Sunday, January 29, 2012

Elephants and Camels From an Early American Book Empire

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the worthwhile goal of owning an example imprint from specific, influential printers, such as the House of Elsevir. This week’s book picks up that theme again, though in this case the book in question is from the family of an important early publisher rather than printer.

While Ben Franklin might be the more familiar name as a major early American printer-publisher, the name of radical patriot and newspaperman Isaiah Thomas (1749-1831; shown above in a portrait owned by the American Antiquarian Society) is perhaps just as important though perhaps less well known. Beside printing revolutionary newspapers – many of which were the first of their kind in the colonies – Thomas also published books, perhaps most importantly a series of children’s books by author John Newberry. In his time, the Thomas empire produced more than 1,000 titles (far more than any of his rivals, including Franklin) and was bolstered by many shrewd business moves, including buying a book bindery in Worcester in 1782 and progressively opening branches and partnerships in Boston, Newburyport, Springfield, Vermont, New Hampshire, New York, and Baltimore. In addition to magazines, newspapers, almanacs, and other ephemera, the books from Thomas’s sixteen presses included the first American editions of major English novelists such as Laurence Sterne and Oliver Goldsmith, the first American novel (The Power of Sympathy, or, The Triumph of Nature, 1789, by William Hill Brown), and the earliest American edition of Mother Goose (1786). His decision to acquire the copyright to all of Noah Webster’s spelling and grammar books, in 1789, proved a particularly shrewd investment. After his development of the first truly successful interstate publishing and retailing network in the history of America’s book trade, Thomas, in his retirement after 1802, penned the monumental and still relevant History of Printing in America (in which he provides the first comprehensive and authoritative description of the people and firms at the heart of the country’s colonial and late 18th-century through early 19th century book industry) and in 1812 founded the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, whose vast collection of pre-1876 American imprints (most donated by Thomas) is rivaled only by the Library of Congress.

One of my goals has been to acquire a Thomas imprint – book, pamphlet, or newspaper – in good condition. This week’s item comes close: like the Elsevir I wrote of before, however, this item is from a later family member in the trade. Upon his “retirement” from the trade in 1802, Thomas passed his business on to his son, Isaiah Thomas, Junior (for simplicity, I will refer to Thomas, Junior as Thomas from this point; if I refer to the father, I will use Thomas, Senior). Like his father, Thomas rested a substantial portion of the firm’s income upon that always reliable staple of the industry: textbooks.

This book is The Understanding Reader: or, Knowledge Before Oratory, Being a New Selection of Lessons, Suited to the Understanding and Capacities of Youth, and Designed for Their Improvement. Its goal is to teach students about "Reading”, “The Definition of Words”, and “Spelling, Particularly Compound and Derivative Words.” The title-page promises that the book offers “A Method Wholly Different From Any Thing of the Kind Ever Before Published.” It also offers an observation attributed to Ben Franklin: “Our boys often read as parots [sic] speak, knowing little or nothing of the meaning.” The book is by Daniel Adams (1773-1864), a Leominster, Massachusetts-based academic and physician who eventually moved to New Hampshire, where he became a state legislator in 1838. Adams’s textbooks were popular and this was no exception, going through over two dozen editions from various publishers between its first printing (by [Daniel] Adams & Wilder for Adams, in 1804) and its last (by Hori Brown of Leicester, MA in 1821); according to the lavishly descriptive copyright statement on the verso of the title-page (typical for its day), the book was entered for copyright in Massachusetts by the Commonwealth’s district clerk (and Salem native) Nathaniel Goodale, on “the 27th day of September, in the twenty eighth year of the independence of the United States of America” (that is, Sept. 27, 1804; because Adams’s preface is dated “Leominster, Sept. 29, 1803” some descriptions of the book by dealers, Wikipedia, etc. misattribute the copyright to that date – instead, oddly, it seems that nearly a full year elapsed between Adams’s completion of the book and its appearance in print). 

