Problems with establishing the dates of publication of Victorian-era periodicals and books

In the course of this blog, I have used some simple techniques for determining the dates of various booklets, or the approximate date, or perhaps the sequence of publication of various booklets. The topic of this post is really somewhat separate from any treatment of tools that collectors can use to date books.  This post instead addresses dating “problems,” and an awareness of these problems can keep you from making certain kinds of mistakes, or help you better understand some uncertainties, even where the exact solutions may not be obvious.  The concepts also are relevant for those who are closely studying Victorian-era literature apart from an interest in bibliographical matters.

1.  This one is pretty well-known.  Publishers (at least during the Victorian era) often published a book late in one year (presumably for the Christmas market), but placed the subsequent year on the title page. I am not certain whether this was the norm, but when a book was released late the year, the publisher must have faced a strong temptation to place the next year on the book. Otherwise the book tends to look a year old when it has barely left the starting gate.  I don’t know whether this precise difficulty applies to any card-game rule-booklets, but it would not surprise me if a number of them bore the date of the year after the publication year.

Examples in non-rule-books are quite numerous.  Professor Hoffmann’s Drawing-Room Amusements was published in 1878, but the first edition was dated 1879.  His translation of The Secrets of Stage Conjuring was published in 1880, but the first edition was dated 1881. Professor Hoffmann’s More Magic was published in book form in 1889, but the first edition was dated 1890.

2.  Annuals that are made-up of a year’s worth of magazines (like Every Boy’s Annual) often bear the “following year” on the title-page (or as part of the title, or on the cover). This is moderately well-known among collectors, but I would think it is responsible for a lot of confusion.

3.  A nuance of number 2, above, is that the annual may cover a period other than January through December.  In a way, this should be obvious, because otherwise it seemingly would not be easy to have an annual be available for Christmas sale, at least where the annual is made up of bimonthly or weekly issues.

Nonetheless, it seems highly counter-intuitive.  I mean, if I buy an 1876 annual, I can accept that it has the year’s issues for 1875.  But it seems strange that in actuality it may well include issues from the end of 1874, and that it may not include issues from the end of 1875. And indeed, if the collector does not know the types of issues (the frequency) that make up an annual, he or she might assume that, well, the December issue may have come out in mid-November, with plenty of time for it to be included.

For example, an annual could include (say) November through October (as a made-up example), presumably to allow for Christmas sales.  So, an “1892” annual might have issues from late 1890 to late 1891.

I do not know to what degree this was done.  It appears to have been typical with Every Boy’s Annual.  Issues that were bound privately (as where a subscriber takes his or her copies to a binder) might be more likely to include a regular calendar-year’s issues.

On the other hand, as to London Society, the volumes with the publisher’s bindings appear to cover January through June, and July through December–two volumes per year.  And I believe they were released significantly later than the last issue that was included.  (To what degree the publisher’s bound-volumes included any “extra issues” of London Society, I do not know.  I believe that happened seldom, if ever.  Privately bound volumes are a different matter.)

4.  In the case of individual issues of periodicals, they could be published (and probably often, or even normally, were published) in advance of the date on the magazine.  This, too, “should” be obvious, but it isn’t, and people are perhaps apt to think that a “January” issue of a periodical appeared in, well, January, even though it very well may not have.  They may assume that issuing periodicals well in advance of their issue-date is a modern phenomenon, which I believe it is not.

5.  A nuance of number 4, above, is that even where an annual contains the January through December issues, those issues may have been published in (say) December through November.  And if it includes November through October, those issues may have been published in (say) October through September!  And all this is complicated by the occasional (perhaps frequent) existence of the same periodical in different frequencies, typically “weekly numbers” and “monthly parts.”

6.  It has been observed that dated advertisements in a book can be misleading. (I believe John Carter wrote about this.)  For instance, say a publisher has 1,000 copies of a book printed in 1890.  The publisher has 500 copies of the book bound in December, and has the publisher’s catalog, dated “December 1890,” bound into the book, in the back. The books sell out by December 10, so he decides to bind the remaining 500 books. But there is a problem:  he has no more December 1890 catalogs.  Since he still has plenty of his “November 1890” catalogs, he has those bound into the remaining 500 books, and they are shipped out and purchased by readers.

