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Commentary on:
Usher's Printing Privilege (1672)

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Primary Sources of Copyright (1450-1900)

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Identifier: us_1672

 

Commentary on John Usher's Printing Privilege 1672

Oren Bracha

School of Law, University of Texas

 

Please cite as:
Bracha, O. (2008) ‘Commentary on John Usher's Printing Privilege 1672', in Primary Sources on Copyright (1450-1900), eds L. Bently & M. Kretschmer, www.copyrighthistory.org

 

1. Full title

2. Abstract

3. The Cambridge Printing Press and the Regulation of the Press in the North American British Colonies

4. John Usher's Printing Privilege

5. Other Colonial Printing Privileges

6. A New Era: The William Billings Privilege

7. References


1. Full title

John Usher's Printing Privilege by the Massachusetts General Court 1672


2. Abstract

The first exclusive printing privilege in the North American British colonies was granted in 1672 by the Massachusetts General Court to the bookseller John Usher. The commentary describes the framework of government's regulation of the printing press in Massachusetts and other American colonies. It surveys the two related aspects of the status of the press as an important but dangerous public resource: censorship and encouragement. The commentary explains that exclusive privileges to printers and booksellers, though sporadic, were not unique to Massachusetts. It concludes with a discussion of the first failed attempt of obtaining an author printing privilege in America at the eve of the Revolution.

 

3. The Cambridge Printing Press and the Regulation of the Press in the North American British Colonies

The first printing press in the North American British colonies arrived in Cambridge, Massachusetts at the end of 1638. The moving force behind the arrival of the press was the Reverend Jose Glover (d. 1638). Glover, a Puritan minister and the son of a wealthy shipping merchants family, invested in the stock of the Massachusetts Bay Company. However, he was not quick to leave his Sutton parish and move to the new Puritan center in the colonies. It was the intensification of religious oppression in the late 1630s that persuaded him to move. After a preliminary visit to the Massachusetts Bay colony, Glover set out for the final move in the ship John of London. Aboard the ship were Glover's family, several other passengers whose trip was financed by Glover as part of his plans for commercial enterprises in the New World, and materials and equipment related to those plans. There was also a printing press whose type was probably made in Amsterdam, paper, and other supplies required for printing.[1]

 

Glover's exact motivation in bringing the press to Massachusetts is unknown. His connections with the colony's ruling elite, his possible involvement in the founding of Harvard College and the financial help in setting up the press by "Some Gentleman of Amsterdam"[2]-most likely Puritan or Puritan sympathizers- suggest that any commercial impulse was supplanted by other reasons. The Puritan leaders of Massachusetts Bay with their intellectual background must have perceived the potential of the press to their scholarly endeavors, to the civil authority of their government and to their religious mission. It is also possible that, in light of increasing suppression during the 1630s of Puritan literature in England and even in their haven in the Netherlands, there existed an intention to create a new Puritan publication center in the colonies.[3] This would never happen. Whether due to its remoteness from the metropolis or the decline of the persecution of Puritans in the 1640s the Cambridge press served mainly the local needs of the colony.

 

When the press arrived to Massachusetts Glover was not with it. He died en route. If Glover brought with him a trained printer, as some historians speculate, he too did not survive the trip. Ambiguity shrouds the question of who exactly took over the operation of the press. In 1639 Governor John Winthrop (1587-1649) reported in his colony's chronicle that "[a] printing house was begun at Cambridge by one Daye."[4] Stephen Day (1594-1668) (who in America would spell his name "Steven") was a locksmith by profession. His trip was financed by Glover, probably as part of his plans for establishing an iron foundry. As Stephen Day was barely literate and had no training as a printer it is unlikely that he operated the press, although he may have helped to set it up as suggested by a later Decision of the Massachusetts General Court.[5] It was probably his son Mathew Day (1620-1649), who may have been a printer's apprentice, who took over the role.[6] Whoever was the printer, by 1639 Cambridge, Massachusetts had an operating printing press, before many cities and important learning centers in England and the continent.

 

Harvard had a stake in the press and played an active role in its management, although the exact nature of its interest remains unclear. The fact that Reverend Henry Dunster (1609-1659) the president of Harvard and the person who came to manage the press in its early years married Glover's widow in 1641 makes it even harder to discern the exact division of ownership and control.[7] Whatever the exact formal pattern of ownership, it is clear that both Harvard and the colony's authorities took an active role in the management and control of the press and treated it as a semi-public resource in the service of the colony.

