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III. 1870-1909
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III. 1870-1909

The copyright act of 8 July 1870 (16 Stat. 212), the first general revision of the copyright law after 1831, is a landmark in American copyright legislation. Its significance lies not in any altered conception


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of the nature of copyright but rather in a change of administrative procedure, for all copyright business was henceforth to be centralized in the Library of Congress. Title pages and copies were to be deposited with the Librarian of Congress, not the clerks of the district courts; and all previous records, from the various district court offices and the Department of the Interior, were to be transferred to the Library of Congress. It is impossible to overemphasize the importance of this centralization: the year 1870 is a dividing line which marks the end of fragmentary and inconsistent copyright records and the beginning of records that are complete and uniform.

The basic requirements of the law were scarcely changed: the term of copyright was 28 years, renewable (within six months of expiration) for 14 more; the newspaper notice was for renewal only (to be printed for a period of four weeks, within two months of the date of renewal); a printed title page was to be deposited before publication; and two copies of the work were to be deposited after publication (mailed within ten days of publication). The bibliographer can use these dates to establish the approximate time of publication in exactly the same way as for the preceding period, since the publication date should fall, according to law, in the interval between the date of title entry and the date of copy deposit. This interval will generally be smaller (and its usefulness for determining a publication date presumably greater) than for the preceding period, since the deposit copies were supposed to be put in the mails no later than ten days after publication. From the bibliographer's point of view, therefore, the records for the period 1870-1909 are different from the earlier ones not in the kind of information they provide but in their completeness and greater ease of reference.

Between 1870 and 1909 the various amendments and revisions of the copyright law generally had no effect on these provisions for title entry and deposit of copies. The revision of 1 December 1873 (Rev. Stat. 957) retained them as they were set forth in 1870; and the only change in them effected by the act of 3 March 1891 (26 Stat. 1106) was that copies be deposited (or placed in the mails for deposit) no later than the day of publication, thus reducing still further the legal interval between the date of title entry (which could be as late as the day of publication) and the date of copy deposit. Books were not always deposited as promptly as the law stipulated, however, and the act of 3 March 1893 (27 Stat. 743) specifically granted copyright privileges to works, however belatedly deposited, that had been received before 1 March 1893. Of the other amendments, those of interest to bibliographers are the act of 18 June 1874 (18 Stat. 78),


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which transferred one category of printed material — commercial prints and labels — to the jurisdiction of the Patent Office; the act of 19 February 1897 (29 Stat. 545), which established the position of Register of Copyrights; and the act of 7 January 1904 (33 Stat. 4), which described a special two-year copyright privilege for foreign works that were to be exhibited at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition.

The act of 1891, if it made only one small change in the deposit regulations, was nevertheless of the greatest importance in other ways, for it inaugurated certain features which have caused American copyright records to be of particular usefulness to bibliographers. For one thing, it provided for the granting of copyright protection to citizens of foreign countries, if those countries gave reciprocal protection to United States citizens — of bibliographical significance because of the publication data about foreign works which were thus inserted into the American record books. Along with this provision came the much-discussed requirement of American manufacture (the books deposited for copyright "shall be printed from type set within the limits of the United States, or from plates made therefrom"). Although the name and address of the printer were not entered into the record before 1909, it was this manufacturing clause which resulted, after 1909, in a large quantity of information of bibliographical interest. Finally, the 1891 act required the Librarian of Congress to report title entries of all works received to the Secretary of the Treasury, who in turn was "directed to prepare and print, at intervals of not more than a week, catalogues of such title-entries for distribution to the collectors of customs of the United States and to the postmasters of all post-offices receiving foreign mails." While the purpose of this provision was to facilitate the enforcement of the manufacturing clause, the more important result was the complete publication of the American copyright record (for deposited works) from 1891 forward.

The record materials which have accumulated since 1870 under the centralized administration of the copyright acts (with a few exceptions) are now housed in the Copyright Office of the Library of Congress and are available there for reference. After 1891 the published records make a great deal of the copyright data readily accessible without a trip to the Copyright Office, but even for that period there is no substitute for the indexes and other resources to be found in the Office itself. For the years between 1870 and 1891, since there are no published records except for drama, most copyright information can be obtained only in the Copyright Office records; bibliographers dealing with this period should search these records in person whenever possible, even though the Office provides, for a fee, an excellent search


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service. To the uninitiated, the stacks and indexes at the Copyright Office may appear bewildering, but they actually are not difficult to use and are far less confusing than the pre-1870 records. For the period 1870-1909, the bibliographer should know in particular about three kinds of materials: the record books, the card indexes, and the published records.

