Wednesday, June 24, 2020

465. A Number of Books: 50 Years of Quaerendo

Last week, the jubilee issue of the magazine Quaerendo, founded fifty years ago, was published, and it is a double issue (volume 50, no 1-2) that was supposed to appear during the congress of SHARP, the Society for the History of Authorship, Reading and Publishing, in Amsterdam, but because of Covid-19 the conference has been postponed to next year. Luckily, the issue is available, and not only on paper - all texts in this volume are in open access at Brill publishers.

Quaerendo (volume 50, no. 1-2)

The issue contains my article A Number of Copies. The Flexible Function of Limitation Statements, which deals with the numbering of copies within an edition, exploring the peculiar development from not numbering to numbering over the course of two centuries, and, of course, Charles Ricketts and Oscar Wilde are mentioned. 

The abstract gives a gist: 

During the twentieth century, a limited edition is usually numbered, in contrast to limited editions of around 1800. This article examines a number of turning points in the history of limitation statements and copy numbering: the disappearance of copyright related numbering versus unnumbered editions of private presses (around 1800), the advent of numbered prints (1850-1900), and numbering of luxury editions and private press editions (1880-1910). The stabilization of a new tradition of numbering occurs around 1930. The development of private press publications is examined in a broad context of copyright and the production of prints, while practices in the English-speaking world are shown to differ from those in other cultures, such as the Netherlands, Belgium, France and Germany.

Nowadays it goes without saying that a limited edition consists of numbered copies, but at the beginning of this bibliophile trend, such editions were not numbered, see for example, the books of the Kelmscott and Vale Presses. Morris nor Ricketts issued numbered copies. 

Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891): deluxe copy
[The Morgan Library & Museum, New York]

Parallel to this development and starting in the same year as Morris, a modernisation of the literary book took place, among others at The Bodley Head (from 1889). Artists such as Charles Ricketts and Aubrey Beardsley changed the look of the contemporary book. An example is Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891). In addition to an ordinary edition, a deluxe edition of 250 copies appeared in a larger format, numbered and signed. The regular edition did not mention that there was also a deluxe edition; that was only stated in the latter, which reveals something of the publisher's intentions. Only the owner of a deluxe copy would read the colophon stating that there were 250 signed copies. This brings exclusivity and scarcity to another level. Scarcity here is closely linked to a practice of intimacy, secrecy, elitism, where a certain degree of familiarity and knowledge is shared by an in-crowd of lovers of decadent poetry and prose. Owners of a deluxe copy could almost consider themselves intimate friends of the author.