 

The treatment of the press in Massachusetts Bay was influenced by the peculiar intellectual, cultural and political circumstances of the colony. However, the two main aspects of this treatment would be in play in all the other British American colonies where the printing press arrived in the following century. The first aspect was public patronage. The Massachusetts authorities perceived the importance of the press to both the authority of civil government and the religious and intellectual mission of the colony's elite. In a community with an unusual percentage of university graduates,[8] preoccupied with maintaining religious and civil cohesion, awareness of the importance of the press was only natural. The first known publication of the Cambridge press expressed both the religious and civic aspects of its public importance. The Freeman's Oath was an oath in which every freeman of the colony pledged his allegiance to both religious and civil authority.[9] The Massachusetts authorities took a particular interest in sustaining the press and its operation. The General Court often made orders and provided encouragement in regard to the operation of the press. Thus, for example, when equipment for keeping the press working or another printer were needed the Court was petitioned and it took the required measures in order to provide both.[10]

 

The second aspect of the treatment of the press was supervision and suppression. While it could be a useful tool, the press could also be a dangerous catalyst of civil and religious dissent and unrest. To a ruling elite steeped in the English tradition of censorship and licensing this meant a need for tight regulation of the product of the press. The Massachusetts licensing legislation was the most comprehensive in the colonies and it came the closest to constitute an actual licensing "system," a miniature, crude version of the English licensing scheme. In 1662 the General Court in reaction to "irregularities & abuse to the authority of this country by the printing presse" ordered that no copy shall be printed unless licensed by two appointed licensers.[11] The order was repealed in 1663 when it was declared that the "presse be at liberty."[12] In 1664, however a comprehensive permanent licensing system was established. The new law forbade the setting up of any press except the one in Cambridge and subjected all publications to licensing by a special board appointed by the Court, all under threat of forfeiture of equipment and of the liberty to exercise the trade of printing.[13] These two aspects-patronage and regulation-were flipsides of the same coin. They expressed the perception of the press as an important public resource whose operation had to be publicly managed and regulated in order to assure its service to the commonwealth.

 

When in the following decades printing gradually arrived to other colonies,[14] they exhibited various combinations of patronage and suppression in their treatment of the press. Colonial governmental approach to the press oscillated between viewing it as a dangerous instrument of religious heresy and political unrest, sometimes resulting in a complete ban; and acknowledgment of such dangers accompanied by appreciation of the value of the press in promoting governmental purposes or the public good. On one extreme one finds William Berkeley (1605-1677), the Governor of Virginia, who in 1671 declared:

"But I thank God, there are no free schools nor printing, and I hope we shall not have these hundred years; for learning has brought disobedience, and heresy, and sects into the world, and printing has divulged them, and libels against the best government. God keep us from both."[15]

Virginia followed this line. When in 1683 William Nuthead (d. 1695) set up a press in Jamestown and printed various laws passed by the assembly, he was brought before the governor and the council that ordered him and his patron John Buckner (1631-1695) to post bond and refrain from any other printing until instruction arrived from England.[16] Several months later such instruction arrived along with a new governor. It ordered the governor "[t]o forbid the use of any printing press upon any occasion whatever."[17] Although the order was modified in 1690 to allow printing under special permission from the governor, the ban meant the end of printing in Virginia until 1730 when William Parks (d. 1750) set up another press in Williamsburg.

 

Even where printing was not completely banned it was heavily restricted. The setting up and the operation of a press required governmental permission, which usually was not easily given. There was also prior licensing of the content of publication. In 1685 Thomas Dongan (1634-1715) the governor of New York received instructions from England in terms that were repeated in instructions to other colonies:

"And for as much a great inconvenience may arise by the liberty of printing within our province of New York, you are to provide by all necessary orders that noe person keep any press for printing, nor that any book, pamphlet or other matters whatsoever bee printed without your special leave & license first obtained."[18]

The impulse for restriction of the press was as much internal to colonial government as it came from England. The licensing and prior restraint limitations survived in the colonies well into the eighteenth century,[19] much longer after they declined in England with the lapse of the 1662 Licensing Act in 1695. The absoluteness of the licensing regimes in the colonies, however, was more a matter of theory than practice. Governmental intervention tended to be sporadic and inconsistent.[20] When the authorities decided to act their actions could be quite harsh. Persons who published unlicensed materials could find themselves fined, jailed or even deprived of their equipment, as William Bradford (1663-1752) learned in 1692. Bradford ran into troubles with the Pennsylvania assembly for printing an unlicensed pamphlet by one of the parties of the religious-political skirmishes in the colony, he was arrested and his equipment was seized. It was restored to him only when the new appointed governor of New York and Pennsylvania Benjamin Fletcher (1640-1703) had intervened on his behalf.[21] Prior restraint of the press existed in some colonies even in the second half of the eighteenth century, although the general trend by that time was a shift toward post-publication sanctions.[22]

