Monday, January 28, 2013

The Compleat Gamester

I have written about Charles Cotton's Compleat Gamester several times, most directly in the essay "The Predecessors of Hoyle." First published in 1674, it is valued as the first book in English devoted to gaming, and for its frontispiece showing early scenes of game-playing. One example of the frontispiece is reproduced in "Predecessors" and another appears below.

The book has received much attention from gaming bibliographers. Both Julian Marshall and Frederic Jessel discussed the work (see the essay "Where can I learn more about Hoyle's Writing?"). More recently Thomas Marston wrote a short descriptive bibliography as an introduction to a 1970 reprint of the Gamester. Despite the scholarly work, there are many errors in the bibliographical record due to changes in ownership of the copyright. The changes led to frequent reissues with a different imprint and, in two cases, with an entirely new title. This essay will attempt to provide a correct chronology and add bits and pieces about the book that I have come across in the course of my research.

The Compleat Gamester was entered in the Registry Book at Stationers Hall on October 28, 1673, showing Robt. Cutler as the proprietor.  The entry corresponds with the imprint “London: printed by A.M. for R. Cutler, and to be sold by Henry Brome at the Gun at the west-end of St. Pauls, 1674.”

1676 Henry Brome
Robert Cutler died in 1676 and later that year we see a version with the imprint “London: printed for Henry Brome at the Gun at the west-end of St. Pauls, 1676” (pictured at right), so Brome must have acquired Cutler's stock after his death. Despite the appearance of "second edition" on the title, it is in fact a first edition, second issue with a cancel title page. A close look at my copy (below left) reveals a bit of the original title page. I have indicated with red arrows some lettering which matches the original title page.

Stub of original
title page
Wrap-around stub
of new title page

In general, cancels are pasted on the stub from left from the original page. This cancel was actually sewn with the book as you can see by the wrap-around stub of the cancel title page (above right). This suggests that the this copy was unsewn in quires when the title page was cancelled. Perhaps it's my lack of experience, but I don't recall seeing that before.

Henry Brome published the true second edition in 1680, an entirely new printing. He died in 1681 and his business was carried on first by his widow Joanna Brome (d. 1684) and then by his son Charles. Charles reissued the second edition under 1687 as Instructions How to Play at Billiards, Trucks, Bowls, and Chess. He reverted to the original title in a third edition of 1709, reissuing it in 1710. He died in 1711 and the copyright was to pass on once again.

1713 Morphew
Next appears an undated edition under a new title, Games Most in Use in England, France and Spain. I am able to date the work from an advertisement in the Post Boy of December 15, 1713, which notes:
Tomorrow will be publish’d GAMES most in use in England, France, and Spain…Sold by J. Morphew near Stationers-Hall; and by the Booksellers. Price, bound in Sheep, 1s. 6d. in Calf, 2s.
Games Most In Use is thus the fourth edition and the first not to have the frontispiece. Perhaps Morphew did not acquire the plates when he acquired the copyright and was not willing to pay to have them redone.

1725 Wilford
In 1720 Morphew died and the copyright was apparently acquired by J. Wilford who spruced the book up a bit. He took Games Most In Use, added a new frontispiece and a cancel title page, reverting to the original name, The Compleat Gamester. Most interestingly, he added a new work, apparently never published separately, The Gentleman’s Diversion, in Riding, Racing, Archery, Cock-fighting, and Bowling. This fourth edition, second issue appeared in 1721. A fifth edition appeared in 1725 (pictured at right) and a sixth (perhaps a reissue of the fifth; I have not seen a copy) in 1726.

To continue to story requires a look at a second, similarly-titled book, The Court Gamester. As I noted in "The Predecessors of Hoyle," editions of The Court Gamester appeared in 1719, 1720, 1722, 1728, and 1732. They were written by Richard Seymour and published by Edmund Curll.

In 1734, with Wilford owning the rights to The Compleat Gamester and Curll owning the rights to The Court Gamester, the two joined to publish The Compleat Gamester in Three Parts, a book that combined and expanded both texts. This would be the seventh edition of The Compleat Gamester.

After the joint publication, we find some documented transactions in the copyright of The Compleat Gamester at the booksellers trade sales. On February 24, 1736, Lintot bought a one-half share in the copyright from Wilford for £2 10s and Corbett bought the other half along with another work for £1 16s. 6d. On April 24, 1739, Lintot sold his share (along with other copyrights) to James Hodges for £15 15s.

1739 Curll and Hodges
The imprint of the 1739 edition, the eighth, shows it to be printed for Curll and Hodges. The transactions, then, must only have been for Wilford's Compleat Gamester and Corbett must have sold his piece to Hodges. In 1742, Hoyle's Whist appears and from 1745, collections of Hoyle's works must have cut into the sales of the Gamester. Nonetheless, a ninth edition does appear in 1750, printed for Hodges only, as Curll died in 1747. The tenth and final edition of 1754, edited by Charles Johnson and still published by Hodges, plagiarizes substantial portions of Hoyle.

By 1756, Hodges acquired a piece of the Hoyle copyright (see "The Hoyle Copyright in Hoyle's Lifetime"). With Hodges able to participate in that much more valuable property, the Gamester was not to be published again until it was reprinted a number of times in the 20th century.

In various forms and under various titles, The Compleat Gamester was the most popular work on gaming from 1674 until Hoyle appeared. Hoyle cut into its sales and bookseller Hodges decided to invest in Hoyle rather than continue to publish the Gamester.


  •  Julian Marshall, "Cotton and Seymour's 'Gamesters.'"  Parts 1 and 2, Notes and Queries, 6th ser., 9 (April 26, 1884): 321-3, (May 17, 1884): 381-3. Available for download.
  • Julian Marshall, "Books on Gaming." Part 11, Notes and Queries, 7th ser., 8 (December 21, 1889): 482-3. Available for download
  • Thomas E. Marston, "Introduction" to The Compleat Gametser. Barre: Imprint Society. 1970

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