Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Mary Motley Reading, ca.1860


As you can see above, written in pencil across the top of the old matte for this photo is “Mary Motley” (left image); on the bottom verso is “a Hall, I’ll bet. not [sure] photo of.” (right image) I take it that Hall is a family name, suggesting this is Mary Motley, née Hall.


I have dated the photo to ca.1860, i.e., the Civil War era, based on the fact that Mary is sitting in a formal pose, with her her hair pulled back tightly, covering her ears; the fitted silk-taffeta dress with a row of buttons down the front is somewhat similar to the one seen here (final photo), dated to 1861. There is no photographer’s name on the verso, as is often the case with these early photos.

Saturday, 6 December 2014

A Catalogue of Advertised Books

In 1970, R. J. Roberts mentioned an intriguing “scheme put up by Mr. David Foxon for an eighteenth-century catalogue based on advertisements for new books” (in his “Towards a Short-Title Catalogue of English Eighteenth-Century Books,” The Journal of Library History, vol.2, no.4 (October 1970): 253). At the time, planning for the ESTC was in the infancy. Roberts’ article was comprised of reflections and advice on how to carry out an ESTC, written in the hope of seeing such a project started.

Roberts’ article certainly makes interesting reading today, especially the sections on “A Catalogue of Advertised Books” and on rarity (249: a “useful function” in a short-title catalogue that is “frequently despised and much abused”!). Roberts quotes at length from Foxon’s “proposals [which] were duplicated for limited circulation” (262n10), but I can find no further reference to Foxon’s proposals online—either quoted, referenced or catalogued—so I have transcribed all of the text that Roberts quotes.

  The aims of this project are twofold. For many purposes precise dating of the publication of books and pamphlets is important, and generations of scholars have thumbed through the Burney Newspapers in the British Museum in search of advertisements for a handful of books. This is an appalling waste of scholarly time, and has resulted in much wear and tear on this collection of newspapers, which is now coming to the end of its safe life. At the same time the Burney Newspapers have many gaps, and probably contain no more than 60–70 per cent of the extant issues of newspapers; but to supplement these files by searching the other files scattered across the world is beyond the capacity of individual workers. In the first place, then, this project would provide precise dating of new publications, and would frequently produce details of publication and price not to be found in the books themselves, as well as providing information on advertising methods and policies.
  The second aim, therefore, will be achieved in the process of reaching the first, in the production of a catalogue of eighteenth-century books which were advertised, with locations of copies. This will differ from previous short-title catalogues in being selective; but the books which are advertised will represent over 95 percent of those of interest to modern scholars, though they are a much smaller proportion of the books actually published.


Roberts thought that Foxon’s plan would be easier to implement than a full-blown ESTC, but was was “not convinced that advertisements are always truthful,” and cautioned that such a catalogue “would undoubtedly produce a high proportion of books which are no longer extant.”

From my experience, searching for advertisements for extant books, and extant copies of books advertised, Roberts is certainly right. Nevertheless, Foxon is also right. Even with the Burney collection of newspapers available to be searched online: searching for advertisements remains “an appalling waste of scholarly time”!

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Baker Street Reader, ca.1866


As you can see, above, this young woman was photographed in the sudio of Window and Bridge, just three hundred metres from Sherlock Holmes' digs at 221b Baker Street, London. (In fact, not only was this photo taken twenty years before Arthur Conan Doyle located Holmes in Baker Street, no.85 was the last number in Baker Street until 1930—as Wikipedia explains here.)


Helping to date this carte de visite, PhotoLondon has an entry (here) for the partnership between Frederick Richard Window and Henry Gawler Bridge, which lasted from 1862 to 1866; and there are a few Window and Bridge portraits online (see Henriette Jelf-Sharp, 1865 here and the anonymous “Standing lady,” ca.1867 here [bottom left]. 


Since we can see the ears of our reader, her hair is up, and her pose is less formal than that of Henriette, it is likely that this photo dates from quite late in the partnership, probably late in 1866.

Saturday, 29 November 2014

A Favourite Parlour Game: How Rare are Eighteenth-Century Books?

A few times now (here and here) I have quoted a comment made by Peter Opie in his Accession Diaries

It took me some time before I realised that 'rare books are common.' I probably acquire an item or two which is unique, or almost unique, every month of the year.

Opie's "rare" and "common" sound like they mean something, but this paradoxical-sounding comment suggests that they are, in reality, meaningless terms. Most collectors know from experience that rare and common are assessments made by dealers and collectors based on a combination of personal experience and knowledge of the experience of others (gleaned for reference works, catalogues, a lifetime of browsing in shops etc.).

John Carter says: "The definition of 'a rare book' is a favourite parlour game among bibliophiles" (ABC for book collectors, 8th ed. (2006), 183), but goes on to differentiate Absolute, Relative, Temporary and Localised rarity. Geographical rarity has lost most of its meaning thanks to the Internet and, partly for this reason, I suspect that temporal rarity has too. (It is now easy to collect books which do not exist at all in Australia, or which previously may have appeared among local dealers only once in a generation.)

