Beyond the Title Page: Watermarks, Colophons, and Publishing Dates
This project started as a comparison of copies of a series of beautifully illustrated books on fashionable dress, trades’ dress, and ethnic costume at New York Public Library held in both the Art and Architecture Collection and the Rare Book Division. The books in the NYPL collections were originally published beginning in 1800 with The Costume of China and continuing through 1804 with the Costume of the Hereditary States of the House of Austria. (NYPL does not hold all the books in this series). A popular but peculiar volume, The Punishments of China (1801), is also considered part of this series—the format is the same and though not credited on the title page the author is generally acknowledged to be George Henry Mason, author of The Costume of China. Punishments continued its life in print in various dated editions until 1830 (although, as we will see, so did other books though this was not indicated on their title pages). An 1801 copy of Punishments which was part of the library of George III is now part of the British Library collection, a gift of George IV. As with most of the books in this series there are abundant full page hand-colored engravings by J. [John] Dadley with accompanying descriptive text on the facing page in English and French.
After seeing a title page which reads “Printed for William Miller, Old Bond Street; by W. Bulmer and Co., Cleveland-Row, St. James’s. 1801.” it is not unreasonable to assume that this book was printed in 1801. The catalog entries of many libraries and special collections, not just NYPL, assume this as well. However this is not necessarily the case. A recent closer inspection of a number of books from publisher William Miller indicated as “printed” between 1800 and 1830 present a different story. This story is also complicated by the fact that most resources report that William Miller sold his publishing house to John Murray II in 1812 although the books in question still indicate William Miller as the publisher on title pages printed years later with no mention of John Murray to be seen.
The difference between the copies in the Art and Architecture Collection and the Rare Book Division is mainly the source of the books—the Rare Book Division copies are originally from the Lenox Library and the Art and Architecture copies are from the Astor Library and other sources. The Rare Book copy of The Costume of Turkey also has an original loose watercolor illustration which is tucked into the preface. Unfortunately none of the copies have the original bindings.
The inconsistencies between indicated printing date and what was likely the actual printing date became obvious on closer inspection of the books. Watermarks throughout almost all of these volumes indicated different printing dates from the information that appeared on their title pages. A watermark can be a date, name, or design device made of copper or brass wire incorporated in the paper making tray which produces an impression in “the pulp as it settles during the process of papermaking, and is visible in the finished product when held against the light” (John Carter). For example among the five copies of The Punishments of China that NYPL holds only one of the 1801 copies and the 1830 copy, both in the Art and Architecture Collection, have watermarks consistent with the date indicated on the title page. The 1804 A&A copy has watermarks dated 1816, 1818 and a watermark from papermaker J Whatman dated 1819; the 1808 RB copy has watermarks from Edmeads & Pine 1804, E & P 1807 and Turkey Mills J Whatman 1817. The second “1801” A&A copy not only has J Whatman 1822 watermarks on a few plates but a colophon at the bottom of the last text page which reads “Printed by Howlett & Brimmer, 10, Firth Street, Soho”. Complicating matters here is the fact that Howlett & Brimmer did not even open for business until 1821. The text font of this copy is different from the 1801 William Miller/W. Bulmer and Co. edition as well - obviously a later printing with type that had been reset. What is also very peculiar is that William Miller had left publishing in 1812 and by 1822 his publishing house had been owned by John Murray II for ten years. Why maintain “William Miller” on the title page especially if the type had been reset? William Miller did have a reputation as a publisher of high quality books but Murray’s reputation was good as well. In “A Publisher and His Friends: Memoir and Correspondence of John Murray” there is a letter dated May 1, 1812 in which John Murray II discusses his purchase of the business—the lease of the house, copyrights, and stock. He writes that “Miller’s retirement is very extraordinary for no one in the trade will believe that he made a fortune… but it is clear that he has succeeded”. According to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography the business was sold for £3822 12s. 6d., a “considerable sum in its day”. Miller was only 43 at the time of the sale and lived for another 32 years.
It is difficult to imagine the manufacturing process for some of these books. Often different printers were used for illustrated plates and for the text pages but the watermarks in these editions are often years apart in both cases and inconsistent with the title page date. Were some printed and/or colored plates and text pages part of William Miller’s stock which had been stored for a number of years, or were these editions the product of odd lots of paper stock cobbled together and printed at a later date? An “1803” copy of The Costumes of the Russian Empire has watermarks from 1796 (W Elgar), 1809 (Edmeads & Co), 1811, 1813 (J. Whatman), 1818, and 1829. That’s six different watermarks spanning 33 years. While it was not unusual for printers to use different lots of paper for a single book, this situation seems extreme. It is especially puzzling since Philip Gaskell writes that “printers regularly bought paper from particular wholesalers, and that… they rarely used paper that was more than about two years old.” Although not foolproof—John Carter advises “caution as evidence of date” with watermark—Gaskell describes the value of watermarks, in some cases, as dating aids “to within fine limits.” I believe these are just such cases, especially when dating irregularities are also supported by colophon evidence of later printing dates.
