Friday, August 12, 2011

Sumptuous engravings, unscrupulous publisher

I was up in the attic earlier this week rummaging through books for specific images for a few collage series when I came across a battered copy of The Royal Chatterbox. This oversized edition was published by R. Worthington in 1881 and, as I discovered yesterday, the work was pirated. Worthington lifted poems and engravings from the weekly British children's magazine, and repackaged them in a beautiful gift book filled with nostalgic, romantic and idyllic images.

Like many American publishers, Worthington had no qualms about republishing other pubishers' work without their permission. If you think publishing's cut throat now, just return to the 19th century and the early battles over copyright. Publishers Weekly is filled with news stories about copyright infringement.

Worthington won some early fights, defying Estes & Lauriat, the American company with the rights to The Chatterbox, to prove that the Worthington books were identical. "My books are all original in title and matter," he wrote in an ad in the Sept. 27, 1884 issue of Publishers' Weekly. In the end, Worthington got his comeuppance: he went bankrupt after losing the right to publish any book with Chatterbox in the title.

The pages in my book have darkened a bit but the engravings are nothing short of spectacular. I just began scanning them into the digital archive and thought I'd share two examples.

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