So, all of those books are copies are of the “first edition,” according to the collector’s understanding of the term (basically, the first impression). However, many collectors would consider the second group of books to be the “second issue” of the first edition.  (I probably would myself, but I might not say that, because collectors and dealers do not always use that terminology in a uniform way.) But regardless of what you call them, they are less desirable to a collector (in the absence of other factors). And yet–and here is the main point–many people would assume (incorrectly) that the book with the December 1890 catalog came after the one with the November 1890 catalog.

In the case of card-game rule-booklets, a related problem might involve the use of covers with dates that differ from the date on the title page.  I have mentioned my copy of Professor Hoffmann’s Bridge Whist, with 1902 on the front cover, and 1901 on the title page.  Those 1901 copies are almost certainly later than any 1901 copies that have a 1901 title page.  But it is not clear that the 1902-cover copies of the 1901 booklet preceded (in publication) any 1902/1902 copies.

A possible scenario is that Goodall had some extra 1901 booklets (without covers) and put them aside, thinking to ignore them, and to print a new edition dated 1902, along with 1902 covers.  So they do this, and they have a bunch of 1902/1902 copies, and they ship them out.  But maybe the printing press broke toward the end of the planned run, and a couple of weeks later they realize that they had printed 200 copies fewer than they needed.  So somebody says, “I say, we have plenty of 1902 covers–let’s bind the remaining 1901 booklets with those covers.”  The obvious publication-sequence in this probably fictitious scenario is 1901/1901 [cover/title page], then 1902/1902, then 1902/1901.

7.  A related problem would involve cases in which a publisher, even years after printing a book, might include a current catalog.  (This would generally assume that not all copies were bound shortly after printing.)

This would not normally happen with any rule-booklets I am aware of.  However, it could happen with covers.  The publisher might use all the covers that have “current” advertisements, and when they are gone, they might go back and use some leftover earlier covers.  This could of course happen a year after the “later” covers were released.

To the degree that such problems may exist, it seems unlikely that the matters will be untangled, and it is probably best to simply assume provisionally that the one with the earlier advertisements appeared first.

8.  I already wove some discussion of this problem into some of the text above. But to be clear . . . a whole genre of problems, which includes date problems and other problems as well, may exist where private parties had a year (or so) of periodicals bound.  No one tells them they have to include “such and such.”  They might include extra numbers, or they might not.  They might include more than a year, or less.

9.  Lastly (in this particular listing), a publisher might actually reprint issues of a magazine–if, for example, single issues were sold out–in order to be able to make up a bound volume.  This practice I believe was not rare in the case of Pick-Me-Up, a late-Victorian-era magazine that Angelo J. Lewis (“Professor Hoffmann”) edited for about a year, and I do not see why it could not apply to other periodicals as well. Furthermore, it seems reasonable that (for instance, in the face of unanticipated high demand) additional printings of an individual issue might be called for–even apart from any need to complete a bound volume. This whole general notion of ad hoc reprinting of Victorian-era magazines was certainly non-obvious to me, until I read about it happening in certain old periodicals that did this.

That pretty much concludes this post.  I may have done a little more generalizing than I would have liked.  For instance, I certainly have not seen bound volumes of the entire run of London Society, but I have seen a lot of them, in my own collection, on Google Books, and in the Hathi Trust Digital Archive, and what I have said is consistent with everything I have observed there.  Pretty much the same can probably be said of Every Boy’s Annual.  I definitely have examples in my collection, as well as “rare” (I think) examples of unbound issues of Every Boy’s Magazine from 1876, with articles by Professor Hoffmann.

Note:  The foregoing is a greatly revised version of a post I wrote late last year.  I have a (now private) blog on Victorian-era conjuring books, and I think it may have appeared there first.  I believe that I subsequently may have moved it to my (now private) London Society blog.

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