Isaiah Thomas Broadside Ballads Project

Verses in Vogue with the Vulgar

Fanny Hill and Thomas’s Broadside Ballads

By Marcus A. McCorison 

         Marbled Boards

        Image of Isaiah Thomas's bound volumes

Two printed sheets bearing text from John Cleland’s erotic novel Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure, Written by Herself (1749), commonly known as Fanny Hill, found their way to AAS after being marbled, pasted as coverings for the boards used for binding material for Isaiah Thomas’s collection of  broadside ballads as well as for numerous other volumes now at AAS. Much remains unknown about the origins of these sheets. A large supply of title pages for an edition of Fanny Hill with a false imprint alleged these sheets to be from the seventeenth edition, “with plates, designed and engraved by a member of the Royal Academy.” These title pages claimed falsely that the book was printed in London “for G. Felton, in the Strand” in the year 1787. Three other printers have been identified as possible responsible parties instead:  Munroe and Francis of Boston, Daniel Mann of Dedham, and Isaac Sturtevant of Worcester (Foxon 52-63).

When Thomas had the broadside ballad volumes bound, he added some of his own flourishes. Thomas inscribed the three-volume collection of ballads—whose cover was bound with the Fanny Hill sheets—with a title of his own devising, “Songs. Ballads, &c. In Three Volumes, Purchased from a Ballad Printer and Seller in Boston, 1813. … Presented to the Society by Isaiah Thomas Augs. 1814.” Thomas calculated the cost of the three volumes as $6.00, bindings included. In addition to the marbled-paper-covered binders’ boards the three volumes have calf-leather ruled spines with a green leather label—“Songs”—and a gilt-stamped “1813” on each. Thomas presumably chose this year as the year in which most of the ballads were collected by Coverly, even though he did not obtain them from Coverly until the following year. The Stormont pattern, blue and black marbling on the boards themselves, has largely faded due to abrasion, so it is easy to see the columns of type from the waste paper.

Marbled Boards Close-Up
Image of Isaiah Thomas's bound volumes boards

The origin of these over-marbled printed sheets is a complicated one. Only two sheets of the text are known to have been printed. Because the font of printing types used in this production does not contain the long, medial s, it is likely that the sheets were printed after the year 1800, when the use by American printers of the long s had largely gone out of fashion (American Book Collector 29-30). John Alden of the Boston Public Library suggested that the printing office of Munroe and Francis of Boston was a candidate for the source of the printed sheets. The company also owned a font of Binny & Ronaldson’s typeface, Pica Roman No. 1, in which the sheets had been printed, perhaps around 1810. Richard J. Wolfe postulated a date of 1809 and the candidacy of Daniel Mann, whose Dedham, Massachusetts, family conducted an active printing and paper marbling business. Isaac Sturtevant of Worcester in 1810 had printed Isaiah Thomas Jr.’s edition of his father’s History of Printing in America in the same Binny & Ronaldson types. The Manns owned the Binny & Ronaldson type that Wolfe believes Daniel Mann used for the printed sheets (although Mann’s source is unknown) (Wolfe 93-98). We all agreed at the time that whoever did the printing, started the project and then abandoned it.

Whatever the origin of these repurposed sheets may be, this much can be said about them: AAS holds several substantial fragments of the two sheets. In addition to the bindings of the broadside ballads, Fanny Hill sheets were removed from bindings of volumes of Thomas’s files of newspapers. The unfolded examples are now shelved as broadsides, the largest measuring 52 x 38 cm. The type pages on the first sheet are numbered [1] (or t.p.) through 12 on recto and verso, the printer having backed up the sheet with the same forme. Of the second forme, carrying pages 13–24, only fragments exist but page number 24 is evident. As in the first, this second sheet was backed up in the same manner. Thus, we may conclude that the text had been composed through page 24, making the first and second gatherings, but neither forme had yet been imposed for actual production. The sheets, now redundant, were then heavily marbled in the Stormont pattern, in blue and black (Wolfe 136, plate XIX, examples 4 and 5) and became the board cover for Thomas’s “verses in vogue with the vulgar,” as he referred to the ballads.