(1) Record Books. For the entire period 1870-1909, the record books are uniform in the kind of information they contain: the date of entry of a printed title page on or before the day of publication, a transcription of the title page, the name of the claimant, and the date of deposit of two copies on or after the day of publication. As before 1870, some titles were entered for works never finally published, and copies were sometimes not deposited for works that did get published. In a few cases the copies were received, but the date was not posted onto the record (in some of these instances the Library still has one or both of the copies bearing the copyright deposit date or stamp); in other cases the copies probably meant for deposit were received by the Library but not by the proper office and were therefore not recorded. The only changes in the record books during this period are changes of form, not of content. Between 1870 and the end of 1897, when application for copyright was made by letter, the record books have four printed forms per page for the insertion of information regarding four applications; each entry has a serial number, and there is a separate sequence of numbers for each year, with an attached letter designating the year, from A through C2. From 1898 through 30 June 1909 application was made on printed forms; and on 2 January 1900 a new series of volume numbers began, since in that year copyrights were divided into separate classes (for books, periodicals, and so on), with separate series of volumes for each class (but the volumes for drama, Class D, did not begin until 1901). For book applications there was now only one printed form per page (500 per volume), and the new sequence of serial numbers was prefixed with "XXc" (for "twentieth century"), running continuously from year to year; by 30 June 1909, volume 488 and XXc 243564 had been reached. For Class D (drama), the number of record books by 1909 amounted to seventeen (with four applications per page). Record books before 1900 are at present housed in closed stacks and may be requested by searchers; those from 1900 onward are shelved in open stacks.

Assignments and renewals were handled in different ways. All assignments were entered in a separate series of record books, beginning on 25 July 1870 and continuing in an unbroken sequence


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throughout this period. These records are an unparalleled source of information, especially for bibliographers interested in the history of publishing firms, because it is possible here to trace mass transfers of titles and establish the line of succession of various firms. Renewals, on the other hand, do not form a separate category of records. Since the law required that copyright proprietors comply with the same requirements for renewal as for original registration, renewal entries are like the entries for original copyright and occur in the same sequence of serial numbers.[28] The deposit requirement of two copies also applied to renewals, and some publishers, such as Houghton Mifflin, occasionally printed cancel title pages bearing the renewal date for insertion into the deposit copies; this production of bibliographical oddities was by no means widespread, however, and was certainly not required.[29]

The changes of form in the records are of little practical significance to most searchers, who will come to the books with a list of particular serial numbers they wish to look up. The important point is that these volumes constitute the basic copyright record for the period and that they are complete. The printed title pages and the applications for these years are stored in the Federal Records Center in Alexandria, Virginia; although they are available upon request, the completeness of the record books makes them of less significance than in the pre-1870 period, for there are no gaps in the records which they might fill and no information in them not included in the record books.[30] The deposit copies themselves no longer form a part of the


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records of the Copyright Office, but many of them are on the shelves of the Library of Congress, and others may turn up almost anywhere. The 1909 act empowered the Librarian to make requisitions for the second deposit copies of any previously deposited works which he considered desirable for the Library to possess in more than one copy; in this way both deposit copies of certain works by a number of major writers have been preserved.

(2) Card Indexes. Because the entries were made in the record books in chronological order, some kind of index is essential for locating particular items with any efficiency. The years from 1870 through 1897 are covered in one card index, affectionately referred to by the Copyright Office staff as "Old High." This index consists of hand-written cards and slips of various sizes: some cards contain many entries, others only one; some were written at the time of registration, others much later in an attempt to improve the index; some are Library of Congress requisitions for second deposit copies, and others have printed strips mounted on them. Entries are under copyright claimants, authors, and titles. The claimant entries are supposed to be complete, but the entries for authors and titles were not consistently made throughout the period. As a result, the index is not entirely complete; in addition, cards may sometimes be misfiled, since they are not held in the drawers by rods and since there have been various attempts to improve the index by adding cards. Despite its deficiencies, the index generally provides the desired reference, especially if one knows the name of the copyright claimant and can check under it. These cards do not normally give the dates of registration and deposit but only the registration serial numbers, which can then be looked up in the proper record book. The card for Herman Melville, for example, lists beside the title Clarel simply the number G7090; one then locates this entry in the 1876 (G) record books and finds that the title for Clarel was entered on 8 June 1876 and the copies deposited the following day — information not available, incidentally, in the deposit copy in the Library of Congress.