For eighteenth-century books, absolute rarity—the number originally printed—is certainly a limit (editions larger than one thousand appear to have been quite uncommon), but the primary consideration for collectors and dealers is clearly relative rarity, which Carter defines as "A property only indirectly connected with the number of copies printed. It is based on the number which survive, its practical index is the frequency of occurrence in the market, and its interest is the relation of this frequency to public demand."

Carter suggests online catalogues like the English Short-Title Catalogue (union catalogue of books printed in English or in English-speaking countries up to 1800; here) promise to make it possible to list "all surviving copies of a book" (184). Anyone who uses ESTC regularly will know how few copies survive of most of the books printed before 1800: as my sample suggests, few works survive in numbers larger than one hundred. I have often wondered what the statistics are across the whole of the ESTC for the number of copies recorded for each item, but I know that some types of material are more likely to survive than others, large formats, "collectible" and highly-regarded authors etc.

My own experience, maintaining my Bibliography of Haywood over the last ten years, also suggests that—as ESTC grows to include more and more institutional collections, as it becomes more comprehensive in its coverage—it is more likely that more copies will be added of books which already survive in the large numbers. That is, common books become more common.

But returning to our "parlour game" and the statement "rare books are common"—the best antiquarian dealers tend to precision ("no copy sold at auction since 1984," "only two copies on ESTC" etc.), but I have long preferred the Rarity Scales used by coin collectors (see here). There is a gloriously-empirical Universal Rarity Scale, which I think should/could be used by dealers and collectors of ESTC books.

Rarity  Number of known coins

URS 0  None known
URS 1  1, unique
URS 2  2
URS 3  3 or 4
URS 4  5 to 8
URS 5  9 to 16
URS 6  17 to 32
URS 7  33 to 64
URS 8  65 to 125
URS 9  126 to 250
URS 10  251 to 500

This is almost an exponential scale: 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, 256, 1024. Applying this scale to my own very modest collection of 420 ESTC items

URS 1  1, unique (11: 2.62%)
URS 2  2 (12: 2.86%)
URS 3  3 or 4 (17: 4.05%)
URS 4  5 to 8 (68: 16%)
URS 5  9 to 16 (87: 21%)
URS 6  17 to 32 (121: 29%)
URS 7  33 to 64 (79: 19%)
URS 8  65 to 125 (23: 5.48%)
URS 9  126 to 250 (2: 0.48%)
URS 10  251 to 500 (0)

(Note, "URS 0 None known" is impossible since, if I have it, I know of a copy—i.e., none of these unique items are on ESTC and, from the perspective of ESTC, all of these are "none known").

This example suggests that the scale is not ideal: it has a peak at URS 6 (which, with URS 4,5,7 constitutes 85%), and is pretty flat at URS 0–3 and URS 8–10. A better scale might require a lower multiplication factor. Rather than multiplying by two each time, if we were to multiply 1.5 by 1.5 etc., and round to whole numbers, the sequence is: 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 11, 17, 26, 38, 58, 87, 130. Using my proposed PS Scale:

PSS 1  1, unique (11: 2.62%)
PSS 2  2 (12: 2.86%)
PSS 3  3 or 4 (17: 4.05%)
PSS 4  5 to 7 (51: 12.04%)
PSS 5  8 to 10 (38: 9.05%)
PSS 6  11 to 16 (66: 15.71%)
PSS 7  17 to 25 (76: 18.10%)
PSS 8  26 to 37 (63: 15.00%)
PSS 9  38 to 57 (53: 12.62%)
PSS 10  58 to 87 (21: 5%)
PSS 11  88 to 130 (10: 2.38%)
PSS 12  131+ (2: 0.48%)

There is a peak at PSS 7 (which is more modest and, with PSS 6,8,9, constitutes only 61%), and a more even distribution above and below.

Two other rarity scales used by coin collectors are the Sheldon rarity scale and the Scholten Rarity Scale. The Sheldon scale ranges from "R1 Common, readily available" to "R8 Unique, or nearly so"; most eighteenth-century books would be at the upper end of the scale (R5 to R8) and only a few of the most common books would sit at R5 (Rare - unlikely more than five at shows or auctions each year)—leaving only three grades for the rest:

R6  Very rare - Almost never seen, only one may be offered for sale in a year’s time [=URS 5 to 7?]
R7  Prohibitively rare - one may be offered for sale once every few years [=URS 2 to 5?]
R8  Unique, or nearly so [=URS 0 to 2?]

The advantage of the Sheldon rarity scale is that it picks up Carter's "frequency of occurrence in the market"—which is important. Some books are not uncommon in institutions but are extremely rare outside of them. (There are scores of Haywood items, for instance, which are recorded in numerous copies, which I have never seen for sale: like a first of Betsy Thoughtless). But, like the numerical Universal Rarity Scale, only a short section of the scale applies to ESTC items and so this scale would also have to be adapted. Which, if I were a dealer, I'd be tempted to do. As a bibliographer, I am not sure I can justify spending any more time on this parlour game.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Chatteris Family Bible, 1599


On three blank pages between the Old and New Testaments, in a “1599” Geneva Bible (above; the date is false, the Bible was probably printed after 1640) appears some genealogical records in an early hand. The pages were filled up out of sequence. I reproduce them and transcribed them below (in the logical sequence) in case they are of any use to descendants of Edward and Grace Chatteris (which seems to be the correct spelling of Chatterris).

