Friday, June 22, 2012


My first post on this blog was June 22, 2011 making today the first anniversary. It's time for celebration, reflection, and looking forward.

I have been collecting books on gaming for more than thirty years and Hoyle is preeminent in the English literature. The Hoyle collection is pictured below in its new home, an exquisite arts and crafts bookcase.

The Hoyle Collection
Two events sparked my research. In 2006, I acquired a first edition of Hoyle's first book, A Short Treatise on the Game of Whist. I felt that owning such a rarity obligated me to learn more about it. In 2008, I took a class in descriptive bibliography at the Rare Book School at the University of Virginia. In applying to the class, I wrote:
Lastly, I am currently researching the early writings of Edmond Hoyle and the circumstances of their publication. Hoyle was the first to write scientifically about games and his early work is bibliographically complex. He published treatises on the games of whist, piquet, quadrille and backgammon from 1742 to 1769..My research may to a bibliography, updating and expanding on the current literature. And that in turn leads me to the course in Bibliographic Description so that I may understand and accurately describe Hoyle’s body of work. 
In the class, I became aware of how much there was to learn from the physical book and how it reveals much about the story of its production. I became interested in book history, learning about the book trade in 18th century London, the history of copyright, the economics of publishing, etc. In 2010, I published an article "Pirates, Autographs, and a Bankruptcy: A Short Treatise on the Game of Whist by Edmond Hoyle, Gentleman" (available for download). My intention is to write a descriptive bibliography of the writings of Edmond Hoyle. I also intend to write more journal articles.

How did I come to start the blog? Unfortunately, the book is years away and journal articles take a surprisingly long time to do well. However, having spent a career in the corporate world, I'm trained to be happiest when I am producing, so I started this blog to give myself a more immediate sense of accomplishment. I thought it would be easy to turn out one or two 750 word essays a week based on research I had already done.

This is essay number 64, so I have managed slightly more than one post per week. Each essay requires substantially more work than I had expected. The research that I thought was all done often proves inadequate when I begin writing. The most painful example is the essay on changes in the text of whist which took me days and days to write. After I originally published it, I found major errors that caused me to rewrite it. Twice. I hope I have stripped away the inaccuracies.

I am really proud of some of the essays. From an analytic point of view, my favorite is on the Osborne collections of Hoyle where I put some order to a confusing set of books. I also like the one on the Cogan collections where I trace through physical books and auction records to learn that Cogan likely issued collections of Hoyle. I also learn that my hero, bibliographer Frederic Jessel, seems to have dismembered a rare example of a Cogan collection. My favorite story is "A Discovery at the Morgan Library" where I learn about the publisher's binding of Hoyle's first book. I'm also pleased with the essay which used publisher's business records to put together a P&L for the 1800 Charles Jones edition of Hoyle. The essays on copyright (beginning here and continuing here and beyond) show the impact of law and trade practices on Hoyle's body of work. 

The blog has had approximately 7400 page views in a year. I would guess that half of those are trolls looking for ways to monetize my blog while the other half are interested in the content. While this is hardly viral by Internet standards, it has connected me with the bibliographical and book history communities. The most popular post was a book history mystery that I submitted to the rare book mailing lists, with a possible solution appearing here. The blog has been cited in bookseller catalogues, such as here, referring to this essay. Other times booksellers have used my research without crediting me. In one such case I even ended up buying the book!

My writing also led to one happy ending. A woman purchased a rare Scottish Hoyle at auction and, seeing an early version of this essay, contacted me for my thoughts on value and disposition. We spoke on the telephone and traded emails. One of my suggestions was to contact the National Library of Scotland which did not have a copy--and that's where the book is now. The purchaser made a nice profit and Scotland now has one of four known copies of the work.

Where do I go from here? I've almost covered the set of books I'd originally planned to discuss. I have more to say about the "twelfth" edition of Hoyle's Games. I have not yet written about An Epitome of Hoyle published in the late 18th century in London and reprinted in Dublin. Other than that, my coverage of Hoyle in English through 1800 has been thorough. I may expand the brief treatment I gave to translations of Hoyle. I may also extend my analysis beyond 1800. I have a pretty good sense of the major editions of Hoyle in England, Scotland, and the United States that were published until 1850. I would also like to talk more about provenance as a factor in collecting gaming literature, as I did in the essay on Henry Hucks Gibbs.

Finally, I would like to spend more time on journal articles, which may mean fewer essays on the blog.

If any of my readers have suggestions for where they'd like me to take the blog, please leave a comment or contact me by email. 