The Thomas firm evidently obtained the copyright shortly after – perhaps almost concurrent with – the appearance of the first Adams & Wilder edition. This particular title is an excellent demonstration of the reach of the Thomas empire, for most of his editions were printed in different cities and towns around the country and for retail by different specific booksellers in those cities and towns, but nearly all of them were published by Thomas and bear his family’s name. Like his father before him, Thomas mastered the lucrative art of book wholesaling.

My copy is of the sixth edition of The Understanding Reader. It was published by Thomas – who prominently points out in his imprint that he is the “Proprietor of the Copy Right” – and “Sold Wholesale and Retail by him in Worcester, and by all the principal Booksellers in the United States.” It was printed by Ebenezer Merriam (1777-1858) in Brookfield (today’s West Brookfield), Massachusetts; the relationship between the Merriam firm, which specialized in textbooks, and the Thomas family was a productive one, even after the Merriams left Brookfield for Springfield in 1831. Eventually, in 1843, the Merriams would obtain from the Thomas clan the copyright to one of their most successful titles, Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary, giving rise to the title by which the book is more generally known today: The Merriam-Webster Dictionary.

The final page, T6v, presents one of those intriguing publisher’s advertisements that reveals a bit about the book market at the time of publication. The advertisement, headed “Valuable School Books”, notifies readers that “[t]he following valuable School Books are published by ISAIAH THOMAS, Jun. and are kept constantly for Sale at his respective Bookstores in Boston and Worcester, Wholesale and Retail; also by said THOMAS and WHIPPLE, Newburyport.” The titles listed are Scott’s Lessons on Elocution, Murray’s Abridgment of English Grammar, the third Worcester edition of Murray’s English Grammar (copied from the sixteenth London edition; the blurb gives evidence of the pride Thomas took in his work: “No pains nor expense have been spared in rendering the Third Edition worthy of the liberal patronage which the former Editions have received; and the Proprietor thinks he may justly pronounce this Edition superior to any impression of the work in America; and he flatters himself, that by its increasing demand, he shall be remunerated for the expense and labor he has bestowed”), Parish’s Compendious System of Universal Geography, and Perry’s Only Sure Guide to the English Tongue (“the proprietor thinks no other recommendation can be necessary than only to mention that from THIRD to FORTY THOUSAND of the Improved Edition of Perry’s Spelling Book sell yearly”). The ad ends with a note that, “The Trade are informed that they can be supplied with any of the above in Sheets or Bound, in large or small quantities, on as low Terms as any similar works are sold for in the United States.”

As with most such textbooks, the aim of Adams’s book is to expand and enrich the student’s command over vocabulary and spelling in anticipation of his or her later lessons in rhetoric and oratory. The contents comprise sample passages, organized by themes, in some instances being extracts drawn from notable sources (from Milton to Franklin and the Bible to Goldsmith); in the margin beside each passage, Adams has pulled out in italics the key vocabulary word for the student to master. In an innovative use of pointing, those words that the student is to learn to spell are marked with a period and those that the student is to learn to define are marked with “a note of interrogation” (i.e., a question mark). Glancing through the book, it’s difficult to resist the temptation simply to read down the margin and imagine the words there are some kind of surreal staccato dialogue out of a lost play by Samuel Beckett.

Adams’s preface bears quoting at length in several places because of the insight it affords into early American pedagogical theories about how, and why, students learned to read and use language. First, after explaining the punctuation system and how teachers can use it to drill students who have practiced with the book, Adams explains the “advantages to be derived from accustoming youth to give definitions of words”; the value of this, he insists, goes beyond “simply that of becoming acquainted with the meaning of them”:

1.     Their minds will be excited to inquiry. In this way they will arrive to an understanding of many ideas of the Writer, which otherwise would have been wholly lost to them. 
2.     It will enlarge their acquaintance with language, not only by a knowledge of those particular words which they would define, but also by bringing many new words to their view. 
3.     It will help them to a readiness and facility of expressing their ideas. There is nothing in which frequent use and practice do more for a man, than in this one thing. If a man has never been accustomed to express himself on any subject or thing, he will be much put to it and appear exceeding awkward at first, however well he may understand the subject on which he would speak. 
4.     It will inspire them with a confidence in themselves, and in their own understandings, which will go further and be of more use to them on any public or private occasion than whole months or even years declamation on the stage.

