Historians often call attention to the tremendous influence the 1710 Statute of Anne had on the early English book trade. Commonly identified as the origin of modern copyright law, the Statute laid the foundations for fixed-term copyright in England, extended the ability to hold such copyrights to all individuals, and eventually toppled the monopoly that London booksellers had held on English printing since the incorporation of the Stationers’ Company in 1557.1
While scholars of the period generally agree that the Statute of Anne fundamentally transformed the early book trade, there is some debate over the ways the Statute influenced the geography of early English printing. By collecting and analyzing data on the features of works published in different geographic locations, the following study demonstrates that data-driven methods allow us to both extend and overturn a number of common claims concerning the geography of printing within the eigtheenth-century book market.
Provincial Printing After the Statute of Anne
One of the great debates surrounding the Statute of Anne concerns the degree to which the statute altered the geographical distribution of printers in the eighteenth-century book market. Prior to the passage of the Statute, legal historian Diane Zimmerman notes, the Stationers’ Company dominated the book industry, and because the company’s printers were primarily stationed in London, the book trade was also centered in the metropole. With the passage of the Statute of Anne, however, printers did not need to be members of the Stationer’s Company to publish works and hold copyrights. This meant, in the words of Zimmerman, that “Now any printer [or] bookseller, wherever located within the country, could register a copyright with the Company” and “since purchasers of the copies could be located anywhere in the United Kingdom, the Stationers’ Company did not regain its monopoly [on the book trade]” . On the other hand, legal historian William Patry argues that the Statute of Anne failed to undermine London’s control of the book trade, as he alleges that “After the Statute of Anne, as before, the only purchasers of authors’ works were a small group of London booksellers” .
To investigate this debate and several others in what follows, the present study utilizes the English Short Title Catalogue, a database that lists the authors, titles, imprint lines, publication dates, and many other metadata fields for each of the nearly half million English language volumes published between 1473 and 1800. While the ESTC is not without its share of problems, it represents, in the words of Stephen Tabor, “the fullest and most up-to-date bibliographical account of ‘English’ printing (in the broadest sense) for its first 328 years” [Tabor 367]. By extracting and cleaning the publication location for each of the ESTC’s half million records, one can begin to evaluate the competing claims of scholars such as Zimmerman and Patry. Setting aside the first hundred years of British printing, during which London was the unquestionable center of the British print trade, the following figure shows the number of titles published in each British county during each twenty year period from 1500-1800:
The figure above gives a high-level overview of the location of printers in the early British book market. Examining this plot one finds some evidence that supports Margaret Schotte’s observation that “Between [the creation of the Stationer’s Company in] 1557 and [the Licensing Act of] 1662 English book publishing was essentially limited to London, Oxford, and Cambridge, and further constrained by the 1643 Licensing Order” . After the 1662 Licensing Act formalized the procedure for setting up a printing press, one can see above, presses began to spread through the provinces at a fairly steady rate.
While the figure above shows the spread of provincial printing through the seventeenth century, it does not clearly indicate the concentration of printing in London before and after the 1710 Statute of Anne. To analyze London’s control of the early English book trade, the following plot records the share of all English-language publications printed in the English metropole from 1600-1800:
The data presented above suggests the decentralization of London printing begins not with the 1710 Statute of Anne but in fact several decades before. While London was responsible for the lion’s share of the British book trade until late in the seventeenth century, one can see above that at some point toward the end of the century its share of the book market began to drop precipitously.
In order to determine the breakpoint after which Lodon’s control of the printing industry fell into decline, one can fit a pair of linear regression models on London’s printing output using a technique known as “piecewise linear regression”. Performing this analysis allows one to identify two primary periods in London’s publishing history. The first of these periods (1600-1680) defines the period during which London dominated the British book market, printing roughly 85% of all English-language books. The second of these periods (1681-1800) marks the slow and steady decline of London’s control of the book market. Examining the trends outlined above, one finds evidence that suggests the crucial turning point in London’s control of the book market occurs not with the passage of the Statute of Anne, as scholars such as Diane Zimmerman have contended, but rather in the early 1680’s, roughly three decades before the 1710 Statute of Anne was enacted.
