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AGAINST THE LAW: CRIME, SHARP PRACTICE AND THE CONTROL OF PRINT. Robin Myers, Michael Harris,...

AGAINST THE LAW: CRIME, SHARP PRACTICE AND THE CONTROL OF PRINT.

(New Castle and London): Oak Knoll Press & The British Library, 2004. 8vo. cloth-covered boards, dust jacket. 200 pages. Part of the Publishing Pathways Series. Eight chapters on different aspects of "sharp practices" in the book world. Includes Christopher de Hamel on "Book Thefts in the Middle Ages," Adri K. Offenberg on "The Censorship of Hebrew Books in Sixteenth-Century Italy," Alastair J. Mann on "Some Property is Theft: copyright law and illegal activity in early..... READ MORE

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Introduction

THE BOOK, WHETHER in manuscript or print, has often been a battle- Ground for the opposing interests of dissent and authority, or for rival Commercial interests. The original essays grouped under the title Against the Law are all concerned with historical aspects of the book trade's role as one of the gatekeepers to social status, reputation, money and power. From one side, the book trade and its products are considered as an opportunity for criminal activity, either by means of sharp practice or by deception, fraud and theft. Another perspective is offered by the attempts of the authorities to control the medium of print itself through forms of censorship, or to dominate the cultural shape of communities through its application and use. The contributors to this volume explore the underside of the book trade, revealing the ways in which laws and regulations relating to books have been exploited and manipulated, or evaded and broken, over many centuries.

Beautiful and precious objects of all kinds have always been the target of thieves and crooks. Books are no exception: Christopher de Hamel writes of a period when men and women feared hell-fire and eternal dam- nation, when an anathema inscribed in a book might stand as good a chance of protecting it as stout locks, or threats of imprisonment or worse. He cites a number of examples of mediaeval book thefts and the measures taken by owners and monastic librarians to try to protect their property from these depredations.

At a much later date, in the mid-nineteenth century, Count Libri abused his official position and scholarly reputation to steal some of the greatest treasures of French and Italian libraries, often covering his tracks by destroying fine bindings, obliterating manuscript annotations and other identifiable marks of ownership. His is an extraordinary story, combining brazen greed and political intrigue, elegantly and amusingly told by Anthony Hobson.

Forms of sharp practice which were designed to circumvent established practices and create an unfair, if not illegal, commercial advantage were evident in all periods. One example of this kind of biblio- deception is described by Nicholas Pickwoad in his highly technical paper on the history and construction of false raised bands. To what extent this always amounted to sharp practice is a moot point. In some cases it undoubtedly was, but it was also accepted trade practice by the nineteenth century. The majority of bibliophiles perhaps knew and cared too little about book structure to tell the genuine article from the false, so binders regularly followed the fashion of sewing on false raised bands. This was much less time-consuming and therefore more profitable for the binder (and sometimes perhaps also cheaper for their customers). The practice gave the customers what they wanted and few owners were any the wiser.

Helen Berry explores the sharp practices of the late seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century book trade through the eyes of the bookseller John Dunton. Dunton was the victim of a good deal of skulduggery practised by his fellow booksellers and auctioneers in London and Dublin, but he seems also to have been haunted by the recollection of deceptions which he himself had contrived at an earlier stage of his career. In particular, as an apprentice Dunton had deceived his master, Thomas Parkhurst, by over-valuing his late father's library and selling it to Parkhurst at an inflated price. In an extraordinarily long and detailed will, Dunton pours out his sense of guilt and his desire to make amends. Dunton's Life and Errors and Dublin Scuffle have long been important sources for those researching the book trade of the period, but this chapter draws attention to new and less familiar material.

Maureen Bell's 'Offensive Behaviour in the English Book Trade' draws on the long-awaited Chronology and Calendar of Documents relating to the London Book Trade, 1641-1700. She attempts, with a wealth of illuminating and lively examples, to define what 'offensive behaviour' meant to the later seventeenth-century authorities, ranging from rudeness and insubordi- nation to deliberate malpractice and theft. We are introduced to a wide cast of characters on the fringes of the book trade, and of legality - such as Mrs Breach, the 'fat woman who keeps a bookselling shop at the foot of the stone stairs going up to the Court of Requests'. This chapter forms a bridge between those papers on skulduggery, crime and sharp practice and those more concerned with legal requirements and copyright.

Adri Offenberg's 'The Censorship of Hebrew Books in Sixteenth- Century Italy' is another world, focusing on the efforts to control print by the papal authorities, who persecuted Jewish printers and owners of Hebrew books for ideological religious reasons. Much of his evidence comes from censored copies of Hebrew books surviving in the British library and elsewhere, which sometimes give the names of the censors. These were often renegade Jews or apostates, who were the only people who could read Hebrew and therefore knew what to censor. They were, however, often careless to the extent of censoring names which seemed to them to have a heretical meaning and thus making complete nonsense of a text.

Alastair Mann discusses the changing meaning and interpretation of copyright in Scotland, with a brief comparison with England. A large part of his chapter is concerned with the repressive actions and sharp practice of the King's Printer in Scodand, with counterfeiting and duplicity in the book trade, and the defence of local privileges in opposition to English imports and Dutch pirates. He also provides some valuable case studies to illustrate the complex and often chaotic publishing history of bibles and almanacs in Scodand.

Finally, Bill Bell's 'What did the nineteenth-century convict read?' gives a wholly different slant to the subject of crime and those operating against the law. An increasing state interest in crime and the mechanisms for its control was reflected in new uses for the medium of print. By the end of their long voyage, convicts transported to Australia were often more literate than immigrants within the law. This sociological case study is based on a variety of sources, including surviving diaries and letters.

These papers are the published proceedings of the 26th annual book trade history conference held at the St Bride Printing library and Birkbeck College. Michael Harris Giles Mandelbrote Robin Myers London August 2004