 

Alongside suppression, the colonies that did not ban the press supplied encouragement and support. There were often titles and offices such as "public printer to the colony" which carried with them government patronage in the form of some compensation, commitment to purchase printed works, or at least the exclusive right to print some governmental documents, usually the laws of the colony. In general, government-related publications supplied the bulk of the work of many of the printers and constituted an important form of patronage. Sometimes there were even land grants or convenient leases to printers.[23] In short, throughout the colonial period, following the Massachusetts example, the press was seen as an important but dangerous public resource to be encouraged and used by the government, but also to be restricted and regulated.

 

4. John Usher's Printing Privilege

The first grant of exclusive printing rights in America took place within the general framework of colonial government's support and regulation of the press. In 1672 John Usher (1648-1726) made an interesting proposition to the Massachusetts colony. He offered to publish at his own expense the laws of the colony, an undertaking hitherto executed by the public authorities. John Usher was the son of Hezekiah Usher (1615-1676) one of the first and most important booksellers of the colony, and by that time he had taken over that aspect of his father's business. Although the division of labor was somewhat fluid, the emerging book trade in Massachusetts had developed a distinction between two professional roles. Printers were in charge of printing works. Booksellers like John and Hezekiah Usher, in addition to vending books, often functioned as publishers. They would procure a text, hire a printer cover other expenses and undertake the risk of a publishing project.[24]

 

John Usher's grant, which is sometimes referred to as the first American copyright, was, roughly, the equivalent of the English printing patent or continental privilege grants. It appears that the origin of the grant was a specific concern by Usher in regard to his printer, Samuel Green. Green was one of the two printers operating at the time in Massachusetts. Usher's distrust of his printer is supported by the phrasing of the General Court's order in response to his first petition in the matter:

"In ansr to the petition of John Vsher, the Court judgeth it meete to order, & be it by this Court ordered & enacted, that no printer shall print any more copies then are agreed & pajd for by the ouuner of the sajd coppie or coppies, nor shall he nor any other reprint or make sale of any of the same, wthout the sajd ouners consent, vpon the forfeiture an poenalty of treble the whole charges of printing, & paper, &c, of the whole quantity payd for by the ouner of the coppie, to the sajd ouner or his assignees."[25]

Apparently, Usher was concerned that Green would secretly make and sell extra copies of the publication, thereby undermining his market. The solution was a legislative prohibition of such an action and an exclusive vending and printing grant. A year later, in response to another petition, the General Court issued a slightly different order:

"Mr John Vsher hauing binn at the sole chardge of the impression of the the booke of lawes... the Court judgeth it meete to order, that for at least seven yeares, vunless he shall haue sold them all before that tjme, there shallbe no other or further impression made by any person thereof in this jurisdiction."[26]

This time the privilege of exclusivity was explicitly limited to a term of seven years. It was also restricted to the specific stock that Usher had in hand and did not cover any future reprints.

 

Usher's grant was similar to English printing patents that were granted by the crown since the early sixteenth century. It had nothing to do with authorship. The grant conferred a limited-duration economic privilege of exclusivity on a publisher in order to reduce his risk and encourage a specific publication. Like the printing patent it was an ad-hoc discretionary grant and not part of a general legal regime. It is unclear whether Usher or the General Court modeled the privilege after the printing patent or if they were even aware of such grants in England and the continent. Be that as it may, the grant was part of a local pattern of governmental activity. Usher's grant followed the form of other privileges dispensed by colonial authorities in a variety of economic and social fields. It was no different from other Massachusetts privilege grants in the field of manufactures, such as Samuel Winslow's 1641 exclusive grant for making salt,[27] or from the 1642 exclusive grant to John Glover for operating a ferry.[28] Usher's printing privilege was just another governmental encouragement to an enterprise deemed beneficial to the public good that took the common form of a legislative grant of limited-time exclusivity.

