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.
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!
- see definition 12 in the OED Online