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Printing of handbills in Quebec City, 1764-1800: a listing with critical introduction.

In an article which appeared in the spring 1992 issue of the Papers/Cahiers (vol. 30, no. 1: 27-51), Patricia Kennedy of the National Archives of Canada discusses the types of records important to imprint bibliographers, and points to both the Neilson papers and the Audited Public Accounts for Quebec and Lower Canada as rich sources of information on early printing. Michel Brisebois, Rare Book Librarian at the National Library, has mined some of these riches by making excellent use of both sets of records. The result is a listing of 1,059 broadsides, including handbills and tickets but excluding printed forms (which will be the subject of a further study), recorded as having been printed in Quebec City in the eighteenth century. Handbills are defined by Brisebois as those items `used for the purpose of advertising or to convey the same message ... to numerous recipients' (p. xii). The imprints themselves were not examined; this is a record of what was produced, not what has survived.

What has survived, in fact, is a very small percentage of the total output. These items, along with other examples of job printing, have largely disappeared without a trace, existing in unique or very few copies, when they survive at all. Handbills such as these Quebec examples, consisting of proclamations, funeral notices, playbills, election notices, and notices of commercial sales, are by their very nature ephemeral; intended to be read or posted for specific purposes and then discarded as the impetus for their production passes. Keith Maslen's work on the Bowyer ledgers has documented the large quantities of such jobbing work produced by eighteenth-century firms, and the inevitable under-representation of examples of this work in modern repositories, and bibliographies such as ESTC.

Broadsides (single sheet, unfolded, printed items) have been among the first products of the early European and colonial American presses -- Gutenberg's Indulgence of 1455 and Stephen Daye's Freeman's Oath are well-known examples. Closer to home, nine of the first fifteen items listed in Marie Tremaine's A Bibliography of Canadian Imprints 1751-1800, as printed by Canada's first printer John Bushell in Halifax, are broadsides, including both printed blanks and proclamations. Yet, despite their undoubted importance, many bibliographers have explicitly or implicitly excluded broadsides from consideration. Tremaine herself did not have a clear rationale for what she chose to include in this category. She sometimes chose not to include items she knew had been printed, but of which no copies survived. The seventy entries for playbills in the Brisebois list are covered in Tremaine by three entry numbers (409, 499, and 540), which give only a summary of the individual items documented in the Neilson papers. In other instances, Tremaine perhaps did not have access to the relevant volumes of the Neilson papers. The twenty-three items relating to the 1792 Lower Canada elections listed by Tremaine are expanded to fifty-seven items in Brisebois. Brisebois does not include an entry in his listing for items already described by Tremaine, unless his entries provide expanded descriptions or supply major modifications or corrections. The choice to exclude Tremaine items is perfectly understandable in the context of the survey Brisebois undertook, which had its genesis as a research project at McGill's Graduate School of Library and Information Studies, and was intended as a supplement to existing imprint bibliographies. However, from the point of view of the researcher interested in the total picture of printing in Quebec City, a list which includes or at least makes reference within the main chronological listing to all recorded or surviving items would, of course, be more useful.

The work itself consists of: (1) a critical introduction; (2) the main chronological list of 548 handbills; (3) appendices providing a supplementary brief listing of certain categories of commercial notices and tickets amounting to a further 511 items, as well as statistical tables; and (4) name and subject indexes. The extensive introductory apparatus provides historical context, detailed information on sources consulted and presentation of the entries, and analysis of the data. In the main listing entries consist of main entry (usually the name of the person or government department responsible for ordering the printing), title (based on terminology used in the printers' records), format, language, name of printer, date as recorded in the sources (usually the date of printing), citation from relevant archival sources trascribed with the original abbreviations and spelling, reference to source of citation, and notes. Although there is a field for copies located, it is usually recorded as `none,' as no systematic attempt was made to locate copies. The appendices continue a wealth of supplementary information and analysis of the data collected, not all of which can be detailed here, for example a series of statistical tables on sources of revenue from various types of printing and sales, and on the breakdown of the total printing output of the printing firm founded by Brown and Gilmore and owned in turn by William Brown, Samuel Neilson, and finally by John Neilson.

All of the handbills in this bibliography emanated from the above four printers; no handbills are recorded as being printed by the other eighteenth-century Quebec printers, although William Moore appears several times in the listing in his role as compositor for William Brown. It would appear from Appendix F, summarizing public accounts relating to printing, that the other two known Quebec printing firms, William Vondenvelden and Lelievre & Desbarats, produced forms or printed blanks, but not handbills. One wonders how the picture would change if extensive printing records similar to the Neilson records also survived for these firms.

What emerges from this study is significant new hard data about exactly what was produced by the Brown-Gilmore-Brown-Neilson firm, and for whom it was produced. This data gives us a clearer understanding of the role of job printing, along with the other better known sources of revenue such as government contracts and newspaper printing, for early printers in Canada, as well as providing some insight into job printing as an index of the larger economic and social milieu. The stated purpose of the study was `to use the information gathered from handbill printing to shed new light on different aspects of the printing history of Quebec City' (p. xiv), and in this it certainly succeeds. My only quibbles are minor ones having to do with a lack of careful copy editing especially with respect to punctuation and spelling, and inconsistencies of style in such matters as the forms of name, which derive in the main from the nature of the work as an occasional paper, produced quickly and at low cost. The physical format, in cerlox binding and xeroxed, does not do justice to the content. In particular, the reproductions of archival documents such as the fascinating tenders for government printing in 1789, presumably xeroxed from the microfilm, are very difficult to decipher. One hopes that a future volume, incorporating similar research on printed blanks, will appear properly bound and professionally designed and typeset, for this bibliography constitutes a fascinating and important reference work within the broad field of the history of the book in Canada.
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Publication:Papers of the Bibliographical Society of Canada
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 1996
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