Collaborating and Cashing in at the Centre: Auctioning the Right to Publish in Early Modern London

Jacob Baxter (University of St Andrews)

In the second half of the 17th century, a new practice transformed the book trade in London, one of the most dominant centres in early modern Europe. Publishers began to increasingly divide the right to print a particular title (or copyright) into ever smaller shares. For instance, of the 380 titles that he had listed in his will, the bookseller-publisher Richard Bentley only owned a third in their entirety. The remainder were mostly twelfths, thirds and sixths of other works.

Some publishers, like Bentley, bequeathed their shares to their descendants. Others, including John Nicholson, were sold at public auction by ungrateful heirs. This paper will explore the catalogues that were printed for these occasions. The detail contained within this largely untapped body of sources is fascinating. Handwritten annotations in the catalogues reveal who bought the shares and how much they paid for them, allowing us to trace the ownership of a particular text.

Above all, this paper shows how auction catalogues played a role in establishing a complex network of publishing cartels, with blends of regular collaborators and one-off partnerships, in one of the most dynamic print centres in early modern Europe.