Monday, June 4, 2012

More Hoyle collectibles

This essay continues the discussion from recent essays, looking at Hoyle and whist collectibles.

The first is an early American letter from Samuel Smith to his brother Edwin, dated September 20, 1810. The Smith family of Wiscasset, Maine produced several prominent Maine lawyers and one governor. What is interesting for our purposes is the line:
Wish you to bring on with you a little book of mine which I lent to you some time since, called "Hoyles Games", which I very much want, to perfect myself in the Game of Chess one of the games contained in the volume—it can be of no service to any one at our house

Smith letter p1
Smith letter p2

To get a little bibliography into this essay, let's ask what edition of Hoyle Smith might have owned. The first gaming book to be published in American was Hoyle's Games Improved, edited by James Beaufort. It was a reprint of a London edition first appearing in 1775, after the Hoyle entered the public domain (as discussed here). The the second and final London edition appeared in 1788. The book was printed in the United States in 1796 and was issued in three cities, Boston, New York, and Philadelphia. The imprints are:
  • Boston : Printed and sold by William Spotswood, 1796
  • New York : Printed for and sold by William Prichard; sold also by Prichard and Davidson, Richmond, 1796.
  • Philadelphia : Printed for and sold by H. and P. Rice, no. 50 Market Street. Sold also by James Rice and Co. Market Street, Baltimore, 1796.
The language is likely significant. The Boston edition was "printed and sold" by Spotswood, while the others were "printed for and sold by" the other booksellers. I would expect the Boston edition to be the original, with cancel titles appearing on the New York and Philadelphia reissues. I will need to visit the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester which is the only institution with copies of all three. To note another possibility, one sometimes sees the imprint "printed, and sold by" with the comma suggesting that someone other than the bookseller printed the book. Sometimes even without the comma, the book was printed by an anonymous printer. More research is required!

Other American editions which preceded the 1810 letter include:
  • The Pocket Hoyle. New York: David Longworth, 1803
  • The New Pocket Hoyle. Philadelphia: H. Maxwell, 1805
  • Hoyle's Games Improved. New York: G. and R. Waite, 1810.
Of course Smith may have owned a London edition—they were certainly imported to the United States. The earliest newspaper advertisement I have found is in the Pennsylvania Gazette of December 22, 1747 which notes "Also lately imported, and to be sold by B. Franklin, the following books, viz...[long list of books ending with] Hoyle on Whist."

I have discussed scoring tokens for whist in an earlier essay and also discussed the third important English book on whist, Advice to the Young Whist Player by Thomas Matthews (often spelled Mathews), first published in 1804. About 1818, the Birmingham metal smith Edward Thomason made a set of 24 tokens each with a quotation from the book. As one would expect, most of the tokens present suggestions for the game at whist. The one pictured below is of a different sort.

Mathews token obverse
Mathews token reverse

Advice went through more than two dozen editions, most of which I haven't seen. While the quotation does not appear on page 47 of any that I have, it does appear in the book in a section challenging one of the most basic of Hoyle's principals—to begin with one's longest suit. Matthews recommends leading the single card of a suit in some situations. This controversy among whist players persisted until well into the 20th century.

The quotation in greater context is:
As I have ventured to recommend occasional deviations from what is considered as one of the most classic maxims; i. e. the leading from single cards, without that strength in trumps hitherto judged indispensibly necessary to justify it; I give all the reasons that influence my opinion, in favor of this practice...And I appeal to those who are in the habit of attending whist tables, whether they do not frequently see the players, who proceed more exactly according to the maxims of Hoyle, &c. after losing the game, trying to demonstrate that this ought not to have happened, and that they have been vanquished by the bad, not good play of their adversaries. I do not recommend in general leading from single cards, unless very strong in trumps; but with such hands as I have mentioned, I am convinced it may be occasionally done with very great, though not certain advantage. It may not be unnecessary to inform the reader, that most of Hoyle's maxims were collected during what may be called the infancy of whist; and that he himself, so far from being able to teach the game, was not fit to sit down even with the third-rate players of the present day.
Finally, in the essay on whist tokens, I linked to an image of a set of tokens branded "Hoyle's Scoring Method." Here I offer images of a more pleasing set. The first images are the container for the four tokens.
Container bottom
Container top

One of the four identical tokens is pictured below. It is dated 1847 with Queen Victoria on the obverse and a seated lady at the card table on the reverse.

Token obverse
Token reverse
As discussed earlier, Hoyle had nothing to do with the scoring method that is not recorded until 1791, 22 years after his death. It is noteworthy, however, that Hoyle was a familiar brand from the first appearance of his books in the mid-18th century up to the present day.