Monday, January 28, 2013

The Compleat Gamester

I have written about Charles Cotton's Compleat Gamester several times, most directly in the essay "The Predecessors of Hoyle." First published in 1674, it is valued as the first book in English devoted to gaming, and for its frontispiece showing early scenes of game-playing. One example of the frontispiece is reproduced in "Predecessors" and another appears below.

The book has received much attention from gaming bibliographers. Both Julian Marshall and Frederic Jessel discussed the work (see the essay "Where can I learn more about Hoyle's Writing?"). More recently Thomas Marston wrote a short descriptive bibliography as an introduction to a 1970 reprint of the Gamester. Despite the scholarly work, there are many errors in the bibliographical record due to changes in ownership of the copyright. The changes led to frequent reissues with a different imprint and, in two cases, with an entirely new title. This essay will attempt to provide a correct chronology and add bits and pieces about the book that I have come across in the course of my research.

The Compleat Gamester was entered in the Registry Book at Stationers Hall on October 28, 1673, showing Robt. Cutler as the proprietor.  The entry corresponds with the imprint “London: printed by A.M. for R. Cutler, and to be sold by Henry Brome at the Gun at the west-end of St. Pauls, 1674.”

1676 Henry Brome
Robert Cutler died in 1676 and later that year we see a version with the imprint “London: printed for Henry Brome at the Gun at the west-end of St. Pauls, 1676” (pictured at right), so Brome must have acquired Cutler's stock after his death. Despite the appearance of "second edition" on the title, it is in fact a first edition, second issue with a cancel title page. A close look at my copy (below left) reveals a bit of the original title page. I have indicated with red arrows some lettering which matches the original title page.

Stub of original
title page
Wrap-around stub
of new title page

In general, cancels are pasted on the stub from left from the original page. This cancel was actually sewn with the book as you can see by the wrap-around stub of the cancel title page (above right). This suggests that the this copy was unsewn in quires when the title page was cancelled. Perhaps it's my lack of experience, but I don't recall seeing that before.

Henry Brome published the true second edition in 1680, an entirely new printing. He died in 1681 and his business was carried on first by his widow Joanna Brome (d. 1684) and then by his son Charles. Charles reissued the second edition under 1687 as Instructions How to Play at Billiards, Trucks, Bowls, and Chess. He reverted to the original title in a third edition of 1709, reissuing it in 1710. He died in 1711 and the copyright was to pass on once again.

1713 Morphew
Next appears an undated edition under a new title, Games Most in Use in England, France and Spain. I am able to date the work from an advertisement in the Post Boy of December 15, 1713, which notes:
Tomorrow will be publish’d GAMES most in use in England, France, and Spain…Sold by J. Morphew near Stationers-Hall; and by the Booksellers. Price, bound in Sheep, 1s. 6d. in Calf, 2s.
Games Most In Use is thus the fourth edition and the first not to have the frontispiece. Perhaps Morphew did not acquire the plates when he acquired the copyright and was not willing to pay to have them redone.

1725 Wilford
In 1720 Morphew died and the copyright was apparently acquired by J. Wilford who spruced the book up a bit. He took Games Most In Use, added a new frontispiece and a cancel title page, reverting to the original name, The Compleat Gamester. Most interestingly, he added a new work, apparently never published separately, The Gentleman’s Diversion, in Riding, Racing, Archery, Cock-fighting, and Bowling. This fourth edition, second issue appeared in 1721. A fifth edition appeared in 1725 (pictured at right) and a sixth (perhaps a reissue of the fifth; I have not seen a copy) in 1726.

To continue to story requires a look at a second, similarly-titled book, The Court Gamester. As I noted in "The Predecessors of Hoyle," editions of The Court Gamester appeared in 1719, 1720, 1722, 1728, and 1732. They were written by Richard Seymour and published by Edmund Curll.

In 1734, with Wilford owning the rights to The Compleat Gamester and Curll owning the rights to The Court Gamester, the two joined to publish The Compleat Gamester in Three Parts, a book that combined and expanded both texts. This would be the seventh edition of The Compleat Gamester.

