Term Catalogue  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Term Catalogues were catalogues printed before the book fairs to give an overview of the upcoming production. At the fairs publishers would refer to them to see what production their colleagues had to offer. One bought books published by colleagues or changed books with them to widen the selection one could sell oneself.

Famous were the German term catalogues (Messkataloge) which gave an overview of the central European book production for the Frankfurt and Leipzig fairs three times a year. Unlike Great Britain or France Germany had no central publishing city, the fairs were necessary to reach the common market.

The English term catalogues published by Edward Arber from the booksellers' quarterly lists - The Term Catalogues, 1668-1709 A.D., 3 vol. (1903-06) - give by contrast only a small selection of the total production of English 17th and 18th century titles.

The following table shows the proportion of books published in different fields as listed in the last issue of the term catalogues for Easter 1711 - under the original headings. London's book trade - the split between new and old titles shows this - had become a trade of 'new' books involved in ongoing controversies. The fields of "Divinity" and "History and Politikcs" dominated the market, with the term "history" referring to all kinds of books reporting on events whether ancient or new, true or fictitious.

Term Catalogues, German Meßkataloge, are serial publications, catalogues that early modern booksellers issued in joint ventures in order to inform customers—most importantly book traders from other cities—about their recent productions. The original title of the first English issue published in 1668 by John Starkey was Mercurius Librarius, or, a catalogue of books published in Michaelmas term. "Term" referred to the fairs that would be held four times a year as platforms of the trade. The title was rephrased in 1670 to simply Catalogue of Books.

The catalogues are a valuable source to researchers today, because they often give dates of the publication processes and information about working titles that were eventually dropped. The segmentation is of interest for its contemporary perspective on the market: a perspective modern literary histories no longer share.

The present article deals with the English catalogues published between 1668 and 1711, as reprinted by Edward Arber in three volumes in 1903, 1905 and 1906. These English catalogues focused on London publishers, with marginal contributions from publishers from Oxford, Cambridge, York, Edinburgh, and—in rare cases—from abroad: Dublin, Amsterdam, Paris, and Geneva. This contrasts to the German catalogues, which were designed to collect listings from publishers of different regions who would meet at the book fairs. See Meßkatalog for the German series.


Publication History

In the 17th century, catalogues of books for sale already had a long history.<ref>Growoll, A. Three centuries of English book trade bibliography. New York, 1903.</ref> The serial publication of English catalogues with a focus on London's production was a rather late development. Germany had a longer history of these catalogues, published there from the 16th into the 18th centuries in preparation for the Leipzig and Frankfurt Book Fairs.

The English publications—actually a six series of periodicals whose issues were counted separately—begins in 1668 and ends in 1711. John Starkey, who initiated the project, was joined by Robert Clavell after the first two numbers of series one. Clavell became the main organiser. Clavell died on 8 August 1711. His age seems to have terminated the project. The publication had already become unstable in 1708 and 1709. The last catalogue that appeared in 1711 after a gap of more than a year promised a new beginning with a modernized design. It remained, however, without successor.

The usual rhythm of editions yielded four catalogues per year with issues sold at:

The entire collection consists today of 161 catalogues. Some years have not reached the full number of four catalogues. The last catalogues printed in 1708 and 1709 were double editions covering two terms. 1670 saw two rival editions for both Easter and Trinity to mend a perceived deficiency in the official Starkey and Clavell catalogues. London's booksellers complained that their project had focused on publications that sold for more than a shilling, and that it lacked diligence. The complaint reveals that Starkey and Clavell were paid for each title they listed:

The Publishers of Mercurius Librarius, by their unreasonable demands for inserting the titles of Books; and also their imperfect Collecting; omitting many; and refusing all under 1sh[illing] [in] Price; hath occasioned the Printing of this Catalogue: wherein those defects are rectified.
Collected by, and printed for, the Booksellers of London.<ref>Easter Catalogue No.1, in The Term Catalogues, 1668-1709, With a Number for Easter Term, 1711 A.D. Ed. by Edward Arber, vols. 1. London: 1903, p.I.41</ref>

A comparison of the numbers of titles listed in the late 17th and early 18th century term catalogues and numbers the English Short Title Catalogue provides justification for these complaints.

Structure and Scope

thumb|English Term Catalogues 1670-1709, listings in the most important categories per decade thumb|London's book market 1700, distribution of titles according to Term Catalogue data, after dissolving the "Reprinted" section. Poetic and fictional production does not yet have a unified place. [[File:1477-1799 ESTC titles per decade, statistics.png|thumb|ESTC data 1477-1799 showing that the Term Catalogues listed barely a quarter of the titles]] The 161 catalogues printed between 1668 and 1711 show an increase in the number of titles. The average catalogue listed 109 books under 10 headings. Some catalogues had up to 13 headings; the minimum was six in the small catalogue that appeared for Hillary 1708. The first catalogues had begun with 40 to 50 titles; later catalogues reached 150 to 200 titles. The Easter catalogue of 1689 listed the exceptional number of 293 books.