 

5. Other Colonial Printing Privileges

Some historians argue that the 1673 Massachusetts' grant to John Usher was the only one known during the colonial period.[29] This is inaccurate. While printing privilege grants were sporadic, different variants of them were sometimes used in the colonies. These grants remained isolated and case-specific occurrences. No general copyright regime, either statutory or under the common law, appeared during the colonial period. The 1710 Statute of Anne that created a general statutory copyright regime in Britain did not apply to the colonies. The reasons for this difference between metropolis and periphery were rooted in the economic, social and cultural circumstances of the colonies. The colonies had no equivalent of the English Stationers' Company. A small and unorganized book trade could not create trade-wide regulations, enforce them, and lobby government for sustained backup and support. From the point of view of colonial government a major incentive that led European governments to bestow powers on the book trade guilds was lacking in the colonies. Colonial authorities had little need for an intermediary in enforcing their censorship and licensing policies. In a colony where there were just a handful of printers and presses (often just one),[30] even if the number of potential writers and sometimes booksellers was larger, there were easily traceable targets that government could regulate effectively without any need to resort to intermediaries.

 

In the context of a small book trade consisting of a small number of printers and booksellers there were probably effective alternatives to exclusive legal publishing rights for reducing the publisher's risk. Although knowledge of the exact trade practices during this period is incomplete, book historians mention two such alternative risk-reducing devices. The first was private contractual agreements among booksellers not to print each other's copies.[31] The other was an informal social norm within the trade against such behavior, supported by what one historian has called "an enlightened self interest."[32] Both contractual agreements and social norms were likely to be particularly effective in the context of a small close-knit professional community with a limited number of actors. Moreover, in many cases the risk of competition was limited to the local market. In addition to the physical and economic barriers to an effective inter-colony market there were cultural barriers between the colonies. Much of what was printed in one colony-governmental documents, religious materials, and local histories-was of little relevance to the audience in other colonies. Even in cases of materials that were of general interest there were relatively effective risk-reduction mechanisms such as the offer on consignment by one bookseller or printer of materials published by another.[33]

 

This explains why no parallel of the English and European guild or statutory copyright developed in the North American colonies and why the resort to formal legislative privileges was sporadic. Still the use of legislative privileges was not limited to one singular incident in Massachusetts. Such privileges were granted occasionally as part of the general pattern of colonial regulation and encouragement of the press. For instance, in 1747 the North Carolina legislature, under the active encouragement of Governor Gabriel Johnston (1699-1752), decided to rectify a "shameful condition" and publish a revised compilation of the colony's laws. In order to accomplish that goal James Davis (1721-1785) from Virginia was persuaded to come to North Carolina and was appointed printer for the colony.[34] The legislature also enacted a statute that appointed four persons to be "Commissioners, to Revise and Print the several Acts of Assembly in Force in this Province."[35] In addition to a payment to the "Commissioners" for complying and printing the laws it was ordered that they shall have "the Benefit and Advantage of the sole Printing and Vending the Books of the said Laws, for and during the Space or Term of Five Years."[36] The Act also provided for punishment to any person vending or importing the Law Books without a license from the Commissioners, "their Heirs or Assigns" during the term of protection, and set a maximum price of fifteen Shillings for their sale.[37] In short, the North Carolina act followed the same scheme as John Usher's Massachusetts privilege decades earlier. It made the "Commissioners" the publishers of the Law Book and granted them exclusive publishing and sale rights for five years.

 

Other colonies, instead of explicitly bestowing exclusive publishing rights, used other arrangements that accomplished the same end. In 1696 William Bladen (1673-1718) petitioned the Maryland authorities and asked for leave to bring at his own expense a press that "would be of great advantage to this province for printing the Laws made every session &c."[38] The request was approved. In 1700 he further petitioned the council for "encouragement" which resulted in a recommendation affirmed by the house that all writs, "Bayle bonds, Letters Testamentry, Letters of Adminstration, Citacons summonses & ca"[39] used shall be printed. Prices were set as "one penny or one li Tobo per peece" for some of the documents and "Two pence or two pounds of tobbo" for others.[40] In the same year Bladen proposed to publish a compilation of Maryland laws. This was accepted by the legislature which provided that:

"Mr. Bladen according to his proposall have liberty to printe the body of the Law of this province if so his Excy shall seem meet And it is likewise unanimously resolved by this house that upon Mr. Bladen's of one Printed body of the said Laws to each respective County Court within this province for his encouragement Shall have allowed him Two Thousand pounds of tobo in each respective county as aforesaid."[41]

The net result of this arrangement was implied exclusivity and explicit subsidy to Bladen's project. Against a background rule that prohibited printing without license, the liberty to print the laws of the colony promised de facto exclusivity. Moreover, Bladen received a commitment for the purchase of a substantial number of copies for a predetermined price. Similar arrangements were used in later occurrences in Maryland[42] and in New York.[43]

 

Future research in the field is likely to uncover other instances of printing and publishing privileges of various kinds awarded by colonial legislatures. Even the current incomplete knowledge of this period, however, yields a rather clear picture of the colonial precursors of copyright in America. During this period there was neither general statutory or common law copyright nor any equivalent of the European guild regulations. However various colonies granted on a case-specific basis different printing privileges. These privileges were granted as discretionary economic encouragements to printers or publishers and took various forms, including exclusive printing and sale rights.

