26 August 2011

Bound But Not Forgotten: Prospectuses as Binder's Waste

In my previous post I noted some Dutch manuscript fragments used by the binder of the 1631 Isocrates. This put me in mind of other items in the Heritage Collections with bindings that have their own secrets to reveal. 

This post is the first in a short series on additional interesting binding fragments still in situ and found in the Alfred and Isabel Reed Collection.

Johnsonian Prospectuses
The latest of the eighteenth-century editions of Samuel Johnson's Dictionary of the English Language held by the Dunedin Public Library is the 1785 folio seventh edition. The Reed copy is bound in two slim volumes. The binding, a once attractive tree-calf with gold-tooled spines, is now in a poor state. The leather is peeling away from the boards, as are the front and rear pastedowns. The condition of the volumes is such as would make many a bibliophile cringe, but their decrepitude turns out to be a boon in this instance. Inserted between the boards and pastedowns of the first volume are two blue wrappers, each bearing a prospectus for the 'Genuine Edition' of Johnson’s Dictionary.


Fig. 1

These blue wrappers are mentioned in J. D. Fleeman’s A Bibliography of the Works of Samuel Johnson, under his entries for the quarto sixth edition (55.4D/8) and folio seventh edition (55.4D/9), both published in 1785. Though still partially attached the wrappers were loose enough to be examined. Based on the trimmed measurement (27.3 x 44cm) and position of the chain lines, it was determined that the wrappers were used for sheets of a folio edition rather than quarto. Printed on the top margin of one of the sheets is the number 3 twice, positioned to be visible along the section of wrapper forming the spine, and 'N3' above the title (fig. 1). The relevance of the numbers lay with the publishing of the 1785 folio Dictionary, which was released as a single volume and in weekly parts (Fleeman, p. 433). This particular wrapper, therefore, possibly enclosed the third set of weekly sheets. Unfortunately, the other wrapper was glued in top margin first (fig. 2), thereby obscuring the numbers.

Fig. 2

The number of Johnson-related proposals and prospectuses recovered from bindings remains unknown. Robert DeMaria, Jr., noted that Fleeman spoke of finding some, but is unaware of anyone currently searching for them in a systematic fashion. Regardless of their number, the discovery of these prospectuses proves the saying that you never know what will turn up where, and invites further discussion about what light such printing house discards might shed on eighteenth-century printing and Johnson’s bibliography.

Samuel Johnson. A Dictionary of the English Language .... London: Printed for J. F. and C. Rivington, L. Davis, T. Payne and Son, W. Owen, T. Longman [and 21 others], 1785. Seventh edition (shelfmark: RJJ Dic 1785 OS). ESTC T116652; Fleeman 55.4D/9.

This post originally appeared as a longer article called 'Between the Covers: Newly Discovered Johnsonian Prospectuses' in The Johnsonian News Letter (61:2, September 2010).

The second volume of the 1785 Dictionary also includes blue wrappers used as binder’s waste. These are prospectuses advertising an edition of Ephraim Chambers’s Cyclopaedia, or an Universal Dictionary of Arts and Sciences with supplement by the Welsh minister Abraham Rees. Further research needs to be done on the edition advertised.

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