Thursday, September 29, 2011

Toward a bibliography of books published by Francis Cogan, bookseller (part 1)

This is the second of three essays on my research into Francis Cogan—the first was biographical, while this and the next focus on his publishing output. I would love to see someone write a bibliography of books published by Francis Cogan. This essay and the next, together with the work behind it would provide a useful starting point.

I don't know that I've ever seen a bibliography of an 18th century bookseller. Authors, surely. As for printers, there is Patricia Hernlund's work on Strahan, Keith Maslen's work on the Bowyer firm, and works by Sale and by Maslen on Samuel Richardson. It would be fascinating to see a scholarly bibliography of a bookseller, especially a failed one such as Cogan. Perhaps the reason that there is no bibliography of a bookseller is that it is surprising difficult to identify a publisher's body of work, as you will learn from these two essays.

The obvious starting place to find Cogan's books is to look in ESTC for those that bear his imprint. There are slightly fewer than 100 books printed "for" Cogan, many of which were printed for others as well, indicating that Cogan had only a share of the copyright. There are a few books from early in Cogan's career that are "printed for" another bookseller, and "sold by" Cogan and others. That imprint suggests that the first bookseller was the copyright owner and Cogan was a distributor.

Remaining are books which Cogan published but which do not bear his name—as you can imagine those are much more difficult to identify. Before discussing strategies for finding those books, it is worthwhile to understand why a copyright-owning bookseller would not put his name on the imprint. There are at least two situtations—fictitious imprints and the use of trade publishers—and each is discussed in an article by Michael Treadwell (see references below).

Fictitious imprints are an inconvenient way for the person responsible for publishing a book to conceal his identity. The fictitious imprint is inconvenient because it does not tell the retail customer where to go to buy the book. Motivations might be to escape charges of piracy or sedition. As I discuss in "Pirates, Autographs and a Bankruptcy," one Hoyle pirate used the false imprint "Bath printed and London reprinted for W. Webster" although the book was not first printed in Bath and there was no bookseller named W. Webster. The other Hoyle pirate used the imprint "printed for W. Webb," a frequently-used false name. Ironically, Cogan himself later used the Webb imprint, as we shall see in the next essay.

A trade publisher is a retail bookseller who is willing, for a fee, to put his name on the imprint of a book when the copyright is owned by another bookseller.  The book is available at the shop of the trade publisher, so the customer has an easier time finding it. Treadwell (1982) gives two examples of why one bookseller chose to use a trade publisher. In one case, the book was
...a controversial political pamphlet which, while not quite dangerous enough to justify the inconvenience for distribution of a totally false imprint, was nevertheless worth the slight added expense of paying a publisher to stand between the authorities and the person really responsible. (113).
In the other, the book was a history of a mysterious society, and Treadwell notes "...given what a sad and tiny group the Society actually was, its prestige could only be protected by complete anonymity." Identifying the publisher would have unmasked the society. (113-4)

Cogan used fictitious imprints about a half dozen times and trade publishers at least 40 times, particularly late in his career as his first bankruptcy approached. My hand-drawn chart below (so much more evocative than Excel!) shows the number of Cogan books by quarter from 1729 to 1745. Shading indicates books which bore his imprint; clear bars indicate books without his name. His career really drops off in the late 1730s and as his output increases, he relies much more on trade publishers and fictitious imprints. Indeed for the period 1743-5, most of the books with the Cogan imprint are editions of Hoyle.

Cogan's output by quarter 1729-1745
(click to enlarge)
There must be a story here.

How did I find the books that Cogan published while hiding his identity? More in the next essay!


Michael Treadwell, "London Trade Publishers 1675-1750" in The Library, 6th series, Volume IV, No. 2, June 1982, 99-132.

Michael Treadwell, "On False and Misleading Imprints in the London Book Trade, 1660-1750" in Robin Myers and Michael Harris, editors, Fakes and Frauds. Varieties of Deception in Print and Manuscript, Winchester: St Paul's Bibliographies and Delaware: Oak Knoll Press, 1989 (reprinted 1996) 29-46.


  1. You are right David, enumerative bibliographies of 18C publishers are pretty scarce. The role of commissioning and financing a publication was so often shared with printing--and bibliographers have been so much more interested in the printing--that the only examples I can think of are where these two role cross over.

    In my Haywood Bibliography, and in my recent article in 1650-1850, I distinguish between Haywood as author and publisher at the Sign of Fame. And since she was never a printer (though, it seems, she did undertake binding on one occasion) there is a bibliography of at least one very, very minor 18C publisher!