print runs of 18thc grammar books

Could anyone help me find out how large print runs of books were in the eighteenth century?

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  1. ingrid tieken

    In a letter to Richardson of 14 December 1758, Sarah Fielding tells him that she just sold the copyright of her novel The History of the Countess of Dellwyn to Andrew Millar “for sixty Guineas for the first Edition of one thousand only, and forty Guineas more if it comes to a second Edition” (ed. Battestin and Probyn 1993:145). It seems likely, by the way that by “only” she refers to the fact that it is a round figure. I don’t think this use of only is described in the OED, but it is common in Indian English as well.

  2. ingrid tieken

    Some time ago, Carol Percy mentioned a chapter by Michael Suarez called “The business of literature: the book trade in England from Milton to Blake” (A companion to literature from Milton to Blake, edited by David Womersley, Blackwell 2000). This is an important and highly informative article with respect to the eighteenth-century booktrade. It explains the differences between booksellers and publishers, it goes into all the aspects of the printing process, deals with publication costs, marketing strategies, book prices, pirated editions and the copyright act of 1710. Interestingly, it allowed me to calculate the number of hours that would have been spent on the production of an octavo edition of 1000 copies of Lowth’s grammar of 1763 (the 1762 edition is a quarto edition): at some 222 pp. (cf. the description in Alston, which includes 19 pp. preface + 196 pp. of text, + allowing for 6 pp. of front matter), it would have taken 3388 manhours to produce (Suarez’s example comprises 288 pp. of an octavo novel). According to Suarez (2000:136), “a substantial book of no particular urgency might take eighteen months to produce”. This would explain why there is so much time between the moment when Lowth submitted the revised copy of his grammar, at the end of January, and the actual date of its publication, i.e. 8 February 1762. This also suggests that the publication of Lowth’s grammar was done with a considerable amount of urgency after all, despite the lapse of a year after the submission of the final version.

  3. ingrid tieken

    In his Encyclopedia of the English Language, Crystal mentions that of Johnson’s Dictionary, 2000 copies were published in 1755 (price: 4 pounds 10 shillings) (1995 [1999]:74). This is actually a large number, as Dodsley would normally print only 1000 copies if he thought the book would be successful.

  4. ingrid tieken

    In his Encyclopedia of the English Language, Crystal mentions that of Johnson’s Dictionary, 2000 copies were published in 1755 (price: 4 pounds 10 shillings) (1995 [1999]:74). This is actually a large number, as Dodsley would normally print only 1000 copies if he thought the book would be successful.

  5. Anni Sairio

    I just came across Hester Thrale’s Anecdotes of Dr Johnson that appeared in 1786: the first edition of 1,000 copies sold out in a day! Three more editions followed over the next two months. This from Norma Clarke (2004), Dr Johnson’s Women (p.12).

    And yes, the risk was indeed shared when Montagu’s Essay was published: the complete list of printers for the first edition is J. Dodsley, Baker and Leigh, J. Walter, T. Cadell, and J. Wilkie. The second edition and the others after that were published by other printers, though. Thomas Cadell published also Thrale’s Anecdotes.

  6. Frans Wilhelm

    As regards the publication of the number of copies of ELT textbooks in the Netherland in the first half of the 19th century, an average of 1,000 copies seems a reasonable estimate. Of course, the category to which a textbook belonged, also played a part. A well-known grammar like Holtrop’s Grammar (1780) was a safe investment. It was reprinted in 1804 in a print run of 3,000 copies. Similarly, Baldwin Janson’s English and Dutch Pocket Dictionary (1808/1819) was repinted in run of 1,500 copies. However, Murray’s English Grammar was published anonymously in 1816 in a print run of only 625 copies (see Wilhelm 2005:391 and Noordegraaf 1996:109). And the remainder of C.H Roggen’s brochure Nieuwe Leerwijze (1829) was sold off at an auction in 1835 when 661 copies were left(see Wilhelm 2005:192. All this goes to suggest that the above estimate of 1,000 copies is perhaps too optimistic for general coursebooks and that 500 to 1,000 copies would be a safer guess.

  7. Carol Percy

    For questions like this, I always look to see if Michael Suarez has written anything. (He’s one of the co-editors of the forthcoming C18th volume of a history of the book in England.)

    He wrote the chapter on “The business of literature: the book trade in England from Milton to Blake” in _A companion to literature from Milton to Blake_ edited by David Womersley (Blakwell 2000).

    On page 140-1, there’s a section on “Edition quantities and the number of editions.”

    “In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the great majority of editions were made in quantities ranging from 500 to 1500 copies. Between 1738 and 1785, for example, more than 90 per cent of the books printed in William Strahan’s large and successful London printing house were produced in edition sizes of less than 2,000 copies … A press run of 1,000 may be considered typical.”

    “Small, inexpensive books such as almanacs, catechisms, and primers, however, were often produced in large edition sizes. From 1733 to 1748, for example, Charles Ackers printed 33 editions of Thomas Dyche’s school handbook of pronunciation and spelling, A Guide to the English Tongue (first published in 1707), in runs ranging from 5,000 to 20,000 copies. Richard Ware, the London bookseller for whom Ackers / printed the Guide, sold some 275,000 copies in sixteen years, Remarkably, only five of these copies in three editions are known to survive today. Although schoolbooks perish much more readily than most kinds of texts, this example should serve as a strong reminder that the number of surviving copies of a work should not ordinarily be taken as a reliable indication of its contemporary popularity.”

    One e-index for book history has been developed by your compatriots! (Not many hits for “grammar”, though.)


  8. ingrid tieken

    Perhaps it was Dodsley who invested into the book. Was he the only publisher, or are there any other names involved? In the case of Johnson and Lowth he shared the risk with several other publishers. It is interesting to see that Dodsley published her book: he was good at spotting authors that would sell well. I can’t remember the title now, or the author (Solomon, I think), but you might like to look at his biography for a detailed description of his pioneering work.

  9. Anni

    Well, the first edition of the Essay was printed for J. Dodsley et al, and it sold out quite quickly; not many people were in the know of Montagu’s authorship, so I don’t know if there was an extensive subscription list, but her friends arranged for it to be advertised and it received favourable reviews. Unlike Burney, she could afford a rather large printrun, but I don’t know how much of her own money went into it.

  10. ingrid tieken

    Thank you for this, Anni. Do you happen to know who the editor was? In the light of the printrun of Fanny Burney’s _Evelina_, would this suggest that the editor had particular faith in Elizabeth Montagu’s Essay?

    I’m reading a PhD by Frans Wilhelm (University of Nijmegen) at the moment, called _English in the Netherlands: A History of Foreign Language Teaching 1800-1920_. Wilhelm says that “it seems reasonable to estimate that in the period 1800-1840 on average 1,000 copies of ELT textbooks appeared in print”.

  11. Anni

    I just found a mention in Elizabeth Montagu’s correspondence that the first edition of her Essay on the Writings and Genius of Shakespear (1769) consisted of 1000 copies. It went into second edition that same year I think, or the next.

  12. Marjolein

    The title of the book by Kate Chisholm is: Fanny Burney : her life, 1752-1840. It’s from 1998.

  13. ingrid tieken

    500 copies, would that be a lot for a first edition? And, Marjolein, could you let me have the title of the book?

  14. Marjolein

    I recently read in Kate Chisholm’s book about Fanny Burney’s life that the first edition of Evelina consisted of 500 copies (found on page 47).

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