The timing of London’s loss of control of the book market is significant. The year 1679 saw the lapse of the 1662 Licensing Act, the legal Act that vested the Stationer’s Company with monopoly control over the book market. In order to regulate the printing industry and prevent the spread of blasphemy and heresy in printed works, the 1662 Act stipulated that “no private person or persons whatsoever shall att any time hereafter print or cause to be printed any Booke or Pamphlet whatsoever unlesse … [it] be first entred in the Booke of the Register of the Company of Stationers of London” [Nipps 495-6]. The 1662 Act famously lapsed in 1695, marking in the words of John Feather “the most important event in the history of the English book trade between the chartering of the Stationer’s Company in 1557 and the initiation of the Net Book Agreement in 1900” . However, the 1662 Act previously lapsed in 1679, which left London authorities “hampered in their attempts to regulate the output of the press” [Crist 49]. As Hugh Amory has noted, the “temporary lapse of the Licensing Act from 1679 to 1685 fostered a … diaspora of printers and booksellers from London to the British Colonies” [Amory 750], and allowed a range of provincial printers to enter the publishing industry. London’s fall from dominance in the English print trade coincides exactly with this radical disruption of early copyright restrictions.
Much of the subsequent decline of the London book trade over the eighteenth century can be explained by the growth of printing in major metropolitan areas outside of London, such as Edinburgh (responsible for 6.5% of all editions in the ESTC) and Dublin (5.4%), which claimed the second and third overall largest shares of the book trade after London, according to the data available within the ESTC:
The analysis above extends a number of earlier claims detailing statutory copyright’s effect on the geography of English printing. As Diane Zimmerman contends, English printing outside of London spreads steadily after the 1710 Statute of Anne, and the elite London printers never regained the control of the book market they held before the enactment of the Statute. Drawing on the analysis above allows us to extend Zimmerman’s narrative, however, to account for the fact that the decentralization of English printing in fact began with the lapse of the Licensing Act in 1679, a pivotal legal event that transpired a third of a century before the enactment of the 1710 Statute of Anne. At the same time, the results above help validate William Patry’s assertion that London printers remained a fundamental influence in the book market throughout the eighteenth century. Even at the end of the century, London commanded nearly half of the English language book trade, even if its share in the book trade was steadily falling.
Dublin, Edinburgh, and the Early Reprint Trade
Analyzing the growth of printing outside of London, book historians have often called attention to the role the reprint trade played in the growth of book markets beyond the metropole. In short, they argue, when the Statute of Anne introduced a statutory regime that regulated the London book market and extended printing rights to all English cities, it created a plethora of opportunities for publishers outside of London to reprint successful London works for easy financial gain. Drawing upon rhetoric originally advanced by fearful London printers, scholars have often cast a particularly critical eye on Dublin and Edinburgh, identifying the pair of cities as the two epicenters of a questionable reprint trade. As we shall see, however, analyzing the reprint trade at scale allows us to significantly revise some of these received critical narratives.
There is good reason to believe the Statute of Anne facilitated the growth of the reprint trade outside of London. In the first place, as book historian Mary Pollard notes, the Statute of Anne pertained only to Great Britain, and thus created an incentive system that rewarded British printing but could not punish those who reprinted British titles in Ireland or the American colonies . At the same time, the Statute of Anne also created opportunities for a reprint trade within Scotland, for as Warren McDougall observes, London monopolists were required to take claims of Scottish piracy to the Scottish supreme civil court (the Court of Session), which denied the London publishers’ arguments for perpetual copyright in 1747, upholding instead the Statute of Anne’s fixed term copyright provisions . This legal setting effectively made both works with expired copyrights and works that were not entered in the Stationers’ Record fair game for the budding Irish and Scottish reprint trades.