The ideas Adams presents hint at dual nature of early American teaching: it was both rooted in the classical and often mechanical systems of the European Renaissance (memorization, oration, etc.) and also pushing towards the more open-ended and progressive systems of the American Enlightenment and soon-to-develop education reform movement (provocations to inquiry and exploration, the inspiring of confidence, training in the tools in addition to the content of learning, etc.).

At the same time, however, Adams – like most compilers of textbooks for children in the period – understood that the kinds of material he set before students, the ideas presented in the extracts, would also be of paramount importance in shaping their young minds and instilling in them “proper” thoughts and conduct. Finally, at the end of each chapter, Adams provides a set of questions about the content of the section and encourages teachers to pose such questions to students in order to ensure that on top of mastering the language they are also grasping the ideas presented to them (which span natural history, geography, literature, biblical narrative, and morality).

The paper is a typical early-19th century cheap wove stock often seen in textbooks of the period; they measure 11cm x 17cm. The binding is an unremarkable, thick tanned pigskin – a hide that, given its extreme durability, was a frequent choice for binders of early textbooks – cut very unevenly and glued inexpertly onto the boards (probably done by an amateur or owner rather than Thomas’s bindery; as indicated by the ad quoted above, Thomas, like other publishers, often sold his textbooks unbound and the buyer would be responsible for binding or paying for binding). There’s no printing on the binding, but it does look like a faint handwriting is on the back board; it is now, however, illegible. The book is 228 pages and may be described collationally as 2o in 6s: [#] A6-T6 [π]: $1 and 3 [as miniscule with “2”]. There are no catchwords and no errors in either pagination or running titles, which are identical throughout the book (except for the preliminaries, which were printed on sheet A) and suggest the use of a skeleton forme. There are a few obvious compositional errors – such as setting “thier” instead of “their” – and, judging from frequent blotting, the inking was evidently done quickly and with little regard for precision. In general, the book is in fair condition with some chipping on the binding and some tears to pages and water stains throughout the block with no loss of text and no loose pages.

Aside from a pen squiggle on p. 185 (Q3r) there are no marginal markings. A previous owner has inserted three slips of paper, but these seem to be meant simply to mark the book’s only three (unattributed) illustrative plates (a reindeer on p.39; a camel on p. 124; and an elephant on p. 177). There is, however, some owner’s provenance on the front flyleaf. On the recto of the leaf a cursive, early ninteenth-century hand has written “Caroline P. Goodnow’s” and, beneath that in a lighter ink, “Caroline P. Goodnows | Book Febry 24th 1816”. The only precise match that I can find for this name in any historical records is a Caroline P. Goodnow who married Captain Lucius Brigham in Princeton, Massachusetts, in October 1832. One genealogy website guesses that her death date was around 1848, but in the New England Historic-Genealogical Society’s 1860 Genealogies of the Families and Descendants of the Early Settlers of Watertown, Massachusetts she is described as still alive in October 1852 when her grandmother died at her house in Lexington at the impressive age of 104. Given the marriage date, it seems probable that this is the same person that owned my book; as a young girl in the early 1810s, Goodnow purchased Adams’s Understanding Reader, possibly for school purposes. It’s always exciting to obtain a book bearing woman’s ownership provenance from an age when literacy education for women was still struggling to gain a foothold. The fact that Caroline Goodnow owned Adams’s book stands as a reminder that Adams’s own casual assumption that his reader would be “a man” (see his goal #3, quoted above) was, by the early 1800s, an already outdated social convention. 

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Charles Dickens for the Million in Nineteenth-Century America

I’m always interested in items that challenge accepted wisdom and contradict assumptions that we often make about literature. For example, say the words “Charles Dickens” to anyone who has taken a high school English class and you’re likely to conjure up images of high end, thick tomes whose very heft seems meant to serve as a visual metaphor for the weighty Literature-with-a-Capital-L contained within. But, as this week’s book demonstrates, in his own time Dickens was promoted as a very different kind of writer offering a very different kind of reading experience.

