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John Hinks and Matthew Day, eds. From Compositors to Collectors: Essays on Book-Trade History.

John Hinks and Matthew Day, eds. From Compositors to Collectors: Essays on Book-Trade History. London: The British Library; New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Press, 2012. 400 pp.; US $75.00 ISBN 9781584563013

Aside from the usual queries addressed to any book, particular questions are invariably asked about collections of essays. What is the focus of the collection? Has the focus been successfully maintained throughout the volume? Are the essays of equal quality? Who are the authors and editors? Is an organization or group involved in compiling the collection? The relevance of these questions for this collection becomes quickly apparent.

The collection's title, From Compositors to Collectors: Essays on Book-Trade History, is apt, with the introduction stating that the essays "are brought together to shed light on the book trade's impact on three main aspects of textuality: creation, circulation, and reception ... to illuminate the book trade's involvement with them ... and to offer an overview of the diverse functions and roles of the trade itself." The nineteen essays in the collection are divided into two sections--part 1, "Compositors," and part 2, "Collectors"--and "are a selection of those [papers] given at ... Print Networks conferences between 2006 and 2009." These conferences on the history of the British book trade, formerly the British Book Trade History Seminar Series, from which also emerged the Book History Research Network, have resulted in the publication of annual volumes with specific themes for the years 2006 to 2009. Consequently, the reader may well speculate whether the current volume is composed simply of essays that did not fit into other volumes--a rummage bag of disparate items having only a superficial connection.

All but two articles focus upon British themes, arranged in roughly chronological order from the seventeenth to the twentieth centuries, within either the Compositors or Collectors section. Under Compositors, topics include editing the 1661 printing of a Thomas Middleton play, eighteenth-century editions of collected plays; early editions of Swift; pirated editions of Smellie's Philosophy of Natural History; the publishing career of an eighteenth-century Scottish librarian; Tennyson's public image; a Wilkie Collins's serial publication; and Charles Dickens's early Boz publications. Under Collectors, various individuals are investigated: Viscount Conway (1594-1655) and his vast collection; James Fraser (1645-1731) and his generous benefactions; Titus Wheatcroft (1679-1762) and his library's catalogue; James West (1703-1772) and the sale of his books; Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832) and bibliomania; and Thomas Cassidy (died 1873) and his recusant collection. In addition, the section contains articles on eighteenth-century Scottish songbooks, the catalogue of the Linen Hall Library, Belfast, and twentieth-century British commercial lending libraries.

Two articles stand out for straying beyond the British focus of the collection. In the Compositors section is an article on marketing the 2007 novel, My Name is Salma, by the Jordanian British author, Fadia Faqir. In the Collectors section, another article discusses USA Armed Services editions, published during the Second World War. Overall, however, a reasonable level of coherence exists among the essays and their groupings by section--despite discrepancies that will frequently accompany collections of essays. The real issue becomes understanding why many of the articles would be thought to fall under the aegis of book trade history rather than the rubrics of book and library history, or even bibliographical studies.

Concerning editors and authors, their qualifications are beyond question. Of the editors, John Hinks edits the British Book Trade Index, (1) and Matthew Day has a notable reputation for combining book history and literary scholarship. The authors constitute an interesting blend of academics, private scholars, graduate students, and librarians. The latter are particularly represented in the Collectors section. All the authors are rooted in book/library history and print culture, many writing on topics where they have strong publishing records. Of Canadian interest is Stephen W. Brown, Professor of English and a 3M Fellow at Trent University, Peterborough, Ontario, whose articles in both the Compositors and Collectors sections reflect his great interest in the eighteenth century.

Does this collection advance the study of book trade history? Given the wide definition of the field adopted by the Print Networks series, this volume like its predecessors would seem to do so. In addition, the essays will also advance the study of book/library history and print culture, particularly as they relate to Britain. Anyone interested in all these assorted fields will surely find helpful material in this volume, which is well designed, with black-and-white illustration accompanying approximately half the articles. Detailed footnoting reflects the depth of research and scholarship found throughout the collection. A detailed name index includes a handful of genre headings for topics such as libraries, newspapers and periodicals, manuscripts, and songbooks.

(1) The British Book Trade Index, University of Birmingham, last modified 18 August 2012, http://


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Author:McNally, Peter F.
Publication:Papers of the Bibliographical Society of Canada
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 22, 2012
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