London publishers naturally decried the growth of the reprinting industry in Dublin and Edinburgh [Podhurst 311]. In a 1702 letter to the Archbishop of Dublin William King, the diplomat Robert Southwell helped outline the London trade’s fear of Irish reprinters: “lett my Lrd’s care be never soe strict, yett the Printers [in Dublin] will strike off and send over, whether correct or incorrect, such Number of Copys as may spoile his Markett here” . Later in the century, Samuel Richardson became one of many novelists who could attest the veracity of Southwell’s claim when his novel Sir Charles Grandison was leaked prematurely by a band of Dublin printers. Shortly after the unauthorized publication of his work, Richardson attacked the Irish reprinters with a vitriolic pamphlet, arguing that “It has been customary for the Irish Booksellers to make a Scramble among themselves who should first intitle himself to the Reprinting of a new English Book; and happy was he, who could get his Agents in England to send him a Copy of a supposed saleable Piece, as soon as it was printed, and ready to be published” . By mid-century, London booksellers began a series of legal battles against the reprint trade in Ireland and Scotland. These battles culminated in the Millar v. Taylor and Donaldson v. Beckett cases we will analyze subsequently, during which dozens of London booksellers accused Scottish publishers of “printing, reprinting, or importing, or publishing and exposing to the Sale” countless “Books … without Consent of the Proprietors” .
Drawing upon rhetoric advanced by these London monopolists, contemporary scholars have often emphasized the role the reprint trade played in the book markets of both Dublin and Edinburgh. In the case of the Dublin book market, Máire Kennedy has argued that “The prosperity of the Dublin book trade in the eighteenth century was largely due to the reprint business” . Mary Pollard has echoed this argument: “Considered merely as a reprinter of London books,” Pollard writes, “the Dublin book trade looks like a pale and inferior reflection of that of London. As something of a phenomenon in its very rapid development in the eighteenth century, however, it deserves study in its own right, not in spite of its reprints but because its prosperity was largely based on them” . To pave the way for a thorough examination of these and other related claims, this study leverages a new database of edition reprints discovered using methods discussed in the following section.
Identifying Reprints: Data and Methods
The present study uses the similarity between imprint titles in the English Short Title Catalogue to identify edition reprints. To capture these similarities, the titles from each of the ~500,000 documents in the ESTC were transformed into a series of hashes using the “minhash” algorithm, where each of these minhashes gives a lossy representation of the content within a given document title [Broder 1997]. Each of these hashes was added to a Locality Sensitive Hash index [Leskovec 73], and those document pairs that shared similar titles were identified as reprints.
This analysis made it possible to group nearly all ESTC records that were either first editions or reprints of another record into groups of records, where each group of records contains all of the editions for a given title. The full dataset of clustered editions is available for download;2 a subset is displayed below. Click a title to view all discovered editions:
For works that underwent slight title changes between editions, the method described above works quite well. For works that underwent radical title changes beteween editions, however, such as John Barrow’s New Book of Psalmody [T167455], later retitled to The Psalm-Singer’s Choice Companion [T167494], this method will fail to cluster the new title with the earlier editions. Conversely, the edition clustering method described above will wrongly cluster two different works with highly similar titles, such as Before … the Lords Commissioners of Appeals for Prizes. Johanna and Maria Hans Jans Backer [T3420] and the similarly titled Before … the Lords Commissioners of Appeal in Causes of Prize … The respondent’s case [T3566]. Manual review of these edition groups suggested that neither of these problems affected more than roughly 5% of the results.
Mapping the Early Reprint Trade
From the full set of edition data described above, one can identify the number of times each city reprinted works across the eighteenth century. Because the most prominent publishing cities operated at vastly different scales, however, to make these numbers comparable it is helpful to “normalize” these reprint rates by the annual number of publications in each city. The resulting values indicate the percent of a city’s publishing output that was dedicated to reprinting already-printed works:
Rates of reprinting were evidently fairly steady across the eighteenth century in most major publishing cities. Two intriguing exceptions are Dublin and Edinburgh, both of which witnessed a declining reprint trade in the mid 1770’s that may be partially explained by the changing legal circumstances of English case law during the period.3 As we noted above, special legal circumstances permitted the Dublin and Edinburgh book trades to reprint popular London editions in the eighteenth century. English printers, by contrast, were prevented from publishing reprints by the English common law tradition, which disregarded the fixed term copyright clauses in the Statute of Anne and upheld instead a “perpetual” copyright system in which copyrights never expired. However, the monumental Donaldson v. Beckett decision dismantled the perpetual copyrght system in 1774, and instituted instead the fixed-term copyright provisions laid out in the Statute of Anne. The institution of fixed-term copyright law in 1774 allowed printers all over England to join the reprint trade, which may well help to account for the downturn in both the Dublin and Edinburgh reprint trades during the remaineder of the century.
