Monday, October 21, 2013

A database for the Hoyle copyright

I'll return shortly with the sequel to "What was the Hoyle Copyright Worth? (part one)." Perhaps this essay will make clear the reasons for the delay.

In "Researching Copyright" I discussed the many tools I used for learning who owned shares in the Hoyle copyright. They were the Stationers book of registry, imprints, publisher's records, bookseller trade sales, receipts, and newspaper advertisements. I have many examples of all of these for Hoyle, including more than 500 newspaper advertisements for 18th and 19th century Hoyles. I tend to have PDF files of the various sources reasonably well organized on my computer. To compile and analyze the data, I rely on dozens of Word documents and Excel files. As the data have become more numerous, it has been harder and harder to keep the Word and Excel files in sync.

I have been contemplating putting everything in a database for a long time and finally started a couple of days ago. I built a database to manage the copyright data: books, booksellers, imprints, advertisements, and more. For the technically minded, I built the database in sqlite3 and use python where extra processing is required. It took about 25 hours to get something useful and I'm pretty pleased with what I can do. Here are a few examples of questions I can now easily answer:

From the 1740s until the 1860s, many booksellers bought and sold pieces of the Hoyle copyright. Which booksellers held pieces for the longest time?

bookseller  from_date   to_date     years     
----------  ----------  ----------  ----------
Baldwin     1755-12-24  1835-05-27  80        
Longman     1800-05-15  1868-07-09  68        
Lowndes     1771-11-12  1821-01-02  50        
Wilkie      1767-12-12  1814-01-11  47        
Newbery     1771-11-12  1800-05-15  29        
Crowder     1757-12-22  1785-12-08  28        
Mawman      1800-05-15  1826-03-26  26        
Bladon      1771-11-12  1796-03-05  25        
Payne       1779-11-13  1804-05-12  25        
Scatcherd   1796-03-05  1821-01-02  25        
Stewart     1796-03-05  1820-02-18  24        
Osborne     1745-10-26  1767-12-12  22        
Law         1775-06-09  1796-03-05  21

The Baldwin firm comes out on top, ahead of Longman, Lowndes, and Wilkie.

Of course these were not individuals, but families or firms who held the copyright for the better part of a century. One can see the evolving names in imprints and advertisements:

from_date   to_date     first_name    last_name     suffix                             
----------  ----------  ------------  ------------  -----------------------------------
1757-01-01  1767-12-12  Richard       Baldwin                                          
1771-11-12  1813-12-24  R.            Baldwin                                          
1820-02-01  1826-03-26                Baldwin       Cradock, and Joy                   
1835-05-27  1835-05-27                Baldwin       and Cradock                        
1800-05-15  1803-08-03                Longman       and Rees                           
1808-05-24  1808-05-24                Longman       Hurst, Rees and Orme               
1813-12-24  1820-02-01                Longman       Hurst, Rees, Orme and Brown        
1826-03-26  1826-03-26                Longman       Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Co.         
1835-05-27  1835-05-27                Longman       Rees, and Co.                      
1842-03-02  1842-03-02                Longman       Brown, & Co.                       
1847-03-03  1868-07-09                Longman       and Co.                            
1771-11-12  1779-11-13  T.            Lowndes                                          
1785-12-08  1820-02-01  W.            Lowndes                                          
1771-11-12  1779-11-13  J.            Wilkie                                           
1785-12-08  1796-03-05  G. and T.     Wilkie                                           
1800-05-15  1803-08-03  G.            Wilkie                                           
1808-05-24  1813-12-24                Wilkie        and Robinson                                

It would be possible to research the history of these booksellers in the British Book Trade Index to see if what I'm seeing for the Hoyles accurately reflects deaths, and successions.

I've written elsewhere about the 1774 case of Donaldson v. Beckett, eliminating the common law perpetual copyright in England. Who owned a share of the Hoyle copyright before that decision?

Booksellers with a share in the Hoyle copyright

For a number of reasons this report was hard to produce--it took some help with python. Note the disposition of Thomas Osborne's share with his death in 1767 and the proliferation of owners shortly thereafter. The report is even more interesting when it is extended in time, but that would be hard to display here.

Another question: Which book stayed in print the longest? I looked for books which were advertised the longest after publication date. The results are preliminary, as I've entered only a subset of advertisements in the database, but even the early results are interesting:

book                  publish_dt  advert_dt   years     
--------------------  ----------  ----------  ----------
1745 Laws of Whist    1745-10-26  1751-11-12  6         
1750 Osborne 10       1749-10-21  1755-12-24  6         
1761 Chess            1760-12-30  1766-01-08  6         
1761 Chances          1760-12-24  1764-01-18  4         
1800 Jones Direction  1800-05-15  1804-05-12  4         
Remarkably, most of the Hoyles were in print three years or less. The exceptions are worth more research and more discussion.