After the joint publication, we find some documented transactions in the copyright of The Compleat Gamester at the booksellers trade sales. On February 24, 1736, Lintot bought a one-half share in the copyright from Wilford for £2 10s and Corbett bought the other half along with another work for £1 16s. 6d. On April 24, 1739, Lintot sold his share (along with other copyrights) to James Hodges for £15 15s.

1739 Curll and Hodges
The imprint of the 1739 edition, the eighth, shows it to be printed for Curll and Hodges. The transactions, then, must only have been for Wilford's Compleat Gamester and Corbett must have sold his piece to Hodges. In 1742, Hoyle's Whist appears and from 1745, collections of Hoyle's works must have cut into the sales of the Gamester. Nonetheless, a ninth edition does appear in 1750, printed for Hodges only, as Curll died in 1747. The tenth and final edition of 1754, edited by Charles Johnson and still published by Hodges, plagiarizes substantial portions of Hoyle.

By 1756, Hodges acquired a piece of the Hoyle copyright (see "The Hoyle Copyright in Hoyle's Lifetime"). With Hodges able to participate in that much more valuable property, the Gamester was not to be published again until it was reprinted a number of times in the 20th century.

In various forms and under various titles, The Compleat Gamester was the most popular work on gaming from 1674 until Hoyle appeared. Hoyle cut into its sales and bookseller Hodges decided to invest in Hoyle rather than continue to publish the Gamester.


  •  Julian Marshall, "Cotton and Seymour's 'Gamesters.'"  Parts 1 and 2, Notes and Queries, 6th ser., 9 (April 26, 1884): 321-3, (May 17, 1884): 381-3. Available for download.
  • Julian Marshall, "Books on Gaming." Part 11, Notes and Queries, 7th ser., 8 (December 21, 1889): 482-3. Available for download
  • Thomas E. Marston, "Introduction" to The Compleat Gametser. Barre: Imprint Society. 1970

Saturday, January 12, 2013

A 1760 Dramatic Comedy Mentioning Hoyle

The essay "Contemporary References to Hoyle" looks at 18th century newspapers and periodicals for mentions of Hoyle. The sample findings let us appreciate the familiarity that contemporary audiences had with Hoyle and get a sense of how different readers (the clergy, society game players, etc.) received his work. In a similar vein are my two essays on the never-performed play The Humours of Whist, one focusing on it as a satire of Hoyle, the other as a satire of piracy. I have found another contemporary comedy, this one written for and performed by legendary actor David Garrick, with a substantial gaming component. And, it includes a mention of Hoyle!

As my work on the Webster piracy is proceeding slowly, I thought I'd give myself a break from research and quote extensively from the play. Written by Arthur Murphy in 1760, the play is The Way to Keep Him, A Comedy in Three Acts: As it is performed at the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane. At Garrick's request, Murphy expanded the play to five acts in 1761. The printed version of the play apparently sold quite wellsome 19 versions are recorded in ESTC. Murphy dedicates it to Garrick: "...[the author] returns his thanks to Mr. Garrick, for his admirable acting; and to all the performers concerned in the following scenes..."

Garrick plays Lovemore, who's two servants, William and another, open the first scene playing at cards:
Will. A plague on it! I've turn'd out my game. Is forty-seven good?
Serv. Equal.
Will. A plague go with it. Tearse to a queen!
Serv. Equal
Will. I've ruin'd my game, and be hang'd to me. I don't believe there's a footman in England plays with worse luck than myself. Four aces is fourteen!
Serv. That's hard; Cruel, by Jupiter!
Will. Four aces is fourteen. Fifteen (plays).
Serv. There's your equality.
Will. Very well. Sixeen (plays). Seventeen (plays).
                         Enter Muffin [waiting-woman to Mrs. Lovemore]
Muffin. There's a couple of you, indeed! You're so fond of the vices of your betters, that you're scarce out of your beds, when you must pretend to imiate them and their ways, forsooth.
Will. Prithee be quiet, woman, do. Eighteen (plays).
The game is Piquet, the third game treated by Hoyle, and William is calling and reckoning points.

Astonishingly, from this small bit of dialogue, we can determine almost all of the cards in each players' hand! Let's delve a bit into piquet. Piquet is played with a 32-card deck, four suits of ace to 7. Each player is dealt 12 cards and each is permitted to exchange some for the eight leftover cards. Before the play begins (like two-handed bridge without trump), the players try to score points by calling, first the longest and best suit, then the longest and highest sequence, and then best four of a kind or three of a kind.