Most people are aware that Dickens, like many other writers of his age, wrote most of his literature for serial publication in monthly installments; this accounts for many of the peculiar features of Dickensian style, in fact. Even when complete, however, many of Dickens’s novels reached their original reading public in a cheap format more akin to modern paperback romances than great works of Literature. Also, as I've mentioned in the past, many of Dickens's works appeared in America under questionable circumstances -- circumstances that also speak to the high demand for cheap editions of Dickens for popular readers.

This week’s book is a great example of both these phenomena: it’s a flimsy pamphlet edition of No Thoroughfare, by Dickens and English novelist and dramatist Wilkie Collins, published by T. B. Peterson & Brothers of 306 Chestnut Street in Philadelphia. No Thoroughfare began its life as a play by Dickens and Collins, premiering at the Adelphi Theatre in London in December 1867, followed by performances (often using versions of the script rather than the original) elsewhere in England, in Boston, Philadelphia, and Paris; pirated versions of the script were also used to stage unlicensed plays in Boston and New York. It was last professionally staged in Islington in 1903; it is the only Dickens-related dramatic work to have had no subsequent life on stage or screen. No Thoroughfare was the last play in which Dickens – a famously dedicated theater aficionado and amateur – was involved (he died in 1870) and also the most lucrative and successful. At around the same time that it appeared on stage, a novelized version of No Thoroughfare was published in the Christmas issue of the periodical All The Year Round and simultaneously in Boston’s Every Saturday magazine, published by Ticknor and Fields. Scholars believe that Collins was mainly responsible for the stage version and that Dickens was in charge of the novelization. In an attempt to cross-market the published version and the stage version, the novel is divided into five “acts” rather than into chapters and section headings often use theatrical jargon (“enter…”, “exit…”, etc.).
The original London cast of No Thoroughfare (1867)
The first stand-alone American editions of No Thoroughfare were not the novel but published versions of the play script – one issued by R. M. De Witt of New York in 1868 and which included “a description of…the whole of the stage business”, and one (renamed Identity: or, No Thoroughfare) by Samuel French of New York (French’s Standard Drama, number 348). In fact, No Thoroughfare was not included in any of the Dickens “Complete Works” collections until 1908 and it is rarely studied or reprinted outside of the comprehensive remit of the “Complete Works”. The reasons for the work’s obscurity are complex, but probably have to do with style more than anything else: though the novel contains many of the same themes and scenarios found in other late Dickens, it reads a bit like a cliché of those works. The plot is rather contrived and the genre quite melodramatic, though it’s easy to see how – with its sweeping tale of adventure, romance, murder, and suspense – it was popular on the late nineteenth-century stage.

It seems that (according to an investigation on WorldCat, at least) the Peterson & Brothers edition that I own was, in fact, the first stand-alone American edition of the novel (the true first American being, of course, its publication in Boston’s Every Saturday magazine). There is no publication date on the pamphlet itself, but cataloguers date it up until 1870. According to dealer Robert Davis of Gadshill, “Peterson had published the first collected works by Dickens in America, beginning ca, 1855, by buying out Lea and Blanchard of Philadelphia and other publishers and beginning to pay royalties to the author. The dating of Peterson issues can often be surmised from the list of Dickens titles in the ads or on the title page.” Using this system (as described by Davis for his copy of Peterson’s edition of Dombey and Son), I would estimate that the Peterson edition of No Thoroughfare appeared in 1868.

As a case study in using cautious skepticism when reading what dealers jot down on their copies, I’d point out that whomever the dealer was who was trying to sell this (I ended up getting it at auction), they penciled “1850?” in the upper outside corner of the front cover. The question mark is, of course, a bit of an understatement since the book itself wouldn't be written for another seventeen years after that date.

Peterson & Brothers published No Thoroughfare in its highly popular series of cheap pamphlets called “Petersons’ Cheap Edition For the Million”. The individual titles retailed for the very reasonable price of ten cents (about $1.58 in modern money) and the complete Dickens – “the cheapest edition of the works of Charles Dickens ever printed,” promises the ad on the back of No Thoroughfare – in seventeen octavo volumes each with a uniquely illustrated cover for only four dollars ($63.16 in modern money). “Now is the time,” trumpets an ad on the back, “for every person in the land, rich or poor, to club together and procure a set of Dickens’s Works”. Those who did “club together” – booksellers, news agents, reading clubs, libraries, and others ordering in bulk – enjoyed a 40% discount…which gives some idea of the kind of mark-up for a profit margin Peterson was putting on the books. Indeed, inspecting my copy of No Thoroughfare, it’s difficult to imagine that the publisher put anything like $1.58 worth of value into it.

