My Current Project:
All of these texts are intact, but without covers. I plan on rebinding them with cloth, possibly as a set. I purchased all of these from the same dealer and I suspect that at least four of the texts were bound under the same cover at one time. In the eighteenth century, it was common for a purchaser to have several texts bound together, with either previously-owned texts or newly purchased works. Since these all originate from different booksellers, I imagine these were texts already owned by an individual who then took them back to a printer. One of the detail that flags this as a possibility is the series of holes along the side of the signature edge. With the original binding of the separate works, as in normal book construction, the signatures are sewn through the creased edge. To bind more than one book together, the choice is to redo the threading through the creases or to simply add another set of holes. These holes are visible in the pictures about 3/16" from the left edge. The implication here, of course, is that someone else then cut the binding back apart in order to sell them as separate books--an also common, although distasteful, practice. Part of the interest, beyond the singular publishing history of a text, is the way readers interacted with textual material in ways besides just reading. Collective binding of a custom assortment of works connotates a desire for some type of literary control, which could be argued as authorial, although Benjamin would probably see this from a collector's viewpoint and interpret this as an individual response to understand the past in order to structure the present. From my standpoint, this observation spirals out in complexity since I'm, in essence, recollecting a collection so that I can understand a historical search for understanding. The simple question (as if any historical query could really be simple) of why would anyone be interested in capturing a dramatic performance, a play intended for the stage, into a textual collection of dialogue and stage directions is only the first level, a level which many would consider overtly obvious even given the problematic nature of filtering a literary message through different mediums. Beyond that is the desire to collect these particular works together as a unit. Evidently, from one person's perspective these texts spoke to each other. For the original collector, what were the links which provided this separate and unique message? What was beind said? Why choose these texts? Were there others included? Hopefully, as I work to rebind these, I will come across other details which might open this puzzle.
Update: Knocked Down
It took a while to get to this next step mostly because I haven't had time to devote to the project. I've now discovered that these were indeed five separate books rebound as one. Although close, the various books differ in height, but, more importantly, the paper differs ever so slightly from book to book. I admit I was a bit dismayed that the old glue held better than I anticipated. I will have to repair the first sheet of virtually every signature before I can resew them. I will, of course, need to press the sheets out first--a slow and tedious process since I can't press all the pages at once. I have decided that I will bind all five under a single cover for a number of reasons. Even though the publication dates range from 1733 to 1747, they are all reprints from 1671 to 1709. If they were first editions I would be sorely tempted to bind them separately. I'm guessing that each of these reprints may represent revival performances of the individual plays, which might also provide a nice theme. I'll have to research more into that area first, though.