Cataloguer’s Conundrum: an 18th century imprint on 19th century paper??

The title page of a previously unrecorded printing of a talk given by James Hutton (left), dated 1786, and the watermark of the paper it was printed on, dated “1807” (right).

Last year I was working on this item from our Typograhpical Collection and stumbled upon the present conundrum.  Featured above is the title page to a supposed 1786 Edinburgh printing of James Hutton’s “Theory of the Earth; or An investigation of the laws observable in the composition, dissolution, and restoration of land upon the globe,” a paper which would bring him everlasting fame in the realms of geology and natural science. This is a previously unrecorded printing of this work: the paper, which was given at the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1785, was thought to have first been published in the 1788 Transactions of the Royal Society. There is a record in ESTC which matches the pagination statement and drop-head title found on leaf A1r of St Andrews’ copy, however no imprint information or title page is given.

The second plate found at the end of this supposed 1786 printing of James Hutton’s “Theory of the Earth”.

So, my rare-book antennae went up when I first began to place this in Hutton’s publishing history. However, it quickly became apparent that the printing of this issue was quite rushed or imperfect, there are smudges in the font on the title page and the inking on the plates is particularly heavy (see left). It is when I came across the watermark found on the title page, dated 1807 (see above), which would be impossible unless William Creech had a time machine. The remainder of the text is certainly on different paper, the chainlines run in the opposite direction and the watermark (undated) is in the gutter. So, do we have a forged 19th century title page to an 18th century printing which previously had no title page? Or is this a completely forged new edition? The above mentioned ESTC item without a title page is extant in about a dozen libraries, so we will be sending this around to them, but any help in the meantime would be greatly appreciated!


***UPDATE*** 16:50 20/03/2012

The first page (leaf A1r) of the St Andrews copy (left) compared to the first page (leaf Dd1r) of the copy at the Royal Observatory Edinburgh, Crawford collection : P67(3) (right).

Karen Moran at the Royal Observatory in Edinburgh got in touch late this afternoon and sent along the above image of the first page of text from their copy linked to ESTC T53062. The drop head title of the Royal Observatory copy (from the Crawford collection : P67(3)) is slightly different, as is the collation. She also added that their original catalogue had this item entered under “London, 1785”.

9 responses to “Cataloguer’s Conundrum: an 18th century imprint on 19th century paper??

  1. It isn’t immediately clear from what you have posted whether the rest of the leaves are of the same date as the title, or whether they are also watermarked. If they are then it’s possibly a straight forgery – but why, would be my next thought.

    Joe McLaughlin
    University of Ulster

  2. Wow, what a fascinating mystery! Is there any information to be gleaned from the binding as to how/when the title page was added to the rest? Have you been able to identify the watermarks from the remaining pages and tie those to any particular date(s)?

    • Hi Lydia, the chainlines for the text run opposite to that of the title page, and the watermark on that paper (which is undated) is in the gutter. It has been bound with two other items (Francis Wise. Some enquiries concerning the first inhabitants language religion learning and letters of Europe. Oxford: J. Fletcher, S. Parker, D. Prince, Rivington and Fletcher, 1758 — William Cooke. An enquiry into the patriarchal and druidical religion, temples, &c. London: L. Davis, 1755.) in 18th century tree calf on boards, which has been rebacked. This is the first item in the volume.

  3. 1808 would have been 25 years from the founding of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, and 20 years from the first Transactions. Perhaps the society reprinted one or more significant pieces from its first years in commemoration, backdating the title pages (though why they would backdate to 1786 rather than 1785 remains unclear). This would make more sense than a piracy or forgery.

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