Stab-stitches indicate that an item is a
pamphlet rather than a book
The pamphlet is stab-stitched with white thread; the outer paper wraps are a semi-glossy salmon color (called “buff” paper) with black ink for the advertising, title, and an illustration from a scene in the book. Inside the front cover is a detailed ad listing the prices for all the different kinds of Dickens editions Peterson & Brothers offers; inside the back cover is an ad for the company’s Cheap Edition of the Waverly Novels. The verso of the back advertises the complete Dickens. Inside, the book is printed on cheap newsprint stock with the text in two columns per page. Following the title-page, with the table of contents on the verso, the entire novel itself is 46 pages; thus, including the title-page/contents, it runs 24 leaves in octavo (the second and third gatherings are signed numerically in the lower margin beneath the left column of the recto page; the first gathering is not signed). There is no marginalia, but the copy is ragged on the edges (no text is lost, however), so it has clearly been read over the years. There is some foxing throughout and at some point tape was used to make some rudimentary repairs to the binding.

One thing that strikes me as odd is the pagination. After the title-page, the novel begins on p. 21 and ends on p. 66. Also, the title-page itself is not integral to the first gathering; rather, the final leaf of the gathering lacks a conjugate. What is going on here? Understanding how Peterson & Brothers made this pamphlet is important because it illuminates both an historical moment that gave rise to modern notions of overseas copyright and more broadly the idea of how literary texts were circulated through a physical “regurgitation” that ensured publishers of quick profits and readers of cheap, readily available books.

Dickens’s ferocious popularity in America during his lifetime gave rise to intense competition between publishers for his manuscripts, proof sheets, or anything else they could use to make and sell works by Dickens. Advances in the mechanization of printing that made it more efficient to print in volume and the development of new technologies for making truly cheap paper also both added fuel to this fire. This mania for cheap, mass produced Dickens reached its first crest in 1842, during a visit he paid to America; he left bitter and irate that so many publishers and booksellers were profiting off his creative work while he was seeing only marginal returns from the upsurge in the market. In 1867-8 he returned to America for a book tour (during this tour he corresponded by post with Wilkie about their joint project) and the furor took a more positive turn; a group of American publishers even organized in support of a new US-Great Britain mutual copyright bill. In April 1867, Dickens issued a statement that Ticknor and Fields was “the only authorized representatives in America of the whole series of my books.” This created problems for many American publishers, especially Ticknor’s prime competitor, Harper Brothers, but also Peterson, who had collaborated with Harper on many American editions of Dickens since before the 1850s. Peterson’s practice had been to buy advance sheets for serial runs from Harper’s Weekly and Harper’s Monthly, in effect obtaining (indirectly) priority over later publishers who took the trouble to obtain rights from London and Dickens directly. (For a summary of this affair, see, among others, Robert McParland, Charles Dickens’s American Audience [Lexington Books, 2010], esp. 59-62.)

So what does all this have to do with the “Cheap Edition” of No Thoroughfare? A quick search of dealers’ descriptions online reveals that the first printing of the novel, in the holiday number of Every Saturday, ran 48 pages. If two of those pages comprise the leaf that included a title or half-title, that would make the text the same length as that in Peterson’s “Cheap Edition”. Some dealers describe many pages of advertisements in the holiday Every Saturday; if there were several pages of other content and ads before the Dickens story, perhaps it began on page 21? Lacking access to a copy of the 1867 holiday Every Saturday, I can’t say for certain, but what this might mean is that Peterson & Brothers resorted to their old practice of binding together advance sheets from a serial and then re-selling that pamphlet under their own imprint. Essentially: scavenging, or, to use a modern term, pirating from a competing publisher. Lacking modern copyright laws, nineteenth-century publishers were known to resort to even more blatant forms of piracy than this, so it is plausible. The move gains an added edge when we recall the publisher of Every Saturday: Ticknor and Fields – the firm that, in April 1867, only eight months before the publication of No Thoroughfare, Dickens had declared his “only authorized” publisher, at the great expense of other firms, including T. B. Peterson & Brothers.

