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2009-06, 361, 362, B J McMullin, English historical, Journalism / Publishing


Brian J McMullin

The process by which a copy of the domestic (i.e. British) issue of a particular publication was transformed into its colonial counterpart is well understood:

In the thirty-year heyday of the ‘colonial edition’ (from the mid-1880s to the early years of World War I) it was generally a matter of

(a) incorporating, somewhere in the prelims, two statements—one to the effect that the issue was restricted to sale in India and the Colonies, the other identifying the colonial ‘library’ (i.e. series) to which the title belonged—and

(b) replacing the domestic binding by one peculiar to the series.1

What is less well understood is the reverse process, by which a copy of the colonial issue might be transformed into a domestic. One can easily imagine publishers—specifically those ‘original’ publishers who had their own colonial series—on occasion finding themselves out of copies (or of certain sheets) of the domestic issue while having on hand copies of the colonial which could be diverted into the domestic market. The fact that this process did take place can be documented, but seldom can it be demonstrated from a volume in hand, whether the handler be at the hub of Empire or on its periphery—that is, domestics (whatever their precise form) are by and large likely to be found only inside Britain, colonials only outside, so that bringing copies of the two together can rarely be achieved.


Evidence that colonials were indeed at times transformed into domestics is afforded by publishers’ records, but present-day book-historians with an interest in the mechanics of the ‘colonial’ phenomenon have a ready-made conspectus available to them in the publishing history of Henry James. Such historians have reason to feel gratified both that James’s works were so regularly published in colonial series and that his bibliographers2 have taken the colonials into account in tracing the history of individual titles. Edel and Laurence record nineteen of his titles that were issued as colonials, among which are several of particular interest in the present context:

A34c. The Tragic Muse, Second English edition, Macmillan, 1891. ‘Some copies contain sheets of the Colonial issue, being identified by the Colonial volume number, “No. 109.,” at the left of the last line on the title-page’, the normal place for such information.

A36b. The Lesson of the Master, First Edition, English issue, Macmillan, 1892. ‘Colonial issue provided sheets of Times Book Club issue (see F44).’

A45a. Terminations, First edition, Heinemann, 1895. [of the Heinemann editions in general:] ‘Sheets of the colonial edition [sic] on smooth-coated wove paper [as opposed to the laid paper of the domestic] … were bound up for the domestic market in cheaper quality blue cloth …; these copies usually lack the colonial half-title and the advertisements … . ‘… there are many intermediate variants, such as mixed domestic and colonial sheets; domestic issues in which colonial half-titles have not been eliminated … .’ [of Terminations specifically:] ‘Of the colonial edition [sic] (see F52), 100 sets of sheets were transferred to the domestic market’ in the cheaper quality blue cloth.

A47c. The Other House, Second English edition, Heinemann, 1897. ‘Of the colonial issue 150 copies were transferred to the domestic market’ in the cheaper quality blue cloth.

A48a. The Spoils of Poynton, First edition, Heinemann, 1897. ‘Of the colonial issue 300 copies were transferred to the domestic market [in the cheaper quality blue cloth] … . A few of these have been noted with mixed domestic and colonial sheets.’

A49a. What Maisie Knew, First edition, Heinemann, 1897. ‘Of the colonial issue 125 sets of sheets were transferred to the domestic market’ in the cheaper quality blue cloth.

A52a. The Two Magics, First edition, Heinemann, 1898. ‘Remaining copies of the second impression were issued in [blue diagonal-fine-ribbed cloth], frequently with mixed domestic and colonial sheets, and lacking the 32pp. of advertisements at the back. ‘Of the colonial issue 300 copies were transferred to the domestic market, some of them appearing in [the cheaper quality blue cloth]; the balance replaced quire shortages in the domestic second impression.’

A53a. The Awkward Age, First edition, Heinemann, 1899. ‘Of the colonial issue 475 copies were transferred to the domestic market in [the cheaper quality blue cloth] … one copy being noted with the colonial half-title retained, and two copies containing the final leaf of advertisements (2C8 in the first edition). This leaf was originally printed as part of the last gathering of the colonial issue, but was eliminated when copies of the issue were bound for export.’

James is obviously unusual among authors published in colonial series. It is a commonplace that the various series were overwhelmingly made up of popular fiction written predominantly by authors—some of them prolific—who are now seldom read despite in their own day perhaps being household names. Even of those whose names are still remembered (such as F Marion Crawford, Anthony Hope, Guy Boothby, W W Jacobs and P C Wren) most have  remained to critical eyes largely ‘sub lit.’ and so have not earned themselves a bibliographer who might have added further to our knowledge of trade practices. Other than James few authors of ‘literary’ fiction represented in colonial series have a sophisticated3 bibliography to their name. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is one who has:4 Green and Gibson list thirty-nine of his works that appeared as colonials, although they record only one as having been transformed into a domestic:

A24b. A Duet with an Occasional Chorus, First English edition, Grant Richards, 1899. ‘The publisher was left with a balance of sheets from the Colonial issue. These were bound in the red paper covers used for the reissue of the English edition sheets. The half-title was removed.’

