- Chamberpot & Motherfuck: The Price-Codes of the Book Tradeby Exhumation [i.e. Ian Jackson]
E very trade is also a tribe, booksellers no exception, and one way that a mercantile tribe signals membership is by language and price symbols, that is to say the cost or price code. Here are codes aplenty, 226 plus another eighteen in a sheet of Addenda, the total twice as many as the number in Ian Jackson's earlier edition [End Page 94]of 2010. The codes, ancient and modern, are presented with accompanying commentary in an attempt to combat the bibliographical neglect of their study. Roger Stoddard in his Marks in Books(Cambridge, Mass., 1985) ignores them; David Pearson's Provenance Research in Book History(London, 1994) does not venture beyond the seventeenth century.
The orthodox cost code, scribbled on an endpaper, is a substitution code consisting of a series of non-repeating letters corresponding to certain numbers, usually either 1–9, or 1–10 if incorporating a zero. The bookseller will choose or coin an accommodating word or phrase according to taste (or lack of); sometimes the name of the bookseller in question, say ROSENTHAL; maybe a place, TUXEDO PARK; or the impossible dream, INTROUVABLE. Others may reflect a business attitude, from MY GOD HELPS to MONEY TALKS, even BANKRUPTCY.
The majority of codes here are of booksellers great and small from the early nineteeth century to the present day. Obsolete codes such as Quaritch's KING ALFRED, used up to c. 1919, also figure; so, too, the codes of prominent private collectors: Chester Beatty (two differing codes, a third employed by his librarian), Philip Bliss (undeciphered), Philip Hofer (one of seven entries under CUMBERLAND; why so popular a choice?), J. P. R. Lyell, Robert S Pirie, Lessing Rosenwald, Henry Yates Thompson, and Harry Widener. Some codes are in Greek (including Joannes Gennadius), one in Armenian (Diana Parikian); others are symbolic (Hans Sloane, John Clawson). The Quaritch post-1919 runic symbols (confusingly adopted on occasion by ex-employees) are presented correctly but wrongly interpreted. (The difficulty of a symbolic code is that it permits no vocal articulation.) The code for the New York firm of H. P. Kraus is not given; it was usually erased upon a book's sale, but a signed and initialled collation will typically survive along with a stock number (the prefix 'p' indicates a book from the Phillipps residue). Less informatively, a number of present-day dealers have submitted codes under a seal of anonymity.
Sadly, for the most part, we are offered only a limited guide to visual recognition. 'What is the use of a book without pictures', asked Alice. Where, for instance, is the code to be found, top left corner of the front pastedown or bottom right of the back pastedown? One day someone will build on the like of the present essay to create a database of images comparable to Frits Lugt's Les Marques de collections de dessins & d'estampes(Amsterdam, 1921). It will also need to take account of stock numbers (increasingly replacing codes), inventory marks (e.g. Hamilton Palace, for William Beckford), and collation marks (one thinks of the inverted 'c' of F. S. Ferguson), particularly if dated. Meanwhile, how much is curiosity for curiosity's sake? If a book collector is so lucky as to crack the freshly applied code of a present-day bookseller, how much does this inform him? Better to study the nature of the book, as Christopher Edwards maintains, and assess the authority and credibility of the bookseller. For the bookseller himself, on the other side of the counter, sight of a recently applied mark is warning enough to beware tales of long lost treasure in the attic.
Peter Kidd's lengthy (and illustrated) Afterword, pp. 61–83, is a most...