Friday, December 20, 2019

2019: The Year in Collecting

updated June 4, 2020

2019 was a good year for me as a collector. Since my Hoyle collecting is far along, when I find something I don't have, it must be rare. I'll look first at the best of the new non-Hoyles, then the Hoyles, but first a story.

In the summer of 2017, I took David Pearson's class in Provenance research at the Rare Book School in Charlottesville. We learned about forms of evidence to understand book ownership: inscriptions, bookplates, bindings, heraldry, catalogues, and more. At a break, I told David that I had never marked my books in any way. As I described my collection, he said, "You have some really good books, but most of your books are interesting only because they're part of your collection. If you don't identify your books, that interest will be forever lost." His comment resonated--for example, I have a lot of whist books that are not of great value individually, but I do have 300 of them that together tell the story of the game. He convinced me that I should identify my books.

I contacted some friends who are letterpress printers and came up with the bookplate pictured below. The woodblock ornament is taken from the first edition of Hoyle's Backgammon. Add a border and my monogram (which David described as a mangled Roman numeral), and voila! My friends had a polymer plate made with many instances of the book plate in three different sizes.They printed and cut out lots of plates.
Levy bookplate
Polymer plate on the press

It has been a huge project attaching the plates. In addition to pasting them in the books, I've used the opportunity to make sure that my electronic and paper records are in sync with the physical books. Disclosure: they weren't! I've also added location detail so I can print a shelf list. Finally, I've also had to decide which books are part of the collection and which are not (such as modern books on contract bridge or backgammon).

I have plates in roughly 800 of the 1200 book collection so far. Work continues! I am using a rice paste that is soluble in water, so the process is reversible. If my books are important as a part of collection, they are now mostly identified.

On to the new acquisitions.

I have a weakness for books in manuscript. We tend to think that once moveable type was introduced, all books were printed. In fact manuscripts overlapped with printed books for a long, long time. For an extraordinary example with a great story, see my essay "The Left Hand of Bougy..." The manuscript on Quadrille from 1725 is, like the Bougy manuscript, copied from an edition of the Académie des Jeux, the French gaming anthology that appeared in one form or another for generations.

1732 Quadrille

Another weakness. And another book on Quadrille. I've written many times how I love books in original unsophisticated bindings. See, for example here, here, here (second from the top), and here. The book on Quadrille at left predates Hoyle; I mention it in the essay "Piquet and Quadrille Literature." I acquired the copy at left at auction this year. It is a pamphlet that has never been bound and retains the original stab sewing. Lovely!

And now the Hoyles.

Whist, Lisbon (1753)

This year brought a copy of the first Portuguese translation of Hoyle's Whist, Lisbon, 1753. When I wrote the essay "The First Translation of Hoyle," everyone thought that this was the earliest translation. Since then, a 1751 translation turned up, as I wrote in the essay "A French Discovery." So Do Jogo do Whist is the second translation of Hoyle. Mine is one of two known surviving copies.

What is remarkable about the book is that it is the first I know to illustrate the use of tokens for keeping score at whist. In the essay "Hoyle's Scoring Method and Whist Counters," I discuss whist scoring tokens. I suggest in that essay that the first mention of scoring with tokens was in the 1791 chapbook Short Rules for Short Memories at Whist by "Bob Short" (Robert Withy).  I still believe that to be the case in English, but I've since found scoring discussed in three 18c Portuguese editions (1753, 1768, 1784), and a Russian edition published in St. Petersburg (1769). The Russian edition purports to be a translation from a French edition, but the tokens are not illustrated in any French version I have seen.

Whist scoring tokens (1752)

The two new Hoyles in English are both reissues of books I have already, but with cancel titles. The first is discussed in "Reissues of Mr. Hoyle's Treatises (1748-1755). With this 1755 reissue, I have four of the five different issues.
Mr. Hoyle's Treatises (1755)

The final example is a Dublin reissue of the Polite Gamester from 1783. It was originally published by Thomas Ewing in 1772. Ewing died in 1775 or 1776 and James Hoey took over his stock. Hoey reissued the book with a cancel title in 1776. See the essay "Every Cancel Tells a Story, Don't It (part 1)" for pictures and more detail.

I can't say why Hoey put a new title page on the book in 1783. The imprint is the same as is his address, 19 Parliament Street. Probably, he wanted to make the book look more current with a new date.

The Polite Gamester (1783)

It's a bit beaten up, but the only other recorded copy is in the John White collection at Cleveland Public Library (discussed here), so I have no complaints. 

Best wishes for 2020!

Thursday, August 29, 2019

250 years

The terms semiquincentennary or bicenquinquagenary are not terribly felicitous, but please note that today marks the 250 anniversary of the death of Edmond Hoyle. The notice in the London Chronicle read:

A moment of silence, please!

And now onto some interesting biographical news.Seven years ago, I wrote:
Hoyle was born in 1672 and published his first book in 1742 at the age of 69 or 70. There is absolutely no evidence about any aspect of his life before that time...
Earlier this year, I was shocked and delighted to learn that Hoyle was active in maritime insurance in Rotterdam in the 1720s! This was apparently known to economic historians, particularly those who study bubbles, but had never been noted by gaming historians. 

The story is found primarily in Dutch books on the history of economics, but there are some sources in English, the most available of which is Goetzmann, Money Changes Everything, Princeton University Press, 2016. The highlights of the story are briefly as follows:
  • In June 1720, Hoyle and Dutch national Gerard Roeters approached the Amsterdam city council with the thought of setting up a maritime insurance company much like Lloyds of London. 
  • Amsterdam refused, and in July they carried the offer to Rotterdam who allowed them to set up the company. 
  • They established Stad Rotterdam as a joint stock company and subscriptions were traded on the Rotterdam exchange. Speculative fever ensued and the shares quickly increased in value.
  • Within two weeks Hoyle sold his share to Englishman Thomas Lombe at a large profit. 
  • Later, Lombe convinced Roeters to invest further money with Stad Rotterdam. 
  • In late 1721, Roeters brought an action in the London Chancery Courts against Lombe, complaining that Lombe failed to operate the business as promised. The litigation continued for years and generated a lot of paper now at the National Archives in Kew. From the bits I've looked at, perhaps only ten per cent of the total, there is no mention of Hoyle in the pleadings.
Hoyle's involvement in Stad Rotterdam was short-lived and I don't know how much more there is to learn about his involvement. But this rabbit hole looks to be worth some more of my time.

It is reasonable to ask whether we are sure it is OUR Edmond Hoyle who was involved in these events. Both forename and surname were fairly common at the time. The answer is unequivocally yes, it is OUR Hoyle. There are a number of documents that have survived notary archives in Rotterdam and the archives of Stad Rotterdam with a Hoyle signature. Here is a sample, taken from the Goetzmann book mentioned earlier: 

Share transfer from Hoyle to Lombe
July 16, 1720
Goetzman, p70

This signature and others I have seen from the Rotterdam archives clearly match the signatures in his books (see a sample here) published more than two decades later.

I don't find it surprising that Hoyle was involved in the insurance industry. In 1754 he wrote An Essay towards making the Doctrine of Chances easy to those who understand Vulgar Arithmetick only, discussed elsewhere on this blog. The book includes tables of annuities on lives, the basis for life insurance. He was aware of the mathematics of risk.

There is one other hint about Hoyle is some of the notarized documents--he is identified as a London merchant. This suggests that we may be able to find more information about Hoyle in London by looking at city directories, banking records, and so on.

So Hoyle had a life before writing about games. And an interesting one at that!