Inconsistencies in Publishing: Watermarks, Colophons, and Publishing Dates

by Rachel Baker on February 10, 2015

I remember when my grandmother used to do a lot of typing and the paper always had a watermark of the papermaker, typically in the middle of the page. I often wondered if older books had these same types of watermarks from the printer and maybe even the publisher.

I have finally found the answer and its intriguing: If you can get through some of the confusing dates and titles and company names, this is an incrediby interesting article.

Here’s the Inspiring Link/Article: Beyond the Title Page: Watermarks, Colophons, and Publishing Dates

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 Bulmer colophonwatermark 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 A later “1801” edition with J. Whatman 1822 watermarks and a Howlett & Brimmer colophon on the last text page. 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.

This article was written by: Rachel Baker – Click to follow on Twitter.

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