William's call of 47 is an attempt to score points for a long, strong suit. The ace counts 11, the face cards 10 and the spot cards equal to their number of pips. A call of 47 can be reckoned in only three ways: (a) KQJT7; (b) HHH98; or (c) AHH97.1 Because he later called four aces, he must have (c). A tearse (more  often spelled terce) to a queen shows QJT of the one suit, and is almost2 always the best sequence in the hand, that is the longest one, with ties broken by the highest top card. The QJT cannot be in the long suit, as the long suit contains only two cards counting ten. So William has something like AHH9 AQJT A A for eleven of his twelve cards!3 We don't know the suits, but generally the opponent, looking at his hand, can determine them.

The other servant called "equal" to the calls of 47 and terce to the queen. His 47 cannot be (a) because that includes a sequence of four to the king which would have beat three to the queen. It cannot be (c) because William has all four aces, so he must have (b) with three of the four "ten" cards. Which of the four is he missing? It cannot be the king, since QJT98 is a sequence of five to the queen. It cannot be the queen, since KJT98 leaves a sequence of four to the jack.It cannot be the ten, since KQJ98 leaves him a sequence of three to the king, beating William's three to the queen. So he holds KQT98, and since he called "equal" to the terce to the queen, that must be in another suit. So we know eight of the second servants cards, though again, not the suits: KQT98 and QJT.

Piquet is a game full of such inferences and for my money, the best two-person card game.

The Hoyle reference comes late in the second act (pp31-2), where the widow Bellmour complains to Lovemore about the decline in polite conversation:
Mrs. Bell. And then from this conversation they all run to cards, "Quadrille has murdered wit."
Love. Ay, and beauty too...
Love. ...I have seen an uplifted eye blaspheming providence for the loss of an odd trick; and then at last, when the whole room burst out into one loud universal uproar, "My Lord, you flung away the game. No Ma'am, it was you. Sir George, why did you not ruff the diamond? Captain Hazard, why did not you lead through the honour? Ma'am, it was not the play. Pardon me, Sir, But Ma'am; But Sir, I would not play with you for straws.Don't you know what Hoyle says? If A and B are partners agains C and D, and the game nine-all, A and B have won three tricks, and C and D four tricks; C leads his suit; D puts up the King, then returns the suit, A passes, C puts up the Queen, B ruffs the next;" and so A and B, and C and D are bang'd about; and all is jargon, confusion, uproar, and wrangling, and nonsense, and noise. Ha! ha!
Mrs Bell. Ha! ha! A fine picture of a rout; but one must play sometimes we must let our friends pick our pockets sometimes, or they'll drop our acquainance. Pray my Lord, do you never play?
Love. Play, Ma'am! I must lie to the end of the chapter, (aside) play! Now and then out of necessity; otherwise, I never touch a card.
Here, despite Mrs. Bellmour's mention of Quadrille, the game is Whist and Lovemore mocks Hoyle's "cases stated, to shew what may be effectd by a very good player in critical parts of the game."

How fun it would be to travel back in time and attend one of the performancesto see Garrick perform and to gauge the crowd's reaction to the gaming scenes!


1I use "T" to refer specifically to the ten and "H" for an honor counting ten, the K, Q, J, or T.

2There is in piquet the concept of "sinking," that is not calling the full value of your longest suit or sequence. I have ignored that rare possibility in reconstructing the two servants' hands.   

3In his long suit, the AHH97 will not be AKQ97, as that would give William a terce to the A, higher than his subsequent call.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The "Webster" Piracy: Collation

In this blog, I have largely refrained from repeating material covered in my article "Pirates, Autographs, and a Bankruptcy" (available for download here). That paper discusses the editions of Hoyle's A Short Treatise on the Game of Whist published from 1742 to 1744 in terms of both the physical books (descriptive bibliography) and their publication and marketing by copyright owners, pirates, and Irish reprinters.