 

6. A New Era: The William Billings Privilege

Like English printing patents and most European privilege grants, colonial printing grants were publishers' economic privileges. They were conferred on booksellers or printers, rather than authors. The typical texts involved, most commonly compilations of the colony's laws, had no easily indefinable authors in the modern sense. Nor was authorship a significant normative basis of the privilege grants that were justified in terms of the social and economic benefits to the public of a particular publishing enterprise. All of that was about to change after independence. At the very end of the colonial period one isolated incident in Massachusetts was a harbinger of that change. The protagonist was an unlikely one. William Billings (1746-1800) of Boston was a tanner by profession and had no formal training in music. He was also a composer, a singing teacher and a choir master. Future generations would come to see Billings as the father of American choral music whose works had become an integral part of the American folk tradition. His career however was bumpy. While he was quite popular in the 1770s and the 1780s, his work fell out of fashion and lost popularity in the last years of his life.[44] Some have accused the lack of copyright protection in America of Billing's demise, observing that in his heyday his works were freely copied with impunity.[45]

 

In 1770 Billings' was at the height of his success. He had just published his popular book of tunes-New England Psalm Singer.[46] Billings who was working on a second addition became aware that his popular work was about to be widely reprinted and sold, or so he said. He decided to do something about it. In November 1770 he petitioned the Massachusetts House of Representatives "praying that he may have the exclusive Privilege of selling a Book of Church-Musick compos'd by him self, for a certain Term of Years."[47] On November 16th a Bill to that effect was brought before the house. Further consideration of the Bill was deferred to the next session. There the matter remained until in 1772 Billings submitted another petition to the Governor, Council and House of Representatives repeating the plea that "he might have a Patent granted him for the sole Liberty of printing a Book, by him compos'd, consisting of Psalm Tunes, Anthems & Canons."[48] On June 9th the petition was read and Billings was permitted to bring in a Bill.[49] The Bill entitled An Act for granting to William Billings of Boston the Sole Privilege of printing and vending a Book by him compos'd, consisting of a great variety of Psalm Tunes, Anthems and Cannons, in two Volumes[50] was read in the House of Representatives on June 14th.[51] The Bill provided that Billings "be and hereby is impower'd soley to print and vend his said Composition consisting of Psalm-tunes Anthems and Canons and have and recieve the whole and only benefit and emolument arising therefrom for and during the full term of seven years."[52] The original term of fourteen years stated in the Bill was deleted and changed to seven, probably as a compromise. Both the House of Representatives and the Council passed the Bill.

 

This was an important landmark in American copyright history. For the first time an author rather than a printer or a bookseller applied to receive exclusive privileges in his own work. Two and a half centuries after printing privileges were granted to authors in Venice, France, Germany and England,[53] an American legislature was willing to bestow rights on an author as such. In Britain the Statute of Anne had formally conferred rights on authors since 1710[54] and during the eighteenth century authorship had become the dominant ideology of copyright law and discourse, but in America Billings' petition and Bill constituted the first appearance of the author as a claimer of rights.

 

The petition, the Bill and the proceedings reflected the transitional character of Billings' plea for authorial rights. Billings was neither making a general case of authors' rights nor pleading for a universal copyright regime. He was, rather, petitioning for the familiar ad-hoc economic privilege that traditionally was granted to booksellers and printers. Moreover, parts of the petition justified the grant in the common terms of an enterprise useful to the public that should be encouraged. His book of tunes, Billings explained "has been found upon Experience, to be to general Acceptance; & which composition is made much Use of in many of our Churches, & is more & more used every Day."[55] The petition and Bill included, however, new forms of justification and claims couched in the vocabulary of authorship and intellectual labor. Billings informed "this Hon:ble Court that he is apprehensive that an unfair advantage was about to be taken against him, & that others are endeavoring to reap the Fruits of his great Labor & Cost."[56] The Bill referred to the fact that the book "cost him much pains and application and has also been very expensive to him."[57] More importantly the proceedings were fraught with concerns about authorship and originality. The reason for the delay between the first petition in 1770 and the 1772 Bill was probably a suspicion that Billings was not the author of some of the tunes in the book.[58] Billings made a point of repeating the fact that the book was composed by him and pointed out that "he is the sole Author, & should have been asham'd, to have expos'd himself by publishing any Tunes, Anthems or Canons; compos'd by Another."[59] Billings' petition followed the traditional form of publisher's privileges. It justified the petition in terms of public benefits and asked for exclusive printing rights. The novelty was that the petitioner was an author and that, for the first time in the American colonies, he based part of his case on claims of just dessert for the intellectual labor of authors.