It seems that Edward and Grace had thirteen children, four of whom are recorded as having married or had children of their own (Edward [no.5], Henry, John and Elizabeth [nos. 10, 11, 12]). The genealogical account focusses on John’s three children, especially his son Cornelius, who is recorded as having three children of his own by the first decade of the eighteenth century, when the records stop.

From the fact that most of the details concerning Edward and Grace are recorded in one hand in an orderly fashion and, it seems, at one time, I assume that the Bible was owned by John who, in ca.1676, recorded all of these details concerning his family. From the focus of the later entries it seems that that he passed the Bible down to Cornelius; if so, the two later handwriting styles are probably those of Cornelius and Sarah his wife, whose final entry records the death of Cornelius in very faint ink.

The only other name to appear in this Bible is John Peacock, who recorded that this was “His Book” on 10 January 1795.

* * * * *

[page one]

Edward Chatterris and Grace Smith were Marryed on the first day of May in the year 1629

Edward Chatterris Husband to Grace Chatterris was buryed September the 16th in the year 1654

Grace, the Wife of Edward Chatterris was Bureyed December 1681

[2] Two twins Born in the year 1630 and was Buryed before they were Baptised

[3] Margaret Chatterris Daughter to Edward Chatterris & to Grace his wife was Baptised November the 20th 1631. And was Buryed December the 24th in the year 1651

[4] One other child Born in the year 1652 and Buryed before it was baptised

[5] Edward Chatterris sonn to Edward Chatterris & to Grace his wife was Baptised August the 31th in the year 1634. And was Buryed

[6] Grace Chatterris Daughter to Edward Chatterris & to Grace his Wife was Baptised March 26th in the year 1637. And was Buryed on the 23th of October in the year 1639

[7] Annis Chatterris Daughter to Edward Chatterris & to Grace his Wife was Baptised February the 11th in the year 1638. And was Buryed on the 27th of November in the year 1639

[8] Grace Chatterris Daughter to Edward Chatterris & to Grace his Wife was Baptised on the 4th of October in the year 1640. And was Buryed on the 29th of December in the year 1651

[9] William Chatterris son to Edward Chatterris & to Grace his Wife was Baptised on the 23th of April in the year 1643. And was Buryed on the 25th of May in the year 1646

[10] Henry Chatterris son to Edward Chatterris & to Grace his Wife was Baptised on the 6th of April in the year 1645. And was Buryed on the 21st of May in the year 167[.]

* * * * *

[page two]

[11] John Chatterris son to Edward Chatterris & to Grace his Wife was Baptised on the 17th of October in the year 1647.

John Chatterris & Sarah Fring[.] was Married January 29th 1674

[12] Elizabeth Chatterris Daughter to Edward Chatterris & to Grace his Wife was Baptised on the 23th of May in the year 1649.

William Crosby & Eliz: Chatterris were Married Janua: 30th 1672

[13] Job Chatterris son to Edward Chatterris & to Grace his Wife was Baptised on the 2nd of August in the year 1654. And was Buryed on the [ ]th of June in the year 1673

[1] Cornelius Chatterris son to John Chatterris & Sarah his Wife was Baptised on the 21th day of November in the year 1675.

[2] John Chatterris son of John Chatterris & Sarah his Wife, was born June ye 23th 1677. And he was buryed October the 28th in the same year.

[3] Sarah Chatterris Daughter to John Chatterris and to Sarah his Wife was born January the 15th a bought tenn of the clok in the fore none and was Baptised January the 26th in the year of our Lord 1685.

John Chatterris was buryed March the 13 & buryed at Conington, 1688

Sarah Chatterris wife to John Chatterris was buryed att Conington October the 30 1689

Cornelius Chatterris son of John Chatterris & Sarah his Wife was maryed to Sarah [Smithe?] at Croxton November the 25 [1745?]

* * * * *

[page three]

Edward Chatterris & Joyce Prynne were marryed on the fourth day of November in the year 1664

Joyce the wife of Edward Chatterris Departed this life June the seventh 1672; whose Body Lyeth buryed at Little Waltham in Essex

Edward Chatterris was buryed the 4 day of October 1678

John and William Chatterris sons to Cornelius Chatterris and to Sarah his wife was born September the 26 170[.]

William Chatterris was buryed November the 15 170[.]

John Chatterris was buryed March the 20 170[.]

Thomas Chatterris sone to Cornelius Chatterris & Sarah his wife was born February the 8 baptised the 14 1702/3

Cornelius Chatterris [sonne] of John Chatterris & Sarah his Wife Lyeth buried att Conington October the 18 170[.]