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Bigmore & Wyman Issue the First Comprehensive Bibliography of the History of Printing

1873 to 1886

After announcing the project in 1873 printer and publisherCharles William Henry Wyman and bibliographer and antiquarian bookseller Edward C. Bigmore began publishing in January 1876 A Bibliography of Printing with Notes and Illustrations in monthly issues of Wyman's Printing Times and Lithographer magazine, completing serial publication in 1885. Perhaps it was not coincidental that publication of this work coincided with the planning and occurence of the massive 1877 Caxton Celebration, for which Wyman served on a sub-committee. Beginning in 1880 Bigmore and Wyman's work was published in book form by London antiquarian bookseller and publisher Bernard Quaritch in an edition limited to 250 copies, with the third and final volume issued in 1886. Describing roughly 10,000 books, pamphlets and periodicals, this was the first detailed, annotated bibliography of the history of printing, and one of the earliest comprehensive annotated bibliographies of any technical subject. It was completed with the assistance of printer, historian of printing, bibliographer and book collector William Blades, and the assistance of printer and American printing historian Theodore Low De Vinne, whose historical treatise, The Invention of Printing. A Collection of Facts and Opinions was first published in 1876, and others. In particular Blades, the greatest English scholar printer of his time, turned over to the authors his comprehensive notes for a bibliography of the subject which Blades had long planned, but instead chose to have incorporated into Bigmore and Wyman's project.

Regarding the scope of the project the authors wrote in the prospectus (p. 5):

"The Compliers have limited the signification of the word 'Printing,' by rejecting photographic printing, calico printing, telegraphic printing, &c., as irrelevant processes which are not utilised for literary purposes. In fact, the works cited are those treating of typographic, lithographic, copperplate printing, &c., with the cognate arts of type-founding, stereotyping, electrotyping, and wood-engraving. The subjects of Paper and Bookbinding are not included, although it would have been an interesting task to deal with them, as would also have been the case with Copyright and Laws regulating the Press; but though they bear very closely on the subject, they seem to belong rather to the results and outcome of printing than to printing itself."

When it came to printing the book form edition of the bibliography ironically Wyman did a questionable job. He had the text set in hard-to-read solid 8-point type with the lengthy notes set in even smaller, more difficult to read 6-point type. He used typical acidic wood-pulp paper then available, with the result that most copies of the original edition have become brittle with age. Furthermore the original edition lacked an index.  Twentieth century facsimile reprints of this very useful work remedied the paper problem by printing on acid-free paper. The best facsimile edition was issued in 2001 by Oak Knoll Press. It reproduced the text in enlarged and more legible form with a new introduction by printer Henry Morris and a new index.

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