The Collation

Research and Exploration at the Folger

Printers and authors in 1659

John Ward’s sixteen notebooks, once they are fully transcribed for EMMO, are going to be an incredibly rich source for nearly everyone who thinks about or studies early modern England. Most people have heard about them because of John Ward’s references to Shakespeare in three volumes: Folger MSS V.a.292, V.a.294, and V.a.295. We’ll be showing one of the Shakespeare references in an upcoming exhibition at the Folger, Shakespeare, Life of an Icon.

Ward (1629?-1681) was the vicar of Stratford-upon-Avon and a physician who had a wide range of interests in religion, medicine, and what he refers to as “promiscuous” knowledge: gossip, news, and information about gardens, books, people, technologies, and anything else he could learn when in London and Stratford-upon-Avon.

Folger paleography classes have been dipping into Ward’s notebooks because Ward’s handwriting is wonderfully challenging and the content never fails to delight, no matter which page we happen upon. A look into V.a.299 in late May revealed a somewhat cryptic passage about early modern printing practices.

Folger MS V.a.299, fol. 4v (click on image to enlarge)
Folger MS V.a.299, fol. 4v (click on image to enlarge). The entry about printing begins in the middle of the page.

Here’s the transcription of the full page, with lineation ignored to make it more readable. The passage in bold-face provides details about copyright, authors, and publishers:

Lay a Barre of Iron vppon a Barrele of Beer when it thunders and it will not sour:

Dr Owen told Mr Westrow comming from London July :2: 1659 that but 2 of the Canons were any Schollers : Dr Wilkinson and Mr Bacon hee askt him what hee thought of Dr: Langly hee said hee might serue:/

In printing Books this method for the Copies in the first Impression they giue the Author 200 Copies at half the price that they may bee sure to haue some token of, the 2d: Edition they giue him intirely one in ten:

this is the way of outlandish Books hee that first prints them is the owner of the Copie:

I heard Mr: ffreak preach at St: peters in the East on the day appointed for an act :1659: and in the beginning of his Sermon hee declared against all Method and did likewise, his reason was this that hee had rather…

The passage seems to be implying that the author buys 200 copies of the first impression of the first edition at 50% of the price, which is his “token.” “Token” has a specific printing definition: a measure of presswork that is usually quantified as 250 sheets. Moxon uses the word in 1683. 1 Was this also a way for the printer to underwrite the publication? Was the price retail or wholesale?

Ward then observes that if the book goes to a second edition, the author gets 10% of the print run gratis.

Ward thinks that this practice is unfair to authors, commenting that the way of “outlandish Books” is that the first printer (or rather, publisher) of the work becomes the owner of the work, rather than the author. Does he mean that this is an outlandish practice, or that this applies only to certain, outlandish books?

Printing historians: do you know Ward’s source for this information? Is it accurate, or does it provide new insight into the trade? We would love to know more!

  1. see definition 12 in the OED Online

6 Comments


  • I wonder whether Ward might be using the term ‘outlandish’ here in the now archaic sense of ‘foreign’ (OED A1a). However, the modern meaning of ‘outrageous’ was also available in Ward’s day, acc to OED 2. His sentence describes the practice as copy ownership in Ireland at the time. European book historians will have to weigh in on whether the rule also applied to Dutch, French, German, and Italian books.

  • I assume “outlandish” means here “foreign” – that is, without an author to be dealt with – and suggests that trade practice offers the first printer of such a work dibs on future editions. Perhaps someone who knows more about what passed for copy protection at that time can expand on that.

  • Sorry, I’m getting caught up on Ward apparently having seen “Mr: ffreak” preach! I’m looking at that name on the manuscript, and it’s got that large blot at the beginning. Was “Freak” a surname back then? Is it another rendering of another name we’d spell some other way? Are we sure about the transcription? (I’ve got nothing better.)

  • “Freke” was a common surname, and there were plenty of 17th century Frekes who attended Oxford, where St. Peter’s in the East is located. It could possibly be another initial letter, but if you look at examples of “ff” on other leaves, the ascending and descending bits that are discernable seem to match up. Maybe we should crowdsource not only the transcription of this manuscript, but also the editing of it!

  • Information about authors’ financial arrangements with printers is scarce for the English book trade in the seventeenth-century. Ward’s comment, somewhat garbled as it is–and second-hand–becomes a useful historical witness here. The landmark document that we have is John Milton’s contract with the printer Samuel Simmons for ‘Paradise Lost’ in 1667. Milton got 5 lbs [how do I make the pounds sign?] outright with the promise of 5 for each of 3 projected editions of 1,300 copies. This is the first documented such transaction about an English literary property. See Kerry MacLennan, “John Milton’s Contract for ‘Paradise Lost’: A Commercial Reading” Milton Quarterly 44 (2010) for a recent view.

    The prolific Richard Baxter, whose ministry was conducted largely through the book trade, also documented his financial arrangements with his printers. For ‘Saints Everlasting Rest’ (1649), Baxter got 10 for the first edition and the promise of an additional 10 from each of his two printers (Thomas Underhill and Francis Tyton) for any subsequent editions. After the Great Fire, those payments ceased, and Baxter went on to work more closely with Nevill Simmons (no relation to Milton’s Simmons that I know). Simmons gave him every 15th book of the run and eighteen pence more for “every Rheam of the other fourteen; which I destinated to the Poor,” as Baxter wrote in self-defense after Simmons went broke in the late 1670s.
    Now as to who owns the copy–that was never the author, but a member of the Stationers’ Company, as long as the Stationers enjoyed monopoly privileges to the trade.
    Ward’s comments certainly don’t settle anything, but they do give us something more to work with, if only in understanding how these financial arrangements were of interest to readers at the time–and how they were puzzling over some issues that remain less than clear.


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