Document Type


Publication Date


Publication Title

Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America








Almost immediately upon the British Library's publication of The Eighteenth Century Short Title Catalogue on CD-ROM (hereafter ESTC), there emerged criticism and controversy respecting the design and execution of that monumental bibliography, and of its access software. However, amidst these discussions and those surrounding the on line version, little notice has been taken of the historical inaccuracies inevitably entailed by the fact that ESTC and other union-catalog-type bibliographies only include books of which copies have survived. Certainly, for most scholars it makes sense to give bibliographical priority to cataloging books of which we still have copies, since those are the only ones we can read or otherwise analyze as texts. However, the lack of even a rudimentary bibliography of lost books presents often grave methodological problems for scholars interested in the history of publishing and the book trade, and especially for those who would do quantitative analyses of publishing. ESTC can make much of the work for such projects immeasurably more efficient and exhaustive. Yet we should be aware that, as databases, ESTC and other union-catalog-type bibliographies present only the books that we now have, and that they may therefore overlook many of the books which people in other centuries actually published, bought, sold, wrote, and read. The rich opportunities offered by ESTC may tempt us to dismiss books that we no longer have as historically and culturally insignificant ephemera, but surely the growing evidence we have that our historical record — especially for books — is rife with accident, politics, and outright lacunae should make us wary of the assumption that the books our libraries now hold sufficiently represent the bibliographical past. Indeed, when we proceed in our analyses as if other books never existed simply because they have not survived, are we not subjecting them to what has been called, in quite different contexts, "the enormous condescension of posterity"? The two appendixes that follow in this article are presented as illustrations of how attention to "lost books" may alter our understanding of the eighteenth-century book trade, and of British literary culture generally. They also constitute a very modest contribution toward a bibliography of books that were demonstrably published and read during the eighteenth century, but of which no known copies are extant. Both lists have been compiled in the course of doing a quantitative comparison of the kinds of fiction published by publishers who also ran circulating libraries, with the kinds published by publishers who did not. At present, this analysis is based upon the 804 evident works of fiction listed in the circulating-library catalogs of Thomas Lowndes (1766) and M. Heavisides (1790).

Original Publication Citation

Jacobs, E., & Forster, A. (1995). Lost books and publishing history, two annotated lists of imprints for the fiction titles listed in the circulating library catalogs of Thomas Lowndes (1766) and M. Heavisides (1790), of which no known copies survive. Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America, 89(3), 260-297.