While the figure above shows the proportion of reprints within each city’s printing output, it gives no indication of the magnitude of each city’s reprint trade. This is an important distinction, as many scholars have argued that Dublin and Edinburgh were the two critical drivers of the reprint trade in the eighteenth century. Indeed, according to book historian Michael F. Suarez, “From the 1740s onwards, Dublin was the center of the reprint trade, but London and even provincial reprints were not uncommon” . Analyzing reprint rates across the entire ESTC catalogue, however, suggests that London’s reprint trade dwarfed those of all other cities during the eighteenth century:
As we noted above, Michael F. Suarez and others have argued that Dublin and Edinburgh were central components of Britain’s reprint industry. Examining the figure above, however, demonstrates that London published more edition reprints during the eighteenth century than all other British cities combined, an observation that should help temper future claims about the importance of the Irish and Scottish reprint trades within the wider British book market.
The Quality of Reprinted Volumes
The analysis above helps show the scale and market share of the reprint trade within several prominent publishing cities, but it gives little indication of the distinctive qualities of each city’s print output. Recent scholarship has attempted to sketch these qualities by outlining the cheap quality of Irish reprints in particular, arguing that Dublin reprints used smaller typefaces, tighter page margins, and smaller edition sizes than those of their competitors, all of which conspired to allow Dublin printers to hawk lower quality editions of London works at greatly reduced prices. Scholars such as James Raven have argued that “cheaper paper”, “closer printing”, and “sometimes hidden abridgement” allowed Dublin printers to create cheaper editions of successful London works . Michael F. Suarez has echoed these claims, arguing that in Dublin reprints “[p]ages were typically more crowded: type sizes were sometimes smaller, margins more narrow, and type was often ‘set solid’ (i.e. without leading)” . Likewise, Colm Lennon has argued that “[t]he real profitability of the Irish book trade in the eighteenth century lay in the production of cheap reprints of English works for which the booksellers and printers in Ireland were not obliged to pay copyright fees. These books were produced on less expensive paper, in smaller sizes such as duodecimo, and with much lower print runs than were characteristic of the English editions” .
While remarks on the cheap nature of Irish reprints have become commonplaces in contemporary scholarship, there is little in the way of quantitative evidence measuring the quality of Dublin or Edinburgh reprints against those produced in cities such as London. Leveraging the page images from the Eighteenth Century Collections Online database allows one to extract such quantitative evidence, as one can now analyze millions of digitized pages to assess features such as words per page ratios and relative margin sizes across millions of pages of text. Using an “ink to page” ratio—or a measure of the percent of a page covered in ink—as a measure of the amount of whitespace on a page, for example, one can say the higher this ratio, the more cramped a given text is. As an example of this kind of measurement, we can examine editions of Robinson Crusoe published in London, Edinburgh, and Dublin:
Using simple computational processes, one can divide each of these editions into a list of page images, then measure the “ink to page” ratio of each. The resulting values give a measure of the degree of whitespace in each volume:
Examining the figure above, one can see that the Dublin printing of Robinson Crusoe is indeed more crowded than either the Edinburgh or London editions, as nearly every page of the Dublin edition has a greater ink to page ratio than either of the other two editions.
As one might suspect, however, analyzing only three editions of a single novel offers rather limited insight into general trends of print density in the eighteenth-century book market. By analyzing the ink to page ratios of each page printed within London, Edinburgh, and Dublin across the entirety of the century, one can demonstrate that the annual ink to page ratio of Dublin reprints was in fact only 1% higher on average than that of London reprints:
All three primary printing cities witnessed a dramatic decline in ink to page ratios across the century. As economic conditions improved and books became an increasingly common commodity in the marketplace, publishers evidently began publishing increasingly luxurious editions outfitted with more whitespace and less cramped margins than earlier publications. These more luxurious editions evidently succeeded more readily in a marketplace that could afford to pay higher rates for less crowded editions.