It would not, I think, be unreasonable to suppose that the colonial issues of the works of other authors, now unregarded, were treated in the same way.  In all the James and Doyle instances the details have been gleaned from publishers’ records, not from books in hand, and a trawling of the records with a focus not on particular authors but on the movement of sheets/issues/bound volumes can be reckoned certain to shed more light on its nature and its extent. The details quoted above from Edel and Laurence and from Green and Gibson are admittedly little more than footnotes to substantive entries in their bibliographies, but they serve to reveal something of the workings of the London trade in the treatment of domestics and colonials, workings that might otherwise have remained un-noticed. Those workings form the basis of the following observations:

  • The practice of specialist publishers of colonial issues (such as Bell) was to convert other publishers’ sheets, in the manner described in the opening paragraph, that is, the colonial prelims will often enough be cancels, replacing those of the original (whether part—or whole gatherings), identifiable from the presence of statements of series and/or of limited circulation. Since the colonial specialist had bought the sheets from the original publisher it would seem highly unlikely that they would ever be transformed into domestics under the imprint of that publisher.5
  • The publishers’ records reveal the transfer of sheets that had not yet been converted to colonials, a diversion which it will be impossible to confirm from a volume in hand. The Heinemann instances are apparently of this nature; the cheaper quality blue cloth is an indication not of a discrete issue but of a later binding-up of domestic sheets.
  • It was usual for popular literature (notably novels) of the period to be printed from stereo plates, and original publishers who also maintained a colonial series of their own might use the plates to print the colonial issue on a paper inferior in quality to that used for the more expensive domestic issue.6 An easily recognisable instance of separate papers is Heinemann’s edition of James’s Terminations (A45a): the domestic issue is on laid paper, the colonial on wove. Similarly, Green and Gibson report (p. 569) that a cheaper paper was used for the twelve works of Doyle published originally by Smith, Elder and subsequently by Bell in the Indian and Colonial Library.7
  • For one reason or another—most obviously a shortage of certain sheets in the domestic—sheets from the colonial issue were diverted in order to make good incomplete domestic volumes. Variations in paper may thus identify such hybrids, as, presumably, in James’s The Two Magics (A52a).
  • Whatever the status of the paper(s) within a domestic binding, the presence of colonial statements in the prelims (whether on cancels or integral) will identify at least that gathering as having been diverted. The prelims are thus the ‘give-away’ in James’s The Tragic Muse (A34c), regardless of how many more sheets are colonial. (Edel and Laurence do not record whether Macmillan issued the colonial on an inferior paper.)
  • Surplus sheets of a particular title in its colonial issue (and, equally, in its domestic) might be remaindered and re-issued with or without a new imprint. Edel and Laurence devote a section of their bibliography to those James titles which were sold on to the Times Book Club, omitting, however, those sold by the Club in the original publisher’s binding (these may be recognized by a Club label pasted at the foot of the rear paste-down). Of the twelve remainders listed at F23-34 one was a colonial issue, The Lesson of the Master, F27 ( = A36b and F44);8 it was reissued in cerise cloth in the Club’s standard remainder binding.
  • When colonial sheets were diverted it would seem to have been the practice, as far as possible, to remove evidence of their origin; thus the Grant Richards colonial issue of Doyle’s A Duet with an Occasional Chorus (A24b) had the half-title removed—it bore the statement ‘Grant Richards’ Colonial Library’.  This is also the implication of the note that one copy of James’s The Awkward Age (A53a) has been seen in which the colonial half-title has been retained and two copies in which the final leaf of advertisements (part of the domestic issue, intended to be removed from the colonial) is present.


One might assume that the diversions described above represent all possible forms. However, there is one further form not yet remarked on: where a volume from a colonial issue, already in its colonial binding, was simply fed into the domestic market without any effort being made to obscure its nature. In the general run of things one would hardly be likely to know that a particular copy of the colonial issue had been sold on the domestic market, but in the instance of the volume now to be described that was indeed its fate, as its impeccable provenance demonstrates.

At *994 F546N in the Monash University Rare Books Collection are two copies of volume 1 of W H Fitchett’s two-volume The New World of the South: Australia in the Making (London: G. Bell & Sons, 1913), both of them in the red cloth typical of Bell’s colonial series at the time. The prelims constitute an integral gathering in both—p8 (p2r = half-title, with the colonial series title at head; p2v = statement of limited circulation); though manifestly part of Bell’s Indian and Colonial Library it was one of the small number of items in the series that were never assigned a serial number.9 One copy is unremarkable: with the bookseller’s label ‘Robertson’s Booksellers & Stationers 238 Pitt St. Sydney’ it is no doubt what it appears to be, a colonial exported to Australia and sold there.10 The other copy, however, has on the front paste-down a prize label (see illustration) indicating that the volume was awarded to one Joseph Allen as a prize at the Heathcote Road Wesleyan Sunday School, Longton, one of the six towns making up the city of Stoke-on-Trent in the English West Midlands. The label itself was printed in nearby Birmingham. To complete the history of this volume: it remained in England until recently, when it was brought to Australia and acquired by the Monash University Library in 1999 from Justin Corfield of Geelong. That is, the two copies vary only in their provenance.


