In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Edition
  • Alexander Mazzaferro

edition, material textuality, book history, print culture, reset type, novelty, reprint, reproduction, impression, state, title page, genre, heresy, John Winthrop, Antinomian Controversy

In the mock epitaph he famously penned for himself in 1728, Benjamin Franklin likened his own dead “Body” to “an old Book” before reassuring his readers that “the Work shall not be wholly lost: / For it will . . . appear once more / In a new & more perfect Edition, / Corrected and amended / By the Author.”1 The epitaph’s witty prolepsis flirts with a pointed double meaning: the “Author” it evokes is at once the God of Franklin’s New England upbringing and Franklin himself, the exemplar of Enlightenment self-fashioning through print.2 But though Franklin’s emphasis on the newness and perfection of his “Edition” is characteristic of the savvy colonial printer and self-promoter, it is likely to divert our attention from another significant aspect of the term. For the technical distinction between different editions of a text is not absolutely dependent on the presence of “correct[ions]” and “amend[ments].” Instead, an “edition” simply refers to all copies of a text printed at any time from “substantially the same setting of type.”3 To be sure, successive editions of a text are likely to exhibit significant differences from one another; and indeed, minor, often unintentional differences routinely appear within a single edition, producing variant [End Page 648] “states.”4 But what qualifies a press run as a discrete edition is its production from reset type.

An edition is composed of one or more “impressions,” defined as all copies of a text printed during the same session.5 Before around 1750, these two terms were functionally synonymous, however, because the economics of book publishing—the relative costs of type, paper, labor, transportation, and storage—dictated that “early printer[s] usually distributed . . . [their] type soon after” printing and then reset texts from scratch if demand called for more copies.6 A similar ambiguity arises with the term reprint, which is used to describe either “a new edition or a new impression.”7 Since it generally involved resetting, the antebellum “culture of reprinting” described by Meredith McGill was also, of necessity, a culture of new editions.8 Despite its ostensible transparence, then, the term edition presents certain definitional challenges. The complex, cooperative, contingent—in a word, messy—practices of printing can be difficult to square with formal rubrics. For example, the term’s applicability becomes complicated “when . . . standing type is mixed with reset material,” when “old sheets are mixed with new sheets printed from a resetting,” or when the extent of the revisions performed amid a single impression straddles the line between variant state and enlarged or corrected edition.9 Moreover, the rubrics of bibliographers, [End Page 649] collectors, and publishers are not always consistent with one another: for instance, printers sometimes described new impressions as new editions as an advertising ploy.10 Finally, history plays an extremely important role here: the foregoing definition refers primarily to the era of the hand press, since the increasing mechanization of printing permanently altered the meaning of the terms edition, impression, and reprint, as well as the relationships among them. In the latter half of the eighteenth century, English printers began to “reprint best-sellers from standing type,” and in the nineteenth century, the rise of stereotypy, which involved creating a metal cast or mold of set type, enabled reprinting without resetting.11 As Joseph Dane observes, the rise of stereotypy fundamentally “change[d] what . . . an edition is.”12 So fundamental was that change that stereotypy will not figure in the analysis that follows, except insofar I seek to counter its retrospective influence on the meaning of edition. The International Standard Book Number (ISBN) agency now offers the following definitions: “A reprint means more copies are being printed with no substantial changes,” whereas a “new edition means that there has been substantial change.”13 But this emphasis on change is largely an artifact of the age of mechanical reproduction and tends to obscure the fact that novelty of virtually any kind was viewed with suspicion during the early modern period.14

Edition is a useful optic for bibliographers...


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