The image projected by this pamphlet is starkly at odds with the authoritative, heavy-tome image of Dickens. Instead of being a repository of Great Literature, this Dickens novel advertises itself and its contents as trivial and, literally, “cheap”, designed not for the elite, erudite scholar but for the “99%” of general readers, “the million”: the paper is the flimsiest available not unlike a "pulp" fiction novel of the mid-twentieth century, the text is compressed as if it were a magazine article, the content is quite possibly actually contraband, and the advertising all over the paper covers trumpets its easy availability for any and all. It was designed to be bought by the casual, working-class reader, used quickly, and then discarded; it was not designed to last – which is quite different from the image of Dickens’s writing as among the Great Classics of the English Canon meant to survive through all time.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Artful Book Binding of the Seventeenth Century

There are certain printers and publishers whose works must be part of any book collection that strives to assemble the most representative, important, and beautiful examples of the book as an historical artifact and an aesthetic object. Most of those works are, alas, far beyond the means of the modest book-collector (to say nothing of the grad student book collector). But every once in a while, a real gem falls into the patient collector’s hands.

This week’s book is a tiny volume that I obtained at New England Book Auctions earlier this month. The title is Catullus Tibullus Propertius Cum C. Galli Fragmentis quae extant – a collection of verses by the Roman elegiac poets Gaius Valerius Catullus, Albius Tibullus, and Sextus Aurelius Propertius, along with fragments by Gaius Cornelius Gallus. The book was published by Lowijs (that is, Louis) Elzevir (as was conventional, he used a Latinized forename in the imprint: Ludovici) in Amsterdam in 1651.

This mini-anthology of influential Roman poets was a standard publication for early Lowland stationers, appearing first in Antwerp in 1569 followed by a very successful edition at Amsterdam  by William Jansson Blaeu in 1619 and again in 1626, 1630, 1640. Elzevir’s edition may have comprised at least two different printings, though, lacking access to other copies, I’m not entirely certain to which my copy belongs.

To relate the history of the Dutch Elzevir (actually “Elzevier” but it has become Anglicized to “Elzevir”) family in full would require much more space and time than I can give here; for the interested reader, some excellent resources are available in print, including David Davies’s The World of the Elseviers, 1580-1712 (The Hague, 1954) and Edmund Goldsmid & Alphonse Willems’s very useful Complete Catalogue of All the Publications at the Elzevier Presses (1885; for my book, see i:80). The patriarch of the family, the original Louis Elzevir (the grandfather of the man who printed and published my book), was trained at various printing and bookselling firms around the Netherlands, most notably serving a turn with the master printer and innovator of the “Plantin” press, Christophe Plantin. By 1580, Elzevir was in Leiden, where he started the shop that would become a major family enterprise up until 1712 (though it underwent some geographical moves to various urban centers around the Netherlands and Belgium, including, by the time my book was printed, to Amsterdam).

In total, the family issued over 1,600 titles, including the last piece of writing by Galileo at a time when the astronomer’s works were forbidden in print by the Catholic Church. Without doubt, however, the most famous Elzevirs (the generic term used for their books) were the exquisite, artful tiny editions – mainly of classical authors – printed in the first three decades of the seventeenth century. These small publications are considered highly collectible, though the mania for them has fallen off since the nineteenth and eighteenth centuries. Elzevirs are notable for their decorative bindings, their clarity of type and ornamentation, the quality of their paper, and the neatness of their structure. So well-made were they that most have stood the test of time with confidence. My copy comes from the period just after this golden age, but it still demonstrates (in a later style) all of the same factors that made the Elzevirs of the 1620s and 1630s so popular. Goldsmid gives the following brief account of my book’s printer, Louis Elzevir III (1604-1670), of the third generation of the family:

