that arise in the study of the Hoyle canon. Many of the essays were to be based on work originally published in this blog.

As I have started to outline and write sections of the book, I find myself considering major changes in both its scope and organization. The insight that is leading me to change is this:
Hoyle was published from 1742 to 1865 as a relatively continuous and hugely successful business enterprise centered in London. The enterprise was built on Hoyle as a brand, rather than Hoyle as an author.
This insight is recent. The continuity is easy to miss when confronted by the roughly 200 18th century books that could be considered editions of Hoyle (by including his writing, or by using his name as author or in the title). Carry on to 1850 and there are another 150 candidates with more beyond. The continuity is also easy to miss when one focuses on the text of Hoyle. Hoyle's last writing was in 1763. Other editors and writers added so frequently to the text that Hoyle's contribution is barely discernible, yet titles such as The New Hoyle, Hoyle Abridged, or Hoyle Made Familiar abound.

The continuity is more apparent when one focuses on the 75 books that make up the mainstream of Hoyle. These fall neatly into three groups, linked by the booksellers that published them:
  • First are the 45 authorized books consisting entirely of writing by Hoyle, published through 1775. The copyright was owned first by Hoyle, then by Francis Cogan (see "Bibliography of the Cogan Hoyles"), and then Thomas Osborne (see for example "The First Osborne Hoyles", "The Osborne Collections of Hoyle ", "Mr. Hoyle's Treatises", and "Reissues of Mr. Hoyle's Treatises "). Upon Osborne's death in 1767, a group of assignees headed by Richard Baldwin continued to publish Hoyle.

  • In the aftermath of Becket vs. Donaldson, Hoyle was in the public domain and a number of competing versions came out. Swift action and shrewd marketing allowed Baldwin and others (notably the Longman firm) to maintain market dominance with Hoyle’s Games Improved. The book, edited by Charles Jones, still contained much of Hoyle’s writing, but each of its 11 editions (and a greater number of separate issues) through 1826, added new games and new authors. See for example "The Most Important Hoyle after Hoyle", and "Hoyle's Games Improved, Charles Jones (1800)".

  • Longman and others brought out six editions of Hoyle’s Games Improved and Enlarged from 1835 to 1865, edited by someone known only by the initials G. H. I have not discussed the book in this blog. The textual link to Hoyle becomes further attenuated, even as his name stays in the title. Yet crucially, the publishers remain the same and the books are dominant in the London market, despite substantial competition.
One sees, through these 75 books, the building of a Hoyle brand by Cogan, Osborne, Baldwin, and Longman. And I'm seeing my bibliography less as an author bibliography of Edmond Hoyle and more as a business bibliography--the development of the Hoyle brand.

The remaining Hoyles, perhaps 300 in the years 1742 to 1865 are of mixed significance. Some were quite disruptive, requiring a response from the mainstream publishers if they were to maintain leadership. The disruptions include the piracies of 1743, the proliferation of competitors with the end of perpetual copyright in 1774, and novel new series such as The New Pocket Hoyle in 1802. The main publishers of Hoyle withstood these disruptions and more, and their responses are evident in the text, the physical books, and their marketing.

There were other publications of Hoyle’s work that did not disrupt the main enterprise. Obvious candidates include reprints of Hoyle in Ireland (which had its own continuities and disruptions), reprints in America, and translations on the Continent. None of these efforts competed significantly with London, nor did they require a response from the London publishers. Equally inconsequential to London were one-time piracies and one-off editions (such as the Brambles edition, described here) that did not pose a serious marketing threat.

I am now thinking that I want to organize both the bibliography and the essays around the theme of business continuities and disruptions in the creation of the Hoyle brand. The implication is that the bibliography won’t be organized in a typical fashion. Many bibliographies are arranged as a strict chronology. Others are organized by title, and within title, different editions and issues are organized chronologically. The former approach seems appropriate for a bibliography for a printing house or publisher. The latter is typical for an author bibliography and is useful as a precursor to textual and literary criticism. I can’t really imagine anyone interested in producing a critical edition of Hoyle, nor engaging in literary criticism—neither of those reflects what is important about Hoyle.

What would a bibliography organized around the Hoyle brand look like? The first major section would discuss the mainstream effort from 1742 to 1865. The second section would be the 1743 piracies which were hugely disruptive and greatly affected the evolution of the Hoyle product and its marketing. Next would be the disruptions brought about with the competition in the wake of Beckett v Donaldson, and so on. Separate sections would be the Dublin and American reprints which were neither part of the continuous main narrative, nor did they disrupt it.

A consequence of this organization is that editions of a single work would be spread across multiple sections. For example the authorized London editions of A Short Treatise on the Game of Whist would appear in the main section, the important “Webster” and “Webb” editions in a section on the 1743 piracies, and the Irish reprints of Whist in a third section. This might make it difficult to follow the transmission of the text, but I expect that judicious notes and appendices would provide connections that otherwise might be lost.

A second consequence is that my original plan to stop at the artificial date of 1800 does not make sense. Many of the publishing efforts--the mainline work of Baldwin and Longman, the infuriating chapbooks by Robert Withy, and the competition from Pigott--straddle that year. Going beyond 1800 introduces a lot of one-off works such as the miniature published in Dundee, that are neither continuities nor disruptions.

A third consequence is that the essays will tie more closely to the sections of the descriptive bibliography. For example, I’ve written a great deal in this blog about the Dublin reprints. Both that writing and the books it describes are logically separable from everything else. Clarity would be lost if the descriptive bibliography mixed the Dublin reprints with the underlying London texts.

In his landmark Principles of Bibliographical Description, Fredson Bowers writes that every bibliography “should have a unified subject, a definite purpose expressed in its arrangement and in its treatment of the books described so that a shaping intelligence guides the work.” (page 18). I’m coming to the conclusion that while my unified subject is Hoyle, the nature of the material is not suited to the format of a typical author bibliography. What seems to connect the books is that evolution of the Hoyle product and brand in the face of stringent competition. I’ve never seen a bibliography organized the way I am proposing, yet it seems to be the best way to rationalize an extremely complex series of books.

Lastly, do not fear that what I'm contemplating is no longer descriptive bibliography. The marketing battles left numerous fascinating traces in the physical books.

I’d be anxious to hear from anyone who has thoughts about my proposal.


  1. David,

    Your blog is consistently interesting, insightful, and inspirational. I look forward to your book, in whatever shape it takes.

    All the best,

    James Foster

    1. Thanks, James, for your kind thoughts!

  2. David,

    It seems eminently sensible to approach the (bibliographical) history of Hoyle’s intellectual property like this. You cannot separate Hoyle completely from his intellectual property (broadly considered), because its history—as you say—is longer and bigger than Hoyle. And so, this longer, bigger, history must include Hoyle and the various copyright holders, publishers etc, and it makes sense that any account be structured around Hoyle and the various copyright holders, publishers etc too.

    (Given the absurdly long-lived copyrights that exist now, this approach may need to be taken with many early 20C authors whose copyrights will/have long outlived the authors and whose intellectual property continued/continues to be controlled by the long-term owners of their intellectual property—i.e., the publishers.)

    Good luck!


    1. Thanks, Patrick, for you usual insightful thoughts. Yes, we are nearly back to perpetual copyright, aren't we?