Comments on rule-booklet scarcity — Part 1: A tale of two late-1800s “Hoyles”

It is extremely difficult to estimate the scarcity (or rarity) of card-game rule-booklets (or commonness, I suppose, as the case may be).  I posted a comment made by a reader regarding the post about the 1895 edition of Bridge Whist.  You can read the comment, at the end of that post.  However, the comment basically raised the questions of whether David Levy’s copy of the 1895 edition of Bridge Whist might be the only copy of that edition, and whether there may well be other editions that intervened between 1895 and 1899.

I thought I might now delve into those topics in some depth.  This is not to say that I think I am the person most capable of addressing such issues, but on the other hand I’m pretty sure I’m not the least capable!

Frequently I like to look at matters of rarity and scarcity in terms of probability theory. Most collectors know from experience that a book that has been hard-to-find for a long time may suddenly “luck” it’s way into someone’s collection.  It may be unlikely for multiple copies of a scarce book to appear within a short time, but sometimes it happens. I have at least two examples of this as to myself, and I am going to mention them below. The information below provides a little context for other comments to follow in other posts.

Both examples have to do with “Hoyle” items — not early ones, but editions from the late 1800s.  First, there is the case of The Modern Hoyle, edited by Professor Hoffmann.  The first edition of this was dated 1887.  After many years of collecting Hoffmann material, I had only found one copy of that book–a rather beat-up copy, and not the first edition. That copy had formerly been J.B. Findlay’s copy — and it was the only copy that he had, after a proverbial “lifetime of collecting.”  (Actually, more accurately, it was the only copy of that title in his collection at the time he passed away.)  So, I figured the book was scarce in general, and that the first edition was nearly impossible to find.  From the late 1960s through the late 1990s or so, I had never seen another copy for sale.  Then I kind of dropped out, to some degree, of Hoffmann-collecting for about ten or twelve years.  After I re-entered the field in 2008, I quite quickly found two copies of the first edition, one in cloth, and one in paper-covered boards.

Another example is Hoyle’s Games Modernized, edited by Professor Hoffmann.  The first edition was dated 1898.  I had a number of copies of that basic title, as it is a rather common book if one is not too demanding of “which edition.”  But I had never owned a first edition of the book. Findlay did not have a first edition, either.  Yet, I recently (within the last few years) found two copies of the 1898 first edition of that work as well, one in cloth, and one in paper-covered boards.

What happened to me on those two books was somewhat unusual — very unusual — in the big scheme of things.  But such things happen every day.  As to people who collect works of many different authors over a long period of time, I imagine that most of them have quite a few similar stories.

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