Without access to the Bell archives (in Reading University Library) one can at this distance only speculate about the circumstances in which this copy was acquired by the Sunday School. Could it be that there was an arrangement whereby copies of the cheaper colonial issue were openly made available to such institutions for use as prizes? Or could the Monash copy be unique, a ‘one-off ’ arrangement between Bell (or another supplier) and the Sunday School? Whatever the answer, it remains demonstrable that a copy of the colonial issue was supplied/bought on the domestic market.


On the basis of the evidence supplied by the bibliographers of James and Doyle it is clear that the distinction between domestic and colonial is not simply a matter of either/or. It is true that a list of titles included in the various series will serve to identify what in London was thought appropriate for colonial readers and, more tentatively, what was popular with and read by them. But a combing of the appropriate publishers’ records would no doubt add to that basic information. At a simple level it might indicate the relative popularity of particular titles: for example, on the one hand Bell’s colonial issue of Doyle’s The Great Boer War went through eight impressions, ranging from 2000 to 6000 and totalling 21,000, between 23 October 1900 and 11 October 1902,11 while on the other hand it would appear that at least eight of James’s works (listed above) failed to exhaust even the one impression, which in the case of The Tragic Muse amounted to 1500.12 Edel and Laurence do not give impression/issue totals, but, as the entry for The Awkward Age reveals, up to 475 copies of the colonial might be available when needed for other purposes. At another level the combing of publishers’ records might well add to our current knowledge of the complexity of the trade in colonials, not least in illuminating the extent of diverting colonials into the domestic market.

As already acknowledged, collectors and bibliographers will seldom be in a position to bring together for comparison copies of the domestic and the colonial of a particular publication. Accordingly, may I suggest that, when making records for individual copies of either issue, they would be advised – for the purposes of future comparisons—to produce more detailed notes than might at first sight appear necessary. In particular, a thorough record of the paper will be needed, noting at least:

(a) whether laid or wove (plus any other recordable feature, such as colour);

(b) dimensions of the leaf (the two could differ if separately printed from plates at different times on different papers); and

(c) the bulk of the volume (as an indication of possibly variant papers).

Also the colour of the cloth—identified against an accepted standard—may serve to distinguish primary from secondary bindings. And, as Joseph Allen’s prize volume shows, provenances (including dates of inscriptions) may have evidential value.


1 Other forms of transformation, such as a rubber stamp, a modified book jacket or a banner, are of later date. See Graeme Johanson, A Study of Colonial Editions in Australia, 1843-1972 (Wellington, NZ: Elibank Press, 2000) and B J McMullin, ‘Bell’s Indian and Colonial Library’, Biblionews 31:1, March 2005, pp. 3–32.

2 Leon Edel and Dan H. Laurence (revised with the assistance of JamesRambeau), A Bibliography of Henry James, 3rd edn (Oxford: ClarendonPress, 1982), Soho Bibliographies 8.

3 By ‘sophisticated’ I have in mind bibliographies typified by those in the Soho and Pittsburgh series.

4 Richard Lancelyn Green and John Michael Gibson, A Bibliography of A. Conan Doyle (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1983), Soho Bibliographies 23.

5 Arrangements made between original and specialist colonial publisher would presumably have precluded colonial issues from being diverted into the domestic market under the imprint of the latter.

6 Johanson (pp. 103-04) discusses the printing of colonial issues, observing that ‘Although commonplace, stereotyping for ‘colonials’ is strangely ignored in existing references to the development of colonial series.’ Nonetheless, he proceeds to illustrate various publishers’ use of over-runs and/or stereo plates.

7 They also report that ‘The sheets of the first issue [of the colonial] were printed with those of the English edition with the imprint altered on the title-page.’ One would therefore expect the prelims in the colonial issue to not be cancels.

8 In the list of colonial issues, F37–55. Edel and Laurence record the price ofvolumes in Macmillan’s Colonial Library as ‘undetermined’, but theannouncement of the launching of the series in Walch’s Literary Intelligencer[Hobart], no. 328 (July 1886) advertises volumes in paper covers at 3s., withsome also available in cloth at 5s., though these could be prices peculiar toAustralia.

9 See further, Biblionews 345, pp. 22–23.

10 There is also an inscription ‘Burnaby from A. C. H. B. Christmas 1915.’, but its value as evidence is indeterminate.

11 Green and Gibson B1b, B1bi. The first domestic (Smith, Elder) and the first colonial (Bell’s Indian and Colonial Library, 349) were published on the same day, 23 October 1900.

12 See Archives of Macmillan & Co. 1854–1924 (Chadwyck-Healey microfilm of British Library originals), reel 24, ‘Out Letterbooks, R & R Clark, Printers 1889–1891’, vol. DXLV, p. 293, 26 July 1890, ordering wrappers for four paper-bound colonials, including 5000 for Rolf Boldrewood’s The Squatter’s Dream.



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