Wednesday, April 1, 2020

The First Piracy. Part 1. Overview and Structure

(Portions of this essay appeared in a previous post.)
I've said a lot about the first piracy of Hoyle's A Short Treatise on the Game of Whist in this blog, in a published article, and in a talk I have given two or three times. There remains much to say about the physical book. There are variants among the surviving copies that reveal much about its printing history and challenge the bibliographical concepts of edition, issue, and state. It will take me several essays to discuss the variants and their implications. A theme throughout is the bibliographer's mantra: examine as many copies of a book as possible.

First some background. 

Hoyle published A Short Treatise on the Game of Whist in November 1742. He sold it privately to his whist students for the high price of one guinea. After selling out the first edition, Hoyle sold the copyright to bookseller Francis Cogan for 100 guineas on February 3, 1743. Cogan must have expected to sell the book for the same guinea that Hoyle charged and took a slightly marked-up copy of the book to printer James Mechell. Before Mechell printed the second edition for Cogan, he printed copies, lots of copies, to sell for his own profit.1

The "Webster" piracy

The piracy, pictured at left, omits Hoyle's name from the title page, attributing the book to "a Gentleman." The imprint "Bath printed, and London reprinted for W. Webster near St. Paul's" is fictitious. The book was never printed in Bath and Webster is a name invented to disguise Mechell's identity. The piracy was advertised in the General Evening Post of February 19 at a price of two shillings, less than a tenth of the one guinea that Cogan intended to charge.

It was not until the first week of March that Cogan published a second edition, matching the pirate's price of two shillings. In April, Cogan obtained an injunction against Mechell, James Watson, a second printer who pirated Whist, and seven booksellers who sold copies of the piracies.

I was not kidding when I said that Mechell printed lots of copies. No records survive indicating the size of the print run, but I know of 44 surviving copies, by far the most of any early Hoyle. With only four known copies of the first edition, the piracy is the earliest Hoyle obtainable. Other Cogan editions of Whist survive in small numbers: eight copies of the second edition, seven of the third, ten of the fourth and seven of the fifth.

Let us start by looking at the physical book. The most important element of a book description is the collation statement which describes its structure. The piracy collates 8°: [A]4 χ2 B–M4. The formula means that the book was printed as an octavo (eight leaves or sixteen pages to the printed sheet) and assembled in gatherings of four leaves or eight pages. Gathering A is unsigned (as indicated by the brackets); B through M (omitting J, as is typical for books of the period) are signed. The symbol "χ" is used for an unsigned gathering in the middle of the book and the superscript "2" indicates that there are two conjugate leaves, that is a single piece of paper folded to make two leaves or four pages.

A stab-sewn copy, never bound

When I wrote the "Pirates" article, all the copies I had seen were tightly bound and I couldn't tell whether the two leaves between gatherings A and B were conjugate. I gave the more conservative collation formula 8°: [A]4 (A4+2) B–M4 indicating that the two inserted leaves were singletons, that is separate pieces of paper. In 2012, I got the copy pictured above. It is in completely original condition, unbound with the original stab sewing. Even though the pages are a bit curled, it is a delightful survival that reveals the book's structure.

The photograph of the bottom of the spine below, makes it clear that the two leaves between the A and B gatherings are a single folded sheet rather than two single leaves.

χ2 not A4+2

One would expect the printer to begin setting the type with gathering B where the text begins, and proceed through the end of the book. Gathering A, and here χ would be printed last. The first leaf A1r is the half-title pictured above, and A2r is the title page, also picutred. χ1 and χ2 contain the table of contents, obviously printed last.
Leaves A3 and A4 contain a curious "Advertisement" in the form of a "Letter from a Gentleman at Bath" which purports to describe the publishing history. The author describes losing "a considerable sum of money one night at [whist]." He concluded that he was beat by superior skill and found that there was "a treatise on the game of whist lately dispersed among a few hands at a guinea price." He obtained a copy "with no small difficulty" and learned he "had heretofore been but a bungler at this game." He "applied to a stationer who offered to make [him] a present of half a hundred of them, provided [he] would allow him to print a few more for his own use."

Well, that's not quite what happened!

The next essay will begin to look at variants.


1A fuller account is in my article "Pirates, Autographs, and a Bankruptcy: A Short Treatise on the Game of Whist by Edmond Hoyle, Gentleman" in Script & Print, 34 no. 3 (2010): 133-61, available for download.

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