The remainder of this pre-1909 period is included in a card index which covers the years 1898 to 1937. This index is divided according to the various classes of copyrightable material, but the index for books is usually the only one bibliographers will need to consult. The book index for 1898-1937 consists of two alphabets, one of claimants and


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one of authors (and some titles). For the years 1898 to 1909 the claimant entries are on printed "proprietor cards" which record the dates of title entry and copy deposit, transcribed from the original applications, along with the registration serial number. It is not necessary, therefore, to consult the record books themselves during this period, except for the purpose of double-checking (and the information in the record books is also a transcription from the applications). The author index is complete for copyrighted books represented by Library of Congress cards, but its completeness in regard to the authors of works not so represented cannot be assumed. Claimant indexes are always the basic and most thorough ones for copyright purposes, a fact which bibliographers, generally accustomed to searching by authors, should keep in mind (and this very fact is what makes copyright records so useful for research into the history of publishing firms). To sum up, the entire 1870-1909 period is adequately (if not quite completely) indexed in two basic card catalogues: a claimant-author-title catalogue covering 1870-97, and separate claimant and author files covering 1898-1937. Books falling near the dividing line (that is, in 1897 or 1898) could conceivably turn up in either index and should be checked in both.[31]

(3) Published Records. The copyright records for this period have been partially published, in two publications, one covering all entries for drama and the other containing deposits of all classes beginning with 1891. Both publications should be basic tools for all bibliographers of American literature, but they are not as well known as they deserve to be. While they are not a substitute for the materials in the Copyright Office, they are in some respects easier to use, and they at least provide the basic data about many works from this period without the trouble of a trip to the Copyright Office or correspondence with a member of the search staff.

In 1916 and 1918 the basic tool for copyright research in the field of drama during this period was published:

Dramatic Compositions Copyrighted in the United States, 1870 to 1916.
2 vols. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1916-18.
The arrangement is by title, with an index of authors and claimants; for each title are given the dates of registration and deposit and the registration serial number. It is important to note that this work lists


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all titles of dramatic compositions registered, not just those that were eventually deposited, and consequently is a substitute for the record books as far as drama is concerned. The thoroughness of the work and its indexing also make it a more dependable guide than the sometimes erratic card catalogue for 1870-97. Anyone seeking copyright information about drama during this period should consult this work first and will probably have no reason to check further in the Copyright Office itself.[32]

The other work, authorized by the act of 1891, is surely one of the most important bibliographical tools in existence, at least in the form which it eventually assumed. The 1891 law provided for the publication of all title entries for which copyright had been completed by the deposit of two copies, and the Catalogue thus started has continued to the present, with one change of title:

Catalogue of Title-Entries. 47 vols. 1 July 1891-June 1906.
Catalogue of Copyright Entries. July 1906- .
During its early years the Catalogue was not an effective instrument for research, both because it did not contain sufficient information and because the information it did contain was not conveniently arranged. For the first 227 weekly issues, the titles were listed in one column and the names of proprietors in another, but in no particular order and with no index and no specific dates (although one could conclude that the works had been deposited during the week covered by the issue). These early issues do serve as a record of all works deposited, but they can be used for reference only by running through the entire list of titles. Gradual improvements occurred in the following stages:
  • No. 228 (11-16 Nov. 1895): books arranged alphabetically by proprietors in each issue.
  • No. 323 (6-11 Sept. 1897): specific date of receipt of deposit copies recorded.
  • No. 327 (4- 9 Oct. 1897): books arranged alphabetically by authors, followed by index of proprietors.
  • No. 340 (3- 8 Jan. 1898): registration number as well as deposit date recorded.
  • No. 348 (28 Feb.-5 March 1898): specific date of title entry as well as registration number and deposit date recorded.


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It was not until nearly seven years after the start of the Catalogue, with No. 348, that the entries contained the information one would expect — registration number and dates of registration and deposit — and even then the only indexes were weekly. With volume 26, for the first three months of 1901, appeared the first index for an entire volume (giving the names of proprietors and authors and the titles of plays and periodicals). When the new series began on 1 July 1906, the Catalogue was divided into four parts, for books, periodicals, musical compositions, and fine arts. The successive sections of Part I (Books) were cumulated into semi-annual volumes with excellent author-proprietor indexes, so that from the middle of 1906 there are only two indexes per year (for books).

The Catalogue is essentially a twentieth-century tool, therefore, because its indexing is inadequate before 1901 and the information it contains not sufficiently detailed before 1898. For the years before 1901 the card indexes in the Copyright Office are much simpler to use than the published Catalogue, although before 1898 they may be some-what less dependable; even after 1901 they may be more convenient for certain kinds of research, since they bring together entries from large spans of years and obviate the drudgery of going through numerous annual indexes. And for information about titles which were never deposited, the Copyright Office card indexes are essential, since this information is not included in the published catalogues (except the cumulated one for drama). The Catalogue does not supersede the Copyright Office files, but it does make possible extensive copyright research, at least from 1901, without recourse to those files.[33]

This period may be divided into three segments, according to the kind of indexing available (aside from the published index for drama):

  • 1870-1891: card index, not entirely complete, containing references to record books.
  • 1891-1897: card index, not entirely complete, containing references to record books; complete published record of deposits, lacking important information and index.
  • 1898 and after: complete card indexes, duplicating information in record books; complete published record of deposits, with basic copyright data and indexes (cumulated volume-indexes beginning in 1901).
These changes are evidence of the fact that the period was a transitional one, in which the newly centralized Copyright Office was gradually developing the efficient techniques which would characterize it in the twentieth century.