In some of my blog essays, I have included small pieces of recent research that would have fit well into "Pirates:"
  • It is clear that the Cogan's investment in the Hoyle copyright was a financial disaster. I stated in the article that it was impossible to know to what extent that transaction contributed to Cogan's 1746 bankruptcy. (p152). Since I wrote the article, I learned that Cogan was forced to sell books and copyrights in October 1742 to satisfy debts (see "Biographical Notes on Francis Cogan, Bookseller"). Clearly, Cogan's problems predate his purchase of the Hoyle copyright.
  • I also wondered why Cogan waited two months to sue the pirates. In the same blog essay on Cogan, I noted that he was married in April 1742 and speculated that the marriage might have delayed his prosecution of the Hoyle pirates. 
  • In "Were there Cogan collections of Hoyle?" I demonstrated that Cogan published collections of the individual treatise—that would have been something worth noting in the appendix to my article. 
In the next several essays, I want to revisit the first piracy of Whist. It is a remarkable book and while I discuss it extensively in "Pirates," I find there is much more to say, both in words and pictures. This essay will correct an actual error in "Pirates," though frankly not one I am terribly embarrassed about.

The piracy is nearly a word-for-word reprinting of the November 1742 first edition—the pirate added an advertisement, a letter from a Gentleman at Bath, purporting to tell how he came to print the book. There is also a minor textual change that indirectly hints at the identity of the pirate.

first piracy of Whist,
for "Webster" (1743)

The title page, at right, omits Hoyle's name and is attributed to "a Gentleman." The imprint, wholly false, is "Bath printed, and London reprinted for W. Webster near St. Paul's." The book was never printed in Bath, nor was there a bookseller named W. Webster. For the identity of the printer, the remarkable story of how he came to acquire the text (decidedly not the story told in the advertisement), and the steps that copyright owner Francis Cogan took to combat the piracy, I direct you to "Pirates."

I just acquired another copy of the book, pictured below, and it is a bibliographer's treasure. Do click on the pictures to enlarge them. You can see the book is remarkably in original condition, just as issued. The front leaf is the half title and the back leaf is a final blank, often absent. The book has never been bound—the original stab sewing is clearly visible on the back. The pages have never been trimmed. The spine has never been glued. Yes, there is a bit of curling to the paper, but of all the copies that have survived, this is the closest how it would have looked in the shop of one of the piratical booksellers.

(left) half title at front of book
(right) final blank and spine

When I wrote "Pirates" I believe I had seen 8 copies of the book and digital reproductions of another five. I gave the collation as 8°: [A]4 (A4+2) B–M4. The formula means that the book was printed as an octavo (eight leaves or sixteen pages to the printed sheet) and assembled in gatherings of four leaves or eight pages. The A4+2 indicates that there are two leaves (in this case, the table of contents) inserted after leaf A4. What I could never tell was whether those were two single leaves were conjugate—that is from the same sheet of paper folded in half, or disjunct—two single leaves. Every copy I had seen had been so tightly bound that I could not determine the structure.
Aside: Paper often provides a clue to structure. See this glossary (and the detail of a paper mould) for definitions of chain and wire lines and how they are oriented in different book formats. Had the Webster piracy been a quarto with horizontal chain lines, I might have been able to determine whether the leaves were conjugate. If so, they would have had continuous chain lines running across the two pages. However, an octavo has vertical chain lines which do not help. Perhaps others could have looked at the wire lines and figured out whether they were continuous—I could not.
Given my uncertainty, I thought it more conservative to record the pages as two disjunct leaves in the collation formula.

I've now seen 17 copies and had reports from the institutional or private owner about the other 21 copies I know about. Even so, it is only from my newest copy, that I can tell conclusively that the table of contents is made up of a fold and not two disjunct leaves. My collation formula was wrong, and it is properly 8°: [A]4 χ2 B–M4. The symbol "χ" is used for an unsigned gathering in the middle of the book and the superscript "2" indicates that it is two conjugate leaves. See the image below of the bottom spine of the book, with the A, χ, and B gatherings labelled in red. It is clear that the χ gathering is a fold and not two disjunct leaves.

Detail of spine showing book structure.

There will be much more to say about the Webster piracy in the next few essays, which may be a bit delayed due to the holidays and travel plans. Here, I 'fess up to an erratum that crept into my my published writing: [A]4 χ2 rather than [A]4 (A4+2). I'll get it right when I publish a full-blown bibliography of Hoyle!