The paper used in all of these books is wove paper, the invention of James Whatman the elder, and much of it is from the Whatman paper mill, Turkey Mills in Maidstone, Kent. (Wove paper does not have chain lines or wire lines like laid paper.) By the mid-1700s Whatman was one of the largest paper suppliers in Europe producing good quality paper. In 1759 William Balston and the Hollingsworth Brothers became the main papermakers at Turkey Mill and they were given rights to the Whatman name after 1807. The Whatman countermark the Hollingsworth Brothers used to distinguish their paper from Balston’s included the inscription ‘TURKEY MILLS’ or ‘TURKEY MILL.’
What started as a simple comparison of copies between collections turned into an open-ended bibliographic exercise with many rabbit holes to get lost in. All title page information need not be suspect, however, the lesson in all of this is that there are many paths to bibliographic enlightenment regarding dates in late 18th and early 19th century books. These factors include but are hardly limited to knowing the active years of the publisher and printer(s), and when available, the paper makers and their watermarks. Good luck.
Mason, G. H. (1800). The costume of China. London: William Miller. Printed by S. Gosnell. Watermarks: 1796 W Elgar; 1796 VF
[Mason, G.H.], (1801). The punishments of China. London: William Miller. Printed by W. Bulmer. Watermarks: 1796; E & P (Edmeads & Pine, Ivy Mill?); also Magnay & Pickering 1800 watermarks on the tissue between the plates and the text pages.
[Mason, G.H.], (“1801”). The punishments of China. London: William Miller. Printed by Howlett & Brimmer. Watermarks: 1822 J. Whatman
[Mason, G.H.], (1804). The punishments of China. London: William Miller. Title page reads: Printed by W. Bulmer, last text page colophon reads: Printed by W. Wilson, 4, Greville-Street, London. Watermarks: 1816; 1818; Turkey Mills J Whatman 1819
[Mason, G.H.], (1830). The punishments of China. London: William Miller. Printed by W. Bulmer. Watermarks: Turkey Mill J Whatman 1830; Incomplete marks: Wis…18...; …& Co…29
[Alexander, W.], (1802). The costume of Turkey. London: William Miller. Printed by T. Bensley. Watermarks: 1811 J Whatman; 1817 J Whatman
[Alexander, W.], (1803) The costume of the Russian empire. London: William Miller. Printed by S. Gosnell. Watermarks: 1811; 1813 J Whatman; 1815 W Spear; 1817 J Whatman; 1817 Turkey Mills J Whatman
[Alexander, W.], (1803) The costume of the Russian empire. London: William Miller. Printed by S. Gosnell. Watermarks: 1796 W Elgar; 1809 Edmeads & Co; 1811; 1813 J Whatman; 1818; 1829 fragment: Wis…& Co 1…29
[Alexander, W.], (1804) The costume of the Russian empire. London: William Miller. Printed by W. Bulmer. Watermarks: 1818; 1819 J Whatman; 1820 J Whatman
[Alexander, W.], (ca.1802) The costume of Turkey. London: William Miller. Printed by W. Bulmer. Watermarks: 1811; 1817 J Whatman
[Alexander, W.], (1803) The costume of the Russian empire. London: William Miller. Printed by S. Gosnell. Watermarks: 1796 W Elgar; 1817 J Whatman
[Bertrand-de-Molleville, A.F.], (1804) The costume of the hereditary states of the house of Austria. Watermarks: 1811; 1817 J Whatman; 1817 Turkey Mills J Whatman
[Mason, G.H.], (1808) The punishments of China. London: William Miller. Printed by S. Gosnell. Watermarks: 1804 Edmeads & Pine; 1807 E & P; 1817 J Whatman; 1817 Turkey Mills J Whatman
Balston, T., James Whatman, father & son. London: Methuen (1957)
Brown, P.A.H., London publishers and printers, c.1800–1870. London: British Library (1982)
Carter, J. and Baker, N., ABC for book collectors. Delaware: Oak Knoll Press; London: British Library (2004)
Gaskell, P., A new introduction to bibliography. Delaware: Oak Knoll Press (1995)
Smiles, S., A Publisher and His Friends: Memoir and Correspondence of the Late John Murray. London: J. Murray (1891) available on HathiTrust
Charles Cuykendall Carter of the Pforzheimer Collection for help with London publishing resources, the Rare Book Division, and the Rare-Books Reference Service of the British Library for their assistance.