If Dublin reprints had competitive ink to page ratios, however, several other features help reveal the cheaper quality of Dublin reprints within the early book market. In particular, Dublin reprints, like early Edinburgh reprints, tended on the whole to include far fewer images than their London counterparts:
Image production was expensive in the early printing industry, which meant only more luxurious editions could afford to include graphical elements. The cheaper quality of Dublin printing is revealed quite readily by the fact that London printers published more than twice the number of images in Dublin volumes annually.
The clarity of individual printed characters and words may serve as another marker of quality within early printed materials. Even a cursory examination of the page scans within ECCO helps demonstrate that Dublin imprints were less well articulated than those of London. The following collection of the word “print” within London, Edinburgh, and Dublin editions, for example, helps show the fainter imprints within Dublin that resulted from cheaper printing technologies:
To scale the analysis above to the scale of the 32 million page images within ECCO, one can analyze each volume’s page-level OCR confidence. This value indicates the degree to which the Optical Character Recognition program believes it has successfully transcribed the words within a given page image. The higher this number, the higher the quality of imprints on the page. Analyzing the mean annualized page-level OCR confidence values shows that both Dublin and Edinburgh printing contained noticably less legible impressions than the higher-quality London editions:
The data presented above suggest that imprint quality rose steadily across the first half of the eighteenth century in all three major publishing cities. In the last quarter of the century, however, the imprint quality within the Dublin reprint trade began to fall rapidly. This decline in quality within Dublin reprints may well have been encouraged by London’s increased presence in the reprint trade following the Donaldson v. Beckett ruling. As more high-quality London editions entered the 1774 reprint trade, Dublin printers may well have pivoted to take on more control of the lower-quality stanchion within the reprint market. In this way, the Donaldson v. Beckett decision may be seen as a force that encouraged further market specialization in the eighteenth-century reprint trade.
In addition to printing fewer images and creating weaker imprints than elite London printers, early eighteenth-century printers in both Edinbugh and Dublin also tended to squeeze more words onto the printed page. Analyzing the full run of publications within each major publishing city shows a much higher average word density among Dublin and Edinburgh publications than more settled London publications:
The figure above helps substantiate the claims of scholars such as Michael F. Suarez and James Raven, who have argued that Dublin printers tended to publish more crowded pages than London publishers. The figure also demonstrates that words per page ratios fell dramatically over the course of the eighteenth century. Much like the trend in ink to page ratios, the steady decrease within word density helps show that as consumers grew more affluent, they demanded more luxurious editions that could afford greater allocations of whitespace. Dublin and Edinburgh book markets were evidently more affected by these changing market demands, as their printing output changed far more swiftly than did that of London. Even by the end of the century, however, both Dublin and Edinburgh continued to publish works with higher words per page ratios than London editions, indicating both cities were publishing lower quality editions than London print houses.
One final marker of the lower station of Dublin and Edinburgh reprints is the size of volumes printed in each city. During the eighteenth century, larger format volumes, such as folio and quarto editions, were more expensive and more luxurious than smaller size editions such as octavo and duodecimo formats. Analyzing the full set of volumes published in each major publishing city reveals that while London printers often published reprints in larger format editions, Dublin printers tended towards smaller and more affordable octavo and duodecimo size reprints:
Curiously, all three major publishing cities witnessed a rise in duodecimo reprints across the century. In the final quarter of the century, however, the Edinburgh and Dublin trades began to specialize, with Edinburgh taking control of more of the quarto market and Dublin taking control of more of the duodecimo reprint market. Much as Dublin and London assumed greater respective control of the higher and lower quality stanchions of the reprint trade in the last quarter of the century, Dublin and Edinburgh began to take greater control of different sized formats after the midcentury period.
