Friday, April 3, 2020

The First Piracy. Part 2. Variants

A quick recap from the previous essay, "The First Piracy. Part 1. Overview and Structure".
  • The book was printed by the piratical James Mechell. 
  • It is an octavo gathered in fours, collating 8o: [A]4 χ2 B-M4.
  • 44 copies survive, by far the largest number of any of the early Hoyles.
  • The printing would have started with the B gathering and continued through to M. Gatherings A and χ would have been printed last. 
I also mentioned that there were variants among the copies. Let us look at the first page of text from two different copies. The text begins on page one, leaf B1r. B1 is the first leaf in the B gathering and "r" refers to recto, the right-hand page of an open book. Page two would be B1v with "v" for verso.


The text is identical, word-for-word, but there are many typographical differences:
  • The example at left lacks a page number; the right is numbered "[1]".
  • The drop-title "A Short Treatise on the Game of Whist" is completely different. Look at the line breaks, the use of capitals and the use of italics.
  • On the last line, the word "One" is capitalized in the first example but not in the second. 
I would be easy (and tedious) to find dozens of differences in spacing or particular pieces of type:
  • On the left, the "A" in "Author" on the first line of text appears above and slightly to the left of the "d" in "did" on the line below. On the right, it appears above the space betwee "tise" and "did".
  • Look at the "e" in "Attention" 4 lines from the bottom. On the left, it seems to me that there is a break in the top part of the letter suggesting some damage to the type. On the right, the "e" looks fine. For a different broken "e", look at "Payment" on the last line. 
Clearly these pages are different settings of type.

If you picked up a random copy of Hoyle's Whist, printed for W. Webster (1743), you could find either of the two variants. That is odd, even in the hand press era. Many questions come to mind. Why did this happen? Which was printed first? Were both printed in the same shop? I'll return to the "why" question at the end of this essay. The question of priority will have to wait for a later essay--it requires a lot more evidence and discussion.

We can conclude with reasonable certainty that both settings were printed in the same shop. Note the identical woodblock ornament at the top of both settings. Ornaments are lovely decorative elements from books of this period, and can be useful in identify anonymous printers. The fact that both pages share an ornament is a strong indication that both were printed in the same shop. It is theoretically possible that the ornament was loaned from one printer to another and each printed a page, but that strains credulity. Both were printed in the shop of James Mechell.

We could have as easy compared copies of page 2:


Differences include:
  • A different break between lines 2 and 3: "upon Pay-" versus "upon".
  • Different spacing between paragraphs.
  • A decorative woodblock ornament on the left, versus a line of type ornaments on the right. 
  • Below the decoration, the type is different in every way--the use of capitals and italics, line breaks, the two-line initial "I" on the right, different catchwords...
Let us see two settings of a page from gathering C:


Some of the many differences are:
  • The spacing before and after the page number.
  • The woodblock ornament at the top
  • The line break in the chapter title and the spelling of "observ'd" versus "observed".
  • The position of the signature mark C2 with respect to the text.
And D:


Some differences:
  • The spacing before and after the page number.
  • The woodblock ornament at the top.
  • Line breaks in the chapter title.
  • The capital S in "Suppose is a different piece of type in the two examples. 
I'll skip gathering E (which also has two settings), but move on to samples from F, G, and H:


You can make your own (long) list of difference by now. I let my eye run down the right margin and note differences in the line breaks beginning on the fifth line. The woodblock tail pieces differs as well. The next two examples are an exercise for the reader:



There is only one setting of type for gathering I; gathering K has two, and gatherings L and M have one only. As mentioned above, when there are two settings, we are not yet prepared to discuss which of them might have been printed first.

Gathering A with the half-title, title page, and Advertisement has only one setting of type, but there are fascinating and revelatory variations of a different sort. Please be patient until the next essay.

Why are there two settings of type of some gatherings and only one of others? Here is how I envision the workflow in Mechell's shop. The compositors--as discussed below, I suspect there were at least two--started setting the type with the text in gathering B. As each gathering was finished, the pressmen printed a fixed number of each sheet. The compositor(s) would then distribute the type and beginning setting another gathering.

When the book was about two thirds finished, Mechell decided to increase the print run, expecting more demand for the book than he originally supposed. The pressmen printed a larger number of I, L, M, A, and χ. Then, the compositors went back to reset gatherings B-H and gathering K. Enough copies of the resettings were printed off to make complete books for the larger print run of the later gatherings.

Why do I think there were two or more compositors? If there were only one, there wouldn't be the oddity that the earlier gathering I had only one setting while the later gathering K had two. I suspect that one compositor was setting gathering I and another gathering K. Gathering K was printed and the type distributed while I was still in the press. At the point Mechell decided to increase the print run; therefore I did not need to be reset, while K did. Speculation, yes, but it explains the pattern of reset gatherings.

It is amazing and interesting how much we can learn Mechell's thought process and workflow by looking at lots of copies of Whist. 

Next: Gathering A

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