Learning from a Printing History We Can See
An early Munsell printing in exceptional condition.
By Bruce McKinney
This is the second of five articles on the printing history of Joel Munsell.
Joel Munsell of Albany, New York, was an active printer from the late 1820's until his death in 1880. In 1872 he published, under the title Munselliana, a reasonably complete record of the books and pamphlets that issued from his presses between 1828 and 1870. In total he detailed the production of 2,268 items and recorded the print runs for about 1,000. Because he did this it's possible 150 years later, via the internet, to establish survival rates based on searches in the OCLC and online listing sites. It's an imperfect process for several reasons. Joel Munsell was reasonably but not absolutely accurate in his descriptions. Hence material that in its correct form is easily located is equally difficult to locate when his information is in error. The OCLC [Online Computer Library Center] provides a window on the holdings of thousands of libraries but it is not a complete record of all material held by libraries, only the material that libraries have posted. It is nevertheless a marvel of information and indispensable to the serious researcher. For the purposes of this study think of the OCLC as "highly indicative."
In this project I am creating an accounting by decade of Munsell's production and comparing the number of copies in the OCLC and online [mainly on ABE] to printed quantities included in Munselliana. At this point I have completed two decades: 1834-1840 and 1841-1850. It has been my expectation and is now increasingly my belief that much can be known from this study about the disposition and ultimate disappearance of 19th century printing generally. This is a study about probabilities that apply specifically to Munsell's production and generally to a wider range of 19th century printed materials. The magnitude of logic employed is summed up in the saw "the apple doesn't fall far from the tree." We can know a great deal but we will never know it all. This has the vagueness of economics rather than the clarity of mathematics.
Munsell for the 1830's lists 104 items printed. Fifty-six of them include the quantity printed and these are the only ones included in this project. For the 1840's he lists 405 items, 228 with sufficient information to be included. In creating a spreadsheet it is organized in alphabetical order by year. I have categorized the material by number of pages, print runs and general subject. These distinctions are somewhat arbitrary but consistent with patterns apparent in both production and survival. Hence I breakdown print runs by page count: 1-16, 17-71, and 72+. I combine the total of copies located in the OCLC and online sources because even together the totals are small. As stated earlier the OCLC numbers somewhat understate the true holdings in libraries and the online count is simply a snapshot of availability on a particular day. This said, the application of the methodology is consistent and the picture that emerges very believable. A larger and longer term project could count appearances on listing sites over a one or two year period.
Learning from a Printing History We Can See
Munsell considered this of enduring significance.
I also categorize the material by subject. This is treacherous but I expect ultimately useful. Munsell's printing was decidedly local and often mundane. There are no Gutenberg Bibles here although interspersed with obsequies are such items as "Stories of the Early Settlers in the Wilderness,..." [Priest], "Report on the Phrenological Classification of J. Stanley Grimes" and "A Treatise on Roads, their History, Character and Utility..." The categories I employ are: local, science, almanac, history, education and periodical. They are not chiseled in stone.
A spreadsheet of these two decades is attached. 1830's and 1840's
The first impression that emerges is that the number of pages accurately predicts survival. There is also a rising survival rate by decade. In the 1830's, for pamphlets up to 16 pages, a single copy survives for every 500 printed and in the 1840's 1 for every 416. Pamphlets printed by Munsell in the 1830's, with from 17 to 71 pages, survive at the rate of 1 for every 232 printed. In the 1840's the survival rate improves to 1 in 172. When the page count reaches or exceeds 72 the survival rate for material printed in the 1830's is 1 in 149, in the 1840's 1 in 78. All other issues aside size is a clear predictor of survival.
|Survival Rates By Page Count|
|1-16 pgs||1 in 504||1 in 419 |
|17-71 pgs||1 in 230||1 in 172|
|72+pgs||1 in 150||1 in 78 |
Classifying material by category should be useful but isn't so far.
|1830's Material By Category||1840's Material By Category|
| ||1-16pgs||17-71pgs||72+pgs|| ||1-16pgs||17-71pgs||72+pgs
|local||1 in 492||1 in 144||1 in 100
||local||1 in 585||1 in 120||1 in 118|
|Science||1 in 1060||1 in 153||
||Science||1 in 40||1 in 264||1 in 87 |
|Almanac|| ||1 in 500||
||Almanac|| ||1 in 2636|| |
|History|| ||1 in 652||1 in 103
||History||1 in 23||1 in 151||1 in 20 |
|Periodical|| || ||1 in 750
||Periodical|| || ||1 in76 |
|Education|| || ||0 in 2000
||Education||1 in 400|| ||1 in 94 |
|Literature|| || ||
||Literature||1 in 1000||1 in 211||1 in 646 |
There are two obvious problems. The total number of items for these two decades is less than 300. Dividing into two decades and so many categories isn't practical yet. When I add the 1850's and 1860's the number of applicable items will increase to almost a thousand and the statistics should make more sense. The other issue of course is that I have certainly mischaracterized some of the material. Hence the categories will certainly change and the characterizations as well and with these changes and an increasing number of records more will be known.
For the moment this is simply a work in progress.