By leveraging computational methods to analyze data from both the English Short Title Catalogue and the Eighteenth-Century Collections Online database, this study leverages new quantitative evidence to better understand the ways early copyright provisions helped transform the geography of the eighteenth-century print trade in Britain. We found that the lapse of the licensing act in 1679 inspired London printers to relocate to the American colonies and smaller British towns, which allowed a rich provincial printing trade to begin challenging the hegemony of London publishers.
To better understand the ways printers outside of the English capital sought to compete with the London book market, the study above introduces a new database of reprinted editions and focuses in particular on the ways printers in Dublin and Edinburgh leveraged legal protections to create robust publishing industries built on the publication of volumes that had already succeeded in London. We show that the 1774 Donaldson v. Beckett decision, which is often seen as a victory for the Scottish reprint trade, in fact allowed London printers to achieve even greater control over the reprint industry. Furthermore, we present quantitative evidence that suggests that the Donaldson decision also encouraged further segmentation within the reprint market, allowing the Dublin printers to take greater command of the lower-quality stanchions of the reprint market.
Finally, to analyze the ways publishers in different geographic locations sought to differentiate themselves within the eighteenth-century book market, the study above studies a number of formal characteristics of volumes reprinted in each of the three primary publishing cities. We present quantitative evidence that suggests Dublin publishers in particular tended to publish cheaper quality reprints with fewer images, more condensed text, weaker impressions, and in smaller, more affordable formats. At the same time, however, we also demonstrate that analyzing the formal features of reprints from the three primary publishing cities allows for insights into the evolving nature of the early book market. In particular, the analsis above suggests that as economic conditions improved and books became an increasingly common commodity in the marketplace, printers in all major publishing cities began publishing increasingly luxurious editions outfitted with more whitespace and less cramped margins. In short, leveraging computational methods to study the geography of the early English book trade offers a number insights into transformations of both readership and publishing patterns within the eighteenth-century book market.
1. Prior to the enactment of the Statute of Anne (1710), only members of the printers’ guild known as the Stationer’s Company and printers given special royal dispensation could hold copyrights and print works. Because the Stationer’s Company was based in London, the print trade was centered to a great degree in the metropole as well. As John Feather has written, “The concentration of skill and capital in London, the consequence of 150 years of a legally enforced collective monopoly, was so great that there could be no real provincial competition” . Echoing these claims, Elizabeth Baxter Child has pointed out that “Only after the Statute of Anne in 1710 . . . did provincial and Scottish printers and booksellers begin to challenge the hegemony of the London book trade” . ↩
2. The reprint database available for download is organized as a nested array, where subarray members denote the ESTC record identifiers for all titles in a discovered title cluster. Metadata for each of these ESTC record identifiers may be retrieved from the English Short Title Database hosted by the British Library. ↩
3. In his study of the Edinburgh reprint trade, Richard Sher has argued that “the timing of the Edinburgh reprinting explosion suggests that the Lords’ decision in Donaldson v. Becket in 1774 did not constitute the turning point in book-trade practice that some scholars have thought it to be” . Examining the rate of Edinburgh reprints as a percent of all publishing in Edinburgh, however, one can see that Edinburgh reprint rates reach their high water mark immediately following the 1774 decision. At the same time, this decision only led to roughly 15% growth in the Edinburgh reprint industry, while some scholars have argued that the 1774 Donaldson decision fundamentally transformed the reprint trade. ↩
4. The 1739 Act restricting the importation of books originally published in England and Wales (12 Geo. II, c. 36 ) was officially titled “An Act for prohibiting the Importation of Books reprinted Abroad, and first composed or written, and printed in Great Britain; and for repealing so much of an Act made in the eighth year of the Reign of her late Majesty Queen Anne, as impowers the limiting of Prices of Books”. Originally scheduled to expire in 7 years time, the act was extended by a series of subsequent statutes (20 Geo. II c. 47, 27 Geo. II. c. 18, 33 Geo II. c. 17, 7 Geo. III c. 35, 13 Geo. III c. 13, 20 Geo. III c. 55); the last of these identified extensions expired in 1795. ↩