The Collation

Research and Exploration at the Folger

Finding women in the printing shop

Today is Ada Lovelace Day, a day that celebrates not only the achievements of Ada Lovelace—the 19th-century mathematician and computing pioneer—but the achievements of all women in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and maths. It’s a chance not only to encourage women to enter STEM fields, but to acknowledge the sometimes forgotten of women’s past achievements in these fields.

For a few years now, those of us interested in the hand-press period have used Ada Lovelace Day as an opportunity to celebrate early women printers. 1 This year, I thought I’d describe an exercise I’ve done with students that not only introduces them to some basic book trade research techniques but surprises them with the appearance of women in those records.

title page of Jocelin's The Mother's Legacie
title page of Elizabeth Jocelin’s The Mothers Legacie, here in its third impression

My starting point is a book by Elizabeth Jocelin, The Mothers Legacie, To her vnborne Childe. Published for the first time in 1624, the imprint information reads, in a fairly standard formula, “Printed by Iohn Hauiland, for William Barret.” (STC 14624) The book was clearly fairly popular, since a second impression was printed later the same year (STC 14624.2). The book was printed again just a year later, in 1625, carrying a slightly different imprint statement, as shown in the image above: “Printed by Iohn Hauiland, for Hanna Barret.” (STC 14625) But this isn’t the last edition of this popular work. The next extant edition was printed in 1632 and is described as the sixth impression, with the imprint statement “Printed by E.A. for Robert Allot, and are to be sold in Pauls Church-yard, at the signe of the Blacke Beare.” (STC 14625.5) Three years later, the seventh impression was printed, with a slightly different imprint: “Printed by F.K. for Robert Allot, and are to be sold in Pauls Church-yard, at the Signe of the Blacke Beare.” (STC 14625.7)

This series of editions raises some great questions, including what happened to the fourth and fifth impressions. 2 It also raises the question of who are all these people responsible for printing this and how did the rights to print the book move from one person to the next?

My first stop in answering these questions is A short-title catalogue of books printed in England, Scotland, & Ireland and of English books printed abroad, 1475-1640 compiled by A.W. Pollard and G.R. Redgrave, commonly referred to as the STC. I tend to prefer the printed copy of the STC, since it contains information that isn’t always conveyed in the online English Short Title Cataloge (ESTC), and because it’s just sometimes an easier way to parse lots of information. Here, for example, are the records for The Mothers Legacie:

entries in the STC (2nd ed.) for Jocelin's work
entries in the STC (2nd ed.) for Jocelin’s work

As you can see, the entries for the work also provide information about where it appears in the Stationers’ Registers, the official records maintained by the Stationers’ Company, which regulated the book trade in London. And it’s when we look at those records that we begin to see that Elizabeth Jocelin and Hanna Barret aren’t the only women through whose hands this book passed.

The first entry for The Mothers Legacie is, as you can see, fairly straightforward: William Barret enters his right to print the book in January 1624, thereby establishing his claim over anyone else’s to print it. 3

2014-10-14 10.12.00
John Barret registers his right to print The Mothers Legacie

After Barret dies (probably in the first half of 1624), the right to print his book passes on to his wife Hanna without note in the Register. Hanna Barret clearly took over the printing shop for a period of time, publishing not only The Mothers Legacie but also a number of other books. But as Barret starts to wind down her work in late 1625 and early 1626, the printing history of The Mothers Legacie gets more interesting.

On December 19, 1625, not long after Barret has the third impression printed, she transfers her rights to the book to someone who never shows up in any of the imprints: “Mistris Hodgettes.”

Hanna Barret transfers her right to print the work
Hanna Barret transfers her right to print the work

Margaret Hodgets was the widow of bookseller John Hodgets. She doesn’t appear to have ever worked as a stationer—her name doesn’t appear on any imprints. But that doesn’t mean she wasn’t involved, even if only briefly, in the London book trade.

Hodgets holds onto her right to print The Mothers Legacie for just over one month, at which point she transfers the right to Robert Allott in a transaction that is recorded in this lengthy paragraph:

Margaret Hodgets sells the right to print to Robert Allott
Margaret Hodgets sells the right to print to Robert Allott

Essentially, Allott buys the right to print these four works on loan, promising to pay the full price of 45 pounds to Hodgets within a year or, if he can’t come up with the money, to return the rights to her, presumably so she can sell them to someone who can afford them.

Given that Allott continues to print the book past February 1627, when he had to repay the loan, we can assume that the transaction worked out well for both of them. Hodgets made some money, and Allott got some successful titles to kickstart his career as a publisher. I assume that the Allott printed the now-missing fourth impression as part of his gambit to earn the money to pay for these books. Regardless, we know that by 1632 he was a successful enough in his trade to hire Elizabeth Allde (the “E.A.” of the imprint statement) to print the sixth impression of The Mothers Legacie.

In the course of this single book’s printing history, we’ve seen women in nearly all the roles associated with making books: a woman wrote it, a woman published it, a woman speculated with it, and a woman printed it. If we’d just been looking at the title pages of the book, we would have only seen two of those women, Jocelin and Barret. What a rich history we would miss! I stumbled onto this book, but I’ve discovered it works well as an example of how books circulated among London stationers, not only because it can be traced through the Stationers Registers, but because it opens up questions about missing books and missing people that can easily be overlooked.

If you’re interested in exploring the roles of women in the early English book trade, take a look at Helen Smith’s wonderful book has greatly advanced research on the subject: Grossly Material Things: Women and Book Production in Early Modern England (Oxford 2012). And if you find yourself itching to teach the subject, I hope the trajectory I’ve traced here lends itself to your lesson plan!

  1. See my 2011 post on early modern women printersNick Poyntz’s post on Jane Coe, and Joseph Adelman’s recent post on “Telling the Story of Women Printers.”
  2. We don’t know! They could have been printed during the years between 1625 and 1632 and all copies could have been lost (or not yet recorded), a not uncommon loss rate for the period. It’s also possible that Allot renumbered the series when he started printing it in 1632 as a way of inflating its popularity.
  3. You might notice that the date in the Register is listed as “12 Januarij 1623 [i.e. 1624]”—since in this period in England, calendar years didn’t change until March 25, what the stationers recorded as happening in January 1623 corresponds to our date of January 1624, and Arber’s transcription helpfully provides both dates.


  • Hi, Sarah – Great piece! Isn’t the Stationers’ Register a wonder? So much great history hidden in it and you did a splendid job of untangling this one fascinating story. I would be very interested in discussing the role of women in the book trades of 17th century London with you. I am embarking on a project to create a website on the topic of women in the book trades during the handpress period and am seriously considering using 17th century England as a prototype. I am looking forward to your next blog entry. All the best, Karen

    • What a great project! I’m far from an expert on women in the book trades–you should really reach out to Helen Smith on that–but I’d love to learn more about what you’re doing (and I think I owe you an email anyway!).

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