chapter  10
10 Pages

Publishers and Booksellers

In the middle of the second half of the eighteenth century the British book trade still bore many of the characteristics of 60 or 70 years earlier. Despite important developments, especially in the quantity and variety of material which was being published, the trade was still organised in the way which had been evolved in the twenty years following the lapse of the Licensing Act. This organisation depended essentially on the continuity of the copyrights in which the leading copy-owning booksellers had invested so much of their capital. New books were seen as another addition to a copy-owner’s permanent stock of copies, in which, in due course, shares might be made available to others through the trade sales. The system was familiar, safe and successful, all of which made it attractive to the trade. It was not even as exclusive as it might sometimes have seemed. New men did make their way into the trade, although sometimes with difficulty. Despite the rapid growth of the trade, however, it was essentially stable; the momentous events of the 1770s transformed, if they did not entirely destroy, that stability which the trade had enjoyed for so long. The Stationers’ Company, whose leading members were already reeling from the Lords’ decision in Millar v. Donaldson, suffered another blow in June 1775 when the Lords ruled that the English Stock’s almanac monopoly was also illegal.1 This marked the end of another long battle against ‘piracy’, and another victory for the ‘pirates’. The almanac monopoly had been under challenge intermittently since the late seventeenth century, but it was Thomas Carnan, who had been in business in London since 1744, who mounted the final assault. He had openly printed almanacs for many years, but in 1773 he virtually challenged the Company to prosecute him. It did, and Carnan won. Although the English Stock continued to derive considerable revenue from the almanacs until the early nineteenth

century, these events reinforced the feeling that the mid-1770s were the end of an era in the formerly ordered world of London publishing.2