Almanacs and Printer Patronage

Article excerpt

The Company's choice of printers for its almanacs was an integral component of its corporate authorship. As mentioned earlier, the artisinal process of early modern printing made the printer something of an interpreter as well as a producer of texts. Printed texts often reflected the printer's perceptions as well as his skill, so if control of almanac content helped construct the Company's public image, it would have been important to select trustworthy printers. As one would expect, Company leadership did distribute English Stock almanac patronage in distinct patterns that revealed their priorities. Insofar as they were all stationers in good standing, one assumes that almanac printers conformed to the religious-political norms explored above. Beyond such generalities, however, the Company's almanac printers do not fall into a discernable partisan category. The patterns of English Stock patronage evidently had little to do with tight control of almanac content. Rather, those patterns reveal a set of communal priorities specific to the Company itself. The assistants used their almanac patronage to fulfill practical obligations to the community they governed. They used patronage to bolster the Company's financial, social, and political interests-and to care for its constituents. As artifacts as well as texts, English Stock almanacs reflected the Company's communal values.

Multiple Sheets, Multiple Printers

Although the name of a single printing firm appeared on every title sheet, no book almanac was the work of a lone printer. During the seventeenth century, Capp notes that it was common practice to have different printers produce the calendar and the ephemeris portions of book almanacs.1 This practice continued into the eighteenth century. The 1712 editions of Swallow and Speculum Uranicum carry the names of different printers for the two sections, but even the almanacs that list a name only on the title page usually have notable differences in typeface and quality between their calendars and prognostications. This division of labor extended beyond the two sections to include individual sheets within the sections. Cyprian Blagden notes that in the late seventeenth century the Company "often employed more than one printer for the same almanack." He surmises that while a printer's name usually appeared on the title page, this "denoted the printer of the first two sheets; the third sheet-and in 'sorts,' the half sheet-was very often printed by another whose name seldom appeared."2

The logic of piracy and patronage fostered the development of this piecework system. A single stationer printing all the sheets for an almanac could-and often did-print extra copies to sell on the sly. Assigning even one sheet out of four to a different printer complicated such endeavors. Under the piecework system, collusion among two or three different stationers would have been required to assemble illicit supernumerary copies. If the Warehouse-Keeper-who assigned all work for the English Stock-successfully kept the sheet assignments secret, would-be pirates would have had to seek out the printers of companion sheets in a relatively open manner. This, of course, placed the Warehouse-Keeper in a uniquely privileged position. By keeping his printers in the dark as to which of their colleagues was printing the other sheets for a given almanac, he alone possessed the power to pirate the Company's products. Ben Tooke ran into trouble for doing exactly that. His crucial mistake was using the Company's money to pay for his supernumerary copies; indeed, it was not the actual piracy of English Stock titles that outraged the stockholders in 1702 but the embezzlement of Stock funds. A moderate amount of piracy may well have been, at least tacitly, one of the perks of the Warehouse-Keeper's position.

A post-Tooke Warehouse-Keeper could have avoided Tooke's fate either by raising his own capital to pay surreptitiously for unauthorized sheets or by negotiating explicitly with the printers and promising them a share of his illicit profits. …