Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Mystery of the Hoyle Copyright

Updated April 30, 2011 with a link to a possible answer.

This essay is a plea for help. What does a researcher do when confronted with a piece of unexplainable data?

In my previous essay, I trace the Hoyle copyright throughout his lifetime and presented the following conclusions about ownership:
  • 1742 Whist first edition. Hoyle 100%
  • 1743-5 Whist "second" through "fifth" editions and other individual treatises. Cogan 100%
  • 1745-7 Whist "sixth" and "seventh" editions and other individual treatises. Osborne 100% with Hildyard, Bryson, and Leake as distributors
  • 1748-1755 Games "eighth" through "tenth" editions. Osborne 100% with Reeve as a distributor
  • 1756 Games "eleventh" edition. Osborne (with his partner Shipton) 1/3, Hodges 1/3, Baldwin 1/3
  • 1760 Games "twelfth" edition. Osborne 1/3, Crowder 1/3, Baldwin 1/3
  • 1763 Games "thirteenth" edition. Osborne 1/3, Woodfall 1/3, Baldwin 1/3
  • 1767 Games "fourteenth" edition. Woodfall 5/12, Baldwin 4/12, Crowder 2/12, Wilkie 1/12
In that essay, I noted a hint of mystery about the Hoyle copyright, which, as promised, I describe here. The mystery comes from a booksellers' trade sale of January 13, 1747. A single copy of the catalogue survives at the Bodleian Library, titled: 
A Catalogue of Books in Quires, and Copies, Which will be Sold to a Select Number of Booksellers, at the Queen's-Head Tavern in Pater-Noster-Row, on Tuesday the 13th of January, 1746-7, beginning at Twelve o"clock.
The catalogue contains annotations by a member of the Ward family of London booksellers made during the auction, recording purchasers and prices realized. The mystery is lot 47, the copyright for Hoyle's Games, with a manuscript annotation showing the purchase by bookseller Charles Corbett for 52£ 10s.:

January 13, 1747 catalogue, p4.
(click to enlarge)
It is clear that Thomas Osborne (actually, as we shall see below, Thomas Osborne Jr.) owned the copyright from 1745 and beyond, both before the sale and after. What can we make of the offer for sale and of the apparent purchase by Corbett?

I have written a number of essays mentioning the booksellers' trade sales; they have received a great deal of attention from book historians. Much of the foundational work was by Terry Belanger who concluded that while there can be occasional difficulties in interpreting the transactions in copyrights (Belanger 43-5), they are generally quite clear (64), and match what is found in the imprints of books. That has been my experience with Hoyle with the exception of the annotation showing the sale to Corbett. Is this annotation one of the "occasional difficulties" destined to remain unexplained, or does anyone have any suggestions for further research?

A secondary mystery is who was the seller of copyrights at the January 1747 sale and how did Hoyle come to be included? Generally, the trade sales were for the property of a single bookseller, perhaps bankrupt, retiring, or deceased. There is mixed evidence of the seller's identity for this sale.

One view is that the seller is bookseller Edward Wicksteed selling copyrights once belonging to Thomas Osborne Sr. In 1744, Osborne Sr. left the trade, selling many of his books and copyrights at a trade sale on February 9, 1744 (the catalogue is described here). Osborne Sr. died in 1744, leaving the rest of his stock to his son Thomas Jr. (Brack in the DNB). Belanger (232, 236-8) observes that Wicksteed purchased many of  the Osborne Sr. copyrights at the 1744 sale, subsequently reselling them at trade sales on October 14, 1746 and January 13, 1747.

A second view comes from an inscription in the Bodleian copy of the January 1747 trade sale catalogue. The Wards frequently noted the seller at the front of the catalogue and in this, one of the Wards wrote in ink "T. Osborne." It could be that Ward thinks of these as the Osborne copyrights, even though Osborne had died and they were being sold by Wicksteed. Perhaps the inscription refers to Osborne Jr. who was selling copyrights once belonging to his father, but included some of his own as well, including the Hoyle copyright.

I haven't done the work to identify the seller. It would consist of going carefully through the 99 lots of copyrights at the 1747 sale (many of which included many individual copyrights bundled as a lot), identifying the work from the short title, and looking at imprints and newspaper advertisements to identify the copyright holders before and after the sale, much as I did in the last essay.

[Aside: It must be considered that it was Thomas Osborne Sr. who purchased the Hoyle copyright from Francis Cogan and left it to his son Thomas Jr. This seems overwhelming unlikely. Osborne Sr. left the trade with his trade sale in February 1744. Cogan continued publish Hoyle through at least October 1744 and his advertisements continued until January 1745. There is a contract between Hoyle and Osborne Jr. dated November 20, 1745 in which Osborne Jr. agrees to pay Hoyle to autograph copies of his book. That contract recites "Whereas Mr. Thomas Osborne hath acquired all the right, title and interest of Francis Cogan" in the Hoyle copyright and later says that Hoyle has agreed to autograph the books "in consideration for Mr. Thomas Osborne's paying in hand..." the sum of L25. While the document never specifies Jr. or Sr., it is not credible that the first reference is to Osborne Sr. and the second to Osborne Jr.] 
Regardless of who was the primary seller, I suspect that Thomas Osborne Jr. included the Hoyle copyright in the sale with the agreement of Wicksteed. Either Corbett agreed to purchase it and the transaction was not consummated, or there was an error in annotation by the Wards. I'd be thrilled to hear other suggestions.

A final note of interest about from 1747 trade sale. In addition to offering the Hoyle copyright, some Hoyle books were listed for sale:

January 13, 1747 catalogue, p1.
(click to enlarge)

Whist would have been for the "sixth" edition published by Osborne in 1746, or perhaps the "seventh" of 1747. Piquet and Quadrille would have been either Osborne's reissues of Cogan's publications (1745) or his own new editions of 1746. Backgammon would have been Osborne's 1745 London edition. For a further discussion of these works see here. Lot 50, Hoyle's Pieces Compleat, would have been one of the Osborne collections, discussed here.

The quantities offered for sale are small compared to what must have been printed and would not have been Osborne Jr.'s entire stock. For example we know that 310 copies of Piquet were offered at his trade sale of July 28, 1767, and the book had not been reprinted after 1746. Only 25 copies are offered here. Likely, these books are from the stock of Osborne Sr. Interestingly, no copies of the separately-published Laws of Whist or the Artificial Memory are offered—perhaps Osborne Sr. did not purchase any from his son.

These annotations provide data about the retail markup for the books. Doing the division, we see that Whist sells for .62s., Piquet for .44, and Quadrille and Backgammon for .56. They each retailed for 1s. Similarly the collection realized 2.4s. per copy wholesale and retailed for 5s. Retail prices are roughly double the wholesale prices. Finally, it appears that Osborne Jr. bought three of the five lots himself. William Reeves, who was to reissue Hoyle from 1748 to 1755 as discussed here, is seeing buying copies of Piquet a year earlier.

Now, can anyone assist with my mystery?

  • Terry Bellanger. Booksellers' Sales of Copyright: Aspects of the London Book Trade 1718-1768, unpublished Columbia University dissertation (New York, 1970).
  • O. M. Brack, ‘Osborne, Thomas (bap. 1704?, d. 1767)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 [, accessed 15 April 2012]. 

1 comment:

  1. David,

    re the possibility of "an error in annotation by the Wards"—did you look into the Aesop copyright? The ink dash next to it would support a misplaced annotation interpretation …