 

The fate of Billing's printing privilege was tragic, at least from the point of view of the petitioner. After it was passed by the House and the Council the Bill together with a few others was vetoed by Governor Thomas Hutchinson (1711-1780) and never came into force.[60] Hutchinson gave no reasons, but it is likely that Billings was caught in the power struggle between the loyalist governor and his growingly antagonistic Assembly. Billings' friendship with the House Speaker Samuel Adams (1722-1803) may have worsened his position in this regard.[61] Authors' rights in America would have to wait for independence. Nevertheless, Billing's petition and the resultant Bill were important precursors of future trends. After the Revolution authors would become the common and dominant bearers of rights in American copyright law, and authorship would become the official ideology of the field. These trends would lead to numerous state printing grants to authors, to general authors' copyright statutes in the states, and eventually to the 1790 authorship-based federal copyright regime.

 

7. References

Amory, Hugh and David D. Hall. History of the Book in America: The Colonial Book in the Atlantic World, vol. 1 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000)

Ashton, Jean. "The Advent of Printing in New York: William Bradford and the Slow Growth of a Local Press." Biblion 7 (Fall 1998): 202-235

Berthold, Arthur B., American Colonial Printing as Determined by Contemporary Cultural Forces, 1639-1763 (New York: Franklin, 1970)

Buechner, Alan C. "Review of William Billings of Boston: Eighteenth Century Composer by David P. McKay and Richard Crawford." Notes 33. 2nd Ser. (1976): 284-86

Bugbee, Bruce W. The Genesis of American Patent and Copyright Law (Washington: Public Affairs Press, 1967)

Crawford, Richard and David P. McKay. William Billings of Boston: Eighteenth Century Composer (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1975)

Demeter, Richard L. Printers, Presses, and Composing Sticks: Women Printers of the Colonial Period (Hicksville, N.Y.: Exposition Press, 1979)

Lehmann-Haupt, Helmut, Lawrence C. Wroth, and Ruth S. Granniss. The Book in America: A History of the Making, the Selling, and the Collecting of Books in the United States (New York: R.R. Bowker, 1951)

Levy, Leonard W. Emergence of A Free Press (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985)

Littlefield, George Emery. The Early Massachusetts Press 1638-1711 (New York: B. Franklin, 1969)

McMurtrie, Douglas C. The Beginnings of Printing in Virginia (Lexington, VA: Washington and Lee University, 1935)

Oswald, John Clyde. Printing in the Americas (New York: Gregg Publishing, 1937)

Paschal, George Washington. A History of Printing in North Carolina (Raleigh: Edwards and Broughton, 1946)

Reese, William S. "The First Hundred Years of Printing in British North America: Printers and Collectors." Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society 99 (1989): 337-373

Roden, Robert F. The Cambridge Press, 1638-1692 (New York: Dodd, Mead, and Co., 1903)

Silver, Rollo G. "Prologue to Copyright in America: 1772." Papers of the Bibliographical Society of the University of Virginia 11 (1958): 259

Sloan, Wm. David and Julie H. Williams. The Early American Press, 1690-1783 (Westwood, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1994)

Starkey, Lawrence G. "The Benefactors of the Cambridge Press: A Reconsideration." Studies in Bibliography: Papers of the Bibliographical Society of the University of Virginia 3 (1950): 267

Tebbel, John. A History of Book Publishing in the United States (New York: R.R. Bowker, 1972)

Thomas, Isaiah. The History of Printing in America with a Biography of Printers and an Account of Newspapers (Albany, N.Y.: J. Munsell, 1874)

Winship, George Parker. The Cambridge Press, 1638-1692 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1945)

Worth, Lawrence C. A History of Printing in Colonial Maryland, 1686-1776 (Baltimore: Typothetae of Baltimore, 1922)

Wroth, Lawrence C. William Parks, printer and journalist of England and colonial America; with a list of the issues of his several presses and a facsimile of the earliest Virginia imprint known to be in existence (Richmond: William Parks Club, 1926)

Wroth, Lawrence C. The Colonial Printer (Portland, M.E.: Southworth and Anthoensen, 1938)


[1] George Parker Winship, The Cambridge Press, 1638-1692 (Portland: Southworth-Anthoensen Press, 1945), 9.