I identified The Laws of Whist and Directions for Breeding Game Cocks as poor sellers from another source, catalogues from bookseller trade sales. In the essay "The (missing) Laws of Whist Designed for Framing" I noted that the Osborne sale of 1767 offered 325 copies of the Laws more than twenty years after it was published. See the discussion below for further evidence of the slow sales of the Laws. Similarly in "Hoyle's Games Improved, Charles Jones (1800)" I noted there that Directions was a poor seller, with bookseller Wilkie's remaining stock going unsold at an 1814 bookseller's trade sale. It is comforting to note that trade sale catalogues and newspaper advertisements tell the same story.
[Aside: In my research I have focused on the trade sales primarily for sales of the Hoyle copyright, and have not searched exhaustively for the much more frequent sales of books unless copyrights were offered at the same sale. I'm only beginning to appreciate how much could be learned from this unimaginably time-consuming effort. That work would disclose more examples of poor sellers and could also help estimate print runs. For an example, consider the "eleventh" edition of Hoyle's Games. Six months after it was published, 350 copies were offered at the Hodges trade sale. As Hodges had owned a one-third share, the print run was likely 1250 or 1500 copies. See The Hoyle Copyright in Hoyle's lifetime."]
The database helps another way: in the essay on Hoyle's Games Improved, I speculated that the price for Directions might have been a shilling or two. In fact, advertisements shows it sold for sixpence, something that if I noticed before, I had not recorded on the right spreadsheet.

The appearance of the "10th" edition of Hoyle's Games on the list does not tell the full story. In fact the "10th edition" is a reissue of the "8th" edition dating back to 1748. See "Reissues of Mr. Hoyle's Treatises (1748-1755)." I have not yet done the work to connect multiple issues when they are the same edition (and indeed, it can be difficult to tell which issue is being advertised). I've often wondered whether Osborne overestimated the demand when he had the "8th" edition printed, or whether there was standing type and multiple impressions were made.

Interestingly, Chess and Doctrine of Chances do not appear to have been great sellers. For more on the latter, see this essay.

A last example: What books were advertised at more than one price? Here, I would expect to find situations where the booksellers were forced to lower prices.

book                  CNT                 
--------------------  -----
1745 Laws of Whist    2                   
1751 Laws of Brag     2                   
1757 Osborne 11       2                   

Three books where advertised at multiple prices. Checking the specific advertisements, I find:

date        paper                 book                  s.   d.
----------  --------------------  --------------------  ---  ---
1745-10-26  London Evening Post   1745 Laws of Whist    1    0      
1746-01-14  London Evening Post   1745 Laws of Whist    1    0      
1747-11-07  London Evening Post   1745 Laws of Whist    1    0      
1748-03-05  Whitehall Evening Pos 1745 Laws of Whist    0    6      
1748-04-30  London Evening Post   1745 Laws of Whist    0    6      
1751-11-12  London Evening Post   1745 Laws of Whist    0    6      
1751-01-22  General Advertiser    1751 Laws of Brag     2    6      
1751-01-25  General Advertiser    1751 Laws of Brag     2    6      
1751-02-28  Whitehall Evening Pos 1751 Laws of Brag     1    0      
1756-12-21  London Evening Post   1757 Osborne 11       3    0      
1757-06-10  Public Advertiser     1757 Osborne 11       3    0      
1757-12-22  Public Advertiser     1757 Osborne 11       3    6      
1757-12-24  Public Advertiser     1757 Osborne 11       3    0      
1757-12-27  Public Advertiser     1757 Osborne 11       3    0      
1760-01-03  Public Advertiser     1757 Osborne 11       3    0         

As I observed earlier, the Laws of Whist did not sell well, and Osborne lowered the price from a shilling to sixpence in 1748. Jolliffe had the same problem with the Laws of Brag, lowering the price from two shillings sixpence to a shilling almost immediately. Brag itself likely had the same problems, but I only have inferential evidence of its price. As far as the "eleventh" edition of Hoyle's Games, apparently the printer made an error in setting the December 22 advertisement.

I have a lot more data entry to do, primarily advertisements and trade sale data. Once I do that, I'll be ready to do a better job of  part 2 of "What was the Hoyle copyright worth?"

Well, I'm enjoying my new toy. What other questions should I be asking?

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