In 1637, this son of Justus Elzevier, of Utrecht, established a bookselling business in Amsterdam, and in 1640 added to it a printing press; but many of his books for many years were printed by the Leyden House. Relations were also opened with the house of Hackius, of Leyden; and many books published by Louis issued from their presses; and so good was the work, so clear the type, that many books printed by Hackius might be compared with the best work of the Elzeviers themselves. Louis Elzevier was a man of vast knowledge, the intimate friend of Holstenius, Vossius, and Descartes. His affairs prospered, and the house of Amsterdam soon equalled in importance that of Leyden. Between 1640 and 1655, it produced 219 publications: a large number for one man to superintend. As we have seen, in this year he was joined by his cousin Daniel, and from that day the Amsterdam press produced the Latin Classics, 12mo, of which the Leyden House had had a monopoly. At the age of sixty, in 1664, Louis Elzevier withdrew from business. After that date, we only find his name on one book, the folio French bible of Desmarets, which appeared in 1669. It had been begun many years previously, and was one of the most splendid works produced by the Elzeviers. Thus Louis closed his career with a masterpiece. He died the following year, from a compound fracture of the leg. He left to his nephew Daniel most of his share in the house, and Daniel purchased the remainder from the executors. [xvii-iii]

In total, over his career, Louis III was apparently responsible for at least 381 titles in the span of 26 years, or approximately 15 editions per year.

One of those, of course, was the family’s only edition of Catullus. The book is a compact 6.5cm x 11.5cm; the paper is a well made laid stock with very faint horizontal chain-lines at 2.5 cm apart and no evident watermark. The edges of the pages are red all around. A blue silk marker is built into the binding. The binding itself is, being an Elzevir, a fantastic example of craftsmanship and – I confess – the reason I obtained the book: full calf boards over which on front and back is pasted a glossy paper that has been given a heavy surface sizing and then marbled in dark and light brown (the decorative sheet means that the only leather actually visible is along the spine and on the corner tips of the boards). The spine comprises five compartments separated by raised bands with gilding; in the second compartment is a gilded title (“Catullus”). Even more fantastic than the marbled paper on the boards are the endpapers: the front and rear fly-leaves and pastedowns are a heavy paper (again, given a good sizing, though not as deep as the paper on the boards) that has been slightly marbled with a rich blue background over which appears an elaborate white pattern of knotted lines, vines, and flowers. The papers were clearly cut out of a larger sheet that may have been used in Elzevir’s shop for endpapers in other books as well (to ascertain whether the binding was done in the shop or was done on commission by the owner -- as was common in the period -- it would be fruitful to compare this to other Elzevirs from 1650-1652).

I understand from some of my regular readers that they were saddened I did not provide a collation formula for the Beaumont and Fletcher folio several weeks ago. In an effort to redress this fault, I offer the following formula for this week’s book: 24o in 8s: [π2] A8-B8 (±B1) C8-P8 (±P8) Q8-R2 [#2]: $5 (- E4, F3, I1). The precise placement of the two cancellandum indicated in the formula [see photo, right], as well as the cancellans that replace them, is speculative; short of taking apart the binding to inspect conjugate pairs (which, of course, I won’t do, since I bought this book expressly for its binding) I cannot say for certain if B1 above should in fact be A8 and if P8 should be Q1.

The pagination runs for 131 leaves, [1-2] 3-70 [71-72] 73-128 [129-130] 131-260 [261-2]. The unpaginated internal leaves (71/2 and 129/30) are the section title-pages for Tibullus and Propertius. I found one intriguing error in the placement of a pagination number on D7v: the “62” is in the inner corner (that is, to the right of the running title) instead of the proper outer corner for a verso page; this suggests a momentary lapse of concentration on the part of the compositor. Otherwise, however, there are no errors in pagination or in catchwords either within or across gatherings. The page heads in the running titles throughout change depending upon the section of the book; slight variations across sheets within those sections indicates that a skeleton forme was not used.