All catalogues opened with a Divinity section and closed with a section of books reprinted. 86% of the catalogues offered additional advertisements at the end to announce ongoing projects looking for subscribers and sponsors. The following table lists the headings and how often they appeared. The sequence of categories varied. History was most often the second heading, Miscellanies usually the one before the Reprinted section. Other prominent headings were Physick (medicine), Mathematicks (comprising Architecture and Navigation in several of the catalogues), Architecture, Herauldry (heraldry, a rare heading), Poetry and Plays, Musick, Navigation, Globes, Maps, Cards, Charts, Plates (in the sense of illustrations), Astrology (a heading in only one of the catalogues), Law, Libri Latini (& François), Miscellanies, A Collection of Letters (appears once with a single title).

None of the catalogues offered a unified section for fiction, or for literature in the modern sense. Novels were customarily listed among the "Histories"—the majority of which were non-fictional—and sometimes as "Miscellanies". The category "Poetry and Plays" was reserved for verse and stage plays.

The following table and diagram look at all titles under the eleven most prominent headings, with a look at the individual decades and the overall trend:<ref>See The Cambridge History of the Book in Britain vol. 4. 1557-1695 Ed. by John Barnard and D. F. McKenzie. Cambridge: UP, 2002, p.788 for a parallel computation.</ref>

Category/Decade 1670s 1680s 1690s 1700s
Divinity 858 1233 1479 1439
Histories 234 387 333 261
Physick 102 87 92 76
Mathematicks + Navigation 83 57 30 56
Poetry + Plays 223 231 239 186
Musick 18 42 89 42
Maps + Plates 94 139 35 61
Law 81 75 44 39
Libri Latini + François 206 194 219 186
Miscellanies 726 900 780 626
Reprinted 1074 1009 1186 1152
Total 3699 4354 4526 4124
ESTC totals (compared) 13235 (27.9%) 20687 (21.0%) 19837 (22.8%) 22757 (18.1%)

A comparison with modern ESTC data proves that the Term Catalogues remained highly selective. The ESTC lists between mire than 13,000 and almost 23,000 titles for the individual decades. The Term Catalogue numbers range at 20%-30% of that. Catalogues of the 1690s had the greatest average numbers of titles, but ESTC data imply that the 1690s actually saw a slight drop in total title numbers. The distortions are partly the result of the project's instability in 1708 and 1709. They reflect, in part, the continuous neglect of ephemeral publications such as short political pamphlets.

The series ended in 1708 and 1709 with double editions. The remaining catalogue for Easter 1711 began with a new number 1 issue, and remains remarkable with its attempt to establish a new structure. The long category of reprinted books was split and brought under the respective headings of the new major categories: 1) Divinity, 2) History & Politicks, 3) Mathematical Sciences, 4) Physick & Natural Philosophy, 5) Philology, and 6) Poetry. The new arrangement confirmed the position of the two categories of religious and political pubications. "History and Politikcs" stresses the interest in ongoing—religio-political—debates. 1711 is still marked by the Sacheverell affair.<ref>Data again retrieved from Edward Arber's edition vol. 3, Catalogue for Easter 1711. See for the following table and a brief discussion of the data with a look at the German Messkataloge for 1711: Olaf Simons, Marteaus Europa oder Der Roman, bevor er Literatur wurde (Amsterdam/ Atlanta: Rodopi, 2001), p.36-50, 61-65.</ref>

Category Titles Percentage
[DIVINITY.] 71 37%
POETRY. 3 2%
191 100%





  • The Term Catalogues, 1668-1709, With a Number for Easter Term, 1711 A.D. A Contemporary Bibliography of English Literature in the Reigns of Charles II, James II, William and Mary, and Anne. Ed. by Edward Arber, vols. 1-3. London: 1903/ 1905/ 1906.


  • Growoll, A. Three centuries of English booktrade bibliography. New York, 1903. [Contains a list, by Eames, W., of the catalogues, etc., published for the English book trade from 1595 to 1902.]
  • Cyprian Bladgen, "The Genesis of the Term Catalogues." The Library. s5-VIII(1). 1953. p.30-35. [1]
  • Peter Lindenbaum. "Authors and Publishers in the Late Seventeenth Century: New Evidence on their Relations" The Library. s6-17 (3), 1995, p.250-269. [2]
  • Olaf Simons, Marteaus Europa oder Der Roman, bevor er Literatur wurde (Amsterdam/ Atlanta: Rodopi, 2001), pp.36-50 and 61-65.
  • The Cambridge History of the Book in Britain vol. 4. 1557-1695 Ed. by John Barnard and D. F. McKenzie. Cambridge: UP, 2002. ISBN 0-521-66182-X

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