[2] Lawrence G. Starkey, "The Benefactors of the Cambridge Press: A Reconsideration," Studies in Bibliography: Papers of the Bibliographical Society of the University of Virginia 3 (1950): 267.

[3] John William Tebbel, A History of Book Publishing in the United States, vol. 1 (New York: R.R. Bowker Co., 1972), 5.

[4] Quoted in Winship, The Cambridge Press, 1.

[5] Winship, The Cambridge Press, 11.

[6] Tebbel, A History of Book Publishing, 7; Winship, The Cambridge Press, 11-15; George Emery Littlefield, The Early Massachusetts Press, 1638-1711 (New York: B. Franklin, 1969), 101.

[7] Tebbel, A History of Book Publishing, 10.

[8] Id., 4.

[9] Winship, The Cambridge Press, 18-20; Robert F. Roden, The Cambridge Press, 1638-1692 (New York: Dodd, Mead, and Company, 1903), 14-17.

[10] Tebbel , A History of Book Publishing, 17.

[11] Nathaniel Bradstreet Shurtleff, ed., Records of the Governor and Company of the Massachusetts Bay in New England, 1661-1674, vol. 4, pt. 2 (Boston: W. White, 1853-54), 62. The two licensers were Captain Daniel Goodkin and the Reverend Jonathan Mitchel.

[12] Id., 73.

[13] Id., 141.

[14] Virginia had a short episode with the press in 1683 which ended with a complete ban and the forced departure of the printer William Nuthead. It was reintroduced to Virginia only in 1730. Nuthead and his press moved to Maryland in 1685. The press was brought to Pennsylvania in 1685 by William Bradford who moved to New York in 1693. Connecticut received its first press in 1709 and Rhode Island in 1727. The press was first set up in South Carolina in 1731 and in North Carolina in 1749. James Parker brought the press to New Jersey in 1754. After being persecuted in Boston Daniel Fowle moved to New Hampshire and established its first press in 1756. In Delaware it was introduced in 1761. Georgia got its first press in 1763. Tebbel, A History of Book Publishing, 11-16.

[15] Quoted in Tebbel, A History of Book Publishing, 1.

[16] Lawrence C. Wroth, A History of Printing in Colonial Maryland, 1686-1776 (Baltimore: Typothetae of Baltimore, 1922), 1-2; Helmut Lehmann-Haupt, The Book in America: A History of the Making, and Selling of Books in the United States (New York: Bowker, 1951), 14; Isaiah Thomas, The History of Printing in America with a Biography of Printers and Account of Newspapers, vol. 1 (Albany: J. Munsell, 1874), 551.

[17] J.W. Fortescue, ed., Calendar of State Papers, Colonial Series, American and West Indies, 1681-1685, vol. 11, instruction num. 1428 of December 3, 1683 (London: Public Records Office, 1964), 558.

[18] This was probably a standard phrasing of the orders that were sent to many colonies. In 1691 and 1694 the governors of Maryland received royal orders almost identical in phrasing (the 1694 instructions to Francis Nicholson read: "And forasmuch as great inconveniences may arise by the Liberty of Printing within our Province of Maryland, you are to provide by all necessary Orders that no person use any Press for printing upon any occasion whatsoever without your special License first obtained."). Quoted in Wroth, A History of Printing in Colonial Maryland, 18. Very similar terms were used in the 1690 instructions to Lord Francis Howard of Effingham Governor of Virginia. Id. at 2.

[19] See Lehmann-Haupt, The Book in America, 43-5; Thomas, The History of Printing in America, 16, 235-6.

[20] See Lehmann-Haupt, The Book in America, 45.

[21] See Samuel Hazard, ed., Minutes of the Provincial Council of Pennsylvania, vol. 1 (Philadelphia: J. Severns, 1838), 366-7. See also Tebbel , A History of Book Publishing, 39-40. Fletcher brought Bradford to New York and recruited him for publicizing in print his recent achievements in the defense of the colony.

[22] Leonard W. Levy, Emergence of A Free Press (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985), 32.

[23] In 1641 the General Court of Massachusetts granted Stephen Day, the first printer of the colony, three hundred acres of land. The Court mentioned the fact that Day was the first to set up a press in the colony, but that may have been a thin cover to the fact that the grant was actually made in lieu of a business debt owed to Day by John Winthrop Jr. See Littlefield, The Early Massachusetts, 106; Winship, The Cambridge Press, 11. In 1658, in response to a petition of Samuel Green, the successor of Day in the position, the General Court granted him three hundred acres of land "for his Encouragement." Thomas, The History of Printing in America, 43, 52.