The position of decorative devices and borders throughout the volume can help recreate the way in which the printing team executed their work. On A2r there appears an upper border and a decorative majuscule “C”. On E2r, after the “finis”, there is triangular vine device with what looks like (but isn’t) a set of numerals on top (80208). On E3v, the “finis” is followed by a device of a horned face surrounded by scrollwork above, flies to each side, and a crab below. The same upper border ornament and a decorative majuscule “A” of the same style as the “C” on A2r appears on E5r and – with an “S” this time – on I2r; the same horned head that appears on E3v is used on E5v. The numeral ornament appears again on H7v. An entirely new triangular ornament of a face surrounded by vines and flowers is used on I3v and again on R2v. The duplication of the horned head on E3v and E5v is the only place where one ornament, peculiarly, appears twice on a single sheet.

But perhaps the most peculiar fact about the disposition of devices and ornaments in the book is that with the exception of the one at the end of the book on R2v, they are absent from gatherings K through Q. This absence cannot be explained as a function of space-saving, as many of the places in which devices appear in the early gatherings (at the head of new chapters or as tail-pieces in the blank spaces beneath “finis”) continue into the later gatherings; similarly, the places where a decorative majuscule is used in the early gatherings are constrained to using simple majuscules in the late gatherings. I suspect that another practical explanation is most likely: Elzevir had another work in a different press at the same moment and the compositors in the shop were sharing a device case; the worker putting together the type for the other job monopolized the devices at the point when the worker on the Catullus was in gathering K of his (there is no clear evidence in the typography of the book to suggest that a second compositor took over in the latter half of the book, though this too is a possibility).

The contents, not including fly-leaves, are as follows: blank (not integral); title page with unattributed illustration of three poets at work and the nine muses watching, Pegasus on a cliff, and three geese overhead holding the book’s title (blank verso) (1-2); Pietro Crinito’s life of Catullus (3-6); selection of Catullus’s poems (7-67); the “Perviglium Veneris” with the note “quod quidam Catullo tribuunt” ["that some attribute to Catullus"] though the poem is probably by Tiberianus (68-70); the life of Tibulla from book three of Crinito’s book on Latin poets (73-6); Tibullus’s Equitis Romani (77-125); Ovid’s elegy on the “immaturam mortem” ["premature death"] of Tibullus (127-8); the life of Propertius, again from book three of Crinito (131-34); poems by Propertius (135-235); a brief life of Gallus from an unspecified source (236); poems by Gallus (237-54); three Gallus epigrams with notes by Aldus Manutius (255-9); a fragment from “dialogue four” of Giglio Giraldi’s history of poetry (260).

The book has seen some use. At least two readers have marked it up in slight ways. One reader used faint red underlining on many pages and other marginal notations (for example, a “4” beside a poem title on p. 151 [K4r] and an “x” beside titles on p. 190 [M7v], p. 202 [N5v], p. 228 [P2v]). In some places an attempt was made to erase the red underlining, which has subsequently weakened the paper and lightened the print – an example of how sometimes dealers’ and collectors’ urge for “clean” books can actually result in physical damage to the book itself (there are horror stories of attempts to bleach margins in old books defacing the book itself, to say nothing of wiping out any potentially valuable evidence of the book’s provenance or use). Another reader has added a few marks in gray pencil, including underlining two lines on p. 119 (H4r) and inserting (sometimes crudely formed) checkmarks in places (for example, p. 239 [P8r] and p. 244 [Q2v]). As with most marginalia, given time one could recuperate from the marked passages a sense of what these earlier readers’ interests and objectives might have been in reading (and possibly acquiring) this book. Another cryptic owner’s mark appears on the recto of the blank before the title-page. This mark, which may be an owner’s name, is written in an elaborate eighteenth-century hand with ornate flourishes, but it has become so worn that it is now nearly impossible to read.

A final owner’s “mark” accompanies the book, though it is not part of the volume itself. To protect the fine Elzevir binding, a thoughtful previous owner has fashioned a custom-made variation on a drop-spine box made of fine and sturdy red boards on the outside and containing a rectangular opening within a raised inner bed decorated with a marbled red paper that echoes slightly the marbled paper on the binding of the book itself. No doubt Louis Elzevir himself would be proud to see the product of his craftsmanship still very much intact and nestled safely in such a well-made but also elegant setting.