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The Stationers’ Company to 1775


The Stationers’ Company, founded in 1403 and incorporated in 1557, dominated London’s trade in printed books during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries; following the loss of its monopoly over printing in 1695, its regulatory powers diminished, but it retained a vital role in the life of the London trade, not least through its lucrative joint-stock publishing venture, known as the ‘English Stock’. Among its members can be counted nearly all of London’s leading printers and publishers, and its roster also includes thousands of lesser-known men and women in the trade: type-founders, compositors, printers, publishers, booksellers, and bookbinders. The Company’s importance has long been acknowledged by scholars, but its activities and influence have often been misunderstood. This course will survey the shifting role and character of the Company up to the Carnan court case of 1775, and will also provide a practical guide to using the Company’s key records in their manuscript and edited forms. Topics include: the Company’s structure, regulatory powers, and membership; the Stationers’ Register and other records; the ‘English Stock’; the Company’s relationship with authors; its relationship with other London companies as well as city and national authorities; and its corporate identity.

Topics covered in the class are useful for understanding many of the activities of other European book trade guilds and will provide a firm grounding in key developments in the printing and marketing of early modern books.  The class presumes no prior knowledge of the Company itself, but some experience with rare books.  Students will be provided with copies of key documents and handouts and will work with rare books in Otago’s special collections to examine the consequences of the Company’s roles and activities.  Advance readings will be posted on the School website in March 2020.

Course Instructor
Professor Gadd is a well-known book historian with a particular interest in London’s Stationers’ Company. He wrote his Oxford PhD on the Stationers’ Company, has taught courses on the Company at Rare Book School at the University of Virginia, and is currently editing Liber A, the only major early modern record in the Company’s archive still unpublished. He is co-director of the Stationers’ Register Online, a project to create the first publicly available database of the copy-entries recorded in the Stationers’ Register. He was editor of the first volume of The History of Oxford University Press, covering the period up to 1780, and is a General Editor of the Cambridge Edition of the Works of Jonathan Swift. He is a past President of the Society for the History of Authorship, Reading and Publishing (SHARP).