Jim May
Penn State University - DuBois

"The Blundering Print Trade and Accidents that Befall Books:
Mistakes that need Watching"

The 36th Annual Conference of the South Central Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies

February 17, 18th, and 19th, 2011
King and Prince Hotel, Saint Simon's Island, Georgia

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Just like puppies or kids at the pool, the eighteenth-century print-trade and their productions “need to be watched”! The pressmen indulged themselves in ale and porter, as Ben Franklin has noted (his companion daily had five pints before the work day was over), and their tasks were sometimes quite new to even the press manager but more often tediously redundant. They were often out to save a buck or an hour, letting bad work pass; thus, they need to be watched. They sometimes intended to deceive clients and consumers, such as by concealing editions, alterations, and origins, or by signing a work so that it purported to be in a larger format.

And this watchfulness can’t just be the job of descriptive & analytical bibliographers, there being too much to attend to--it takes the whole village. We want to locate the fix as well as the flaw. Though one won’t miss the corrections in an errata list, often only some copies of an edition will have corrections in manuscript, the corrected resetting, or the leaf misbound and hinting at its being a cancellans.

Some blunders we know of from contemporary newspapers, for authors and publishers often maligned competing editions. The publisher John Baker advertised that in Mr. Tonson’s edition of Hudibras Tonson “has not only made Gross Blunders in the Printing Parts, but (notwithstanding his Boasting) has Coppyed all the Cutts from John Baker’s”--“Tonson’s are so intolerably Graved, that it is doubted whether most of them are not Graved upon Wood instead of Copper” (Post Boy, 17 January 1710)!

Even Edmund Curll thought other publisher’s productions beneath him: in an advertisement for his and T. Edlin’s edition of Chinese Tales, he warns the public of “a very erroneous Translation . . . clandestinely huddled up, by a nameless Author, practis’d by W. Meadows in Cornhill, in great Injustice to these Proprietors, who some Months ago Advertis’d” their edition. The notice continues, Meadows “knew [his edition] to be so faulty, before it went to Press, that he offer’d several Guineas to have the Blunders in it Corrected; but they were so numerous, that the Person he applied to, declin’d it” (Daily Post, 25 Sept. 1725).

More than faulty printer’s copy, what Professor May will attend to in his talk are the errors that occurred in the composing, printing, folding, and binding of books. In listing a taxonomy of errors, he’ll explain the circumstances encouraging certain errors (as deficient materials and the difficulties of casting off copy) and sometimes infer what the errors suggest about the printing of books. He’ll exemplify the typical or common errors and the unusual, marvel at the frequency of title-page blunders, and look at some tumbling blunders, errors created after the presses were stopped to fix an earlier error. He’ll be drawing on his own bibliographical work, mostly on Tobias Smollett, Jonathan Swift, and Edward Young, on resources like ECCO and the ESTC, and on items that are now and have been offered for sale.