[24] On early booksellers in Massachusetts see Tebbel, A History of Book Publishing, 21-30.

[25] Shurtleff, 4 Records of the Governor and Company of the Massachusetts Bay, 527.

[26] Id., 559.

[27] Id., vol.1, 331.

[28] Id., vol. 2, 244.

[29] Bruce W. Bugbee, The Genesis of American Patent and Copyright Law (Washington: Public Affairs Press, 1967), 106; Lehmann-Haupt, The Book in America, 99; Tebbel, A History of Book Publishing, 46.

[30] In 1775, a period that already saw considerable growth of the trade, there were fifty printing houses in the colonies which were about to become the United States. Thomas, The History of Printing in America, 17.

[31] Tebbel, A History of Book Publishing, 42. Lehmann-Haupt, The Book in America, 99.

[32] Tebbel, A History of Book Publishing, 46. Lehmann-Haupt described it as "a sense of mutual obligation" and as "common decency and enlightened self-interest." Lehmann-Haupt, The Book in America, 100.

[33] Lehmann-Haupt, The Book in America, 101.

[34] See George Washington Paschal, A History of Printing in North Carolina (Raleigh: Edwards & Broughton, 1946), 4-5.

[35] An Act for appointing Commissioners to Revise and Print the Laws of this Province, and for granting to his Majesty, for defraying the Charge thereof, a Duty of Wine, Rum and distilled Liquors, and Rice imported into this Province, §II, in A Collection of all the Public Acts of Assembly, of the province of North-Carolina, now in force and use (Newbern: James Davis, 1751), 242-5.

[36] Id. §IV.

[37] Id. §§IV-V.

[38] Wroth, A History of Printing in Colonial Maryland, 18.

[39] Id., 21.

[40] Id.

[41] Id., 23.

[42] Id., 28-9; 33-4; 49-50.

[43] An Act to revise, digest & Print the Laws of this Colony [1750], 3 N.Y. Laws 832-5; An Act to revise, digest & Print the Laws of this Colony [1772], 5 N.Y. Laws, 355-7.

[44] Richard Crawford and David Phares McKay, William Billings of Boston: Eighteenth Century Composer (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1975), 157-189.

[45] Id., 229; Alan C. Buechner, "Review of William Billings of Boston: Eighteenth Century Composer by David P. McKay and Richard Crawford," Notes 33, 2nd Ser. (1976): 284-5.

[46] William Billings, New England Psalm Singer (1770).

[47] Journal of the Honorable House of Representatives (Boston, 1770), 143.

[48] us_1772a. Reproduced in Rollo G. Silver, "Prologue to Copyright in America: 1772," Papers of the Bibliographical Society of the University of Virginia 11 (1958): 259.

[49] Journal of the Honorable House of Representatives (Boston, 1772), 35.

[50] Journal of the Honorable House of Representatives (1772), 121, 124, 134. See us_1772b. Reproduced in Silver, "Prologue to Copyright in America."

[51] Journal of the Honorable House of Representatives (Boston, 1772), 124.

[52] See us_1772b.

[53] Early authors privileges were not sharply distinguished from publishers' privileges. They were usually granted when the author had the status and wealth to be involved in the publication process. For this reason it is hard to identify with accuracy the first grant to an author in a particular jurisdiction. The earliest English grant to an author was probably Thomas Cooper's printing patent for his Thesaurus Linguae Latinae. John Feather, Publishing, Piracy and Politics: An Historical Study of Copyright in Britain (New York: Mansell, 1994), 12; Leo Kirschbaum, "Author's Copyright in England Before 1640," Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America 40 (1946): 43, 47. See generally the commentary for uk_1667. The first French grant to an author was probably to Eloy d'Amerval in 1507 (see f_1507). In the same year Venice granted Ludovico Ariosto the exclusive right to print and sell his Orlando Furioso (i_1515). German Imperial privileges to authors appeared at the beginning of the sixteenth century (see d_1501).

[54] See the commentary on uk_1710.

[55] us_1772a.

[56] Id.

[57] us_1772b.

[58] Silver, Prologue to Copyright in America, 260.

[59] us_1772a.

[60] Journal of the Honorable House of Representatives (Boston, 1772), 134.

[61] Crawford and McKay, William Billings of Boston, 226-7.



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