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Since the ream of paper was not necessarily a standard amount in the eighteenth century, it is necessary to begin the discussion of spoilage by pointing out that Strahan used a ream of 516 sheets and a "culled quire" of twenty-five sheets when he set out paper at the press for a job in which he was providing it. That is, the ream was made perfect and then sixteen sheets were allowed for spoilage above the count of 500. The charges to the customer, as in the reconstructed Scale of Prices above, were couched in terms of the ream made perfect; but the price per ream included not only a markup for the service of providing the paper but also a markup to cover the cost of the spoilage allowance. Strahan's practices in this respect are quite similar to Richardson's. The only difference between the two printers is that Strahan added spoilage above the count whereas Richardson apparently did not.[8]


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Strahan's standard practice was to take the allowance of sixteen sheets per ream as a sufficient spoilage allowance, regardless of the length of the run, the number of formes to be printed or the difficulties caused by bastard runs or formes:


The fact that Strahan only had to increase the spoilage allowance approximately ninety-four times in forty-eight years in business is a good indication of the efficiency of his company — and of his wise choice of customers.[9] An examination of the entries indicates a variety of reasons for increased spoilage, to judge from details in the forty-seven entries recorded.

Probable Reasons for Increase   Instances  
Two or more difficulties indicated per entry  . . . . . .  19 
One difficulty indicated per entry, viz: 
--split runs (paper change) 
--quarter sheet imposition required 
--heavy corrections or alterations 
--multiple runs (same paper) 
--stitching of copies after the run 
--cancellation of a sheet  1 . . . . .   19 
No obvious reasons indicated in wording of entries  . . . . 


Page 193

I do not mean to imply that the causes listed separately above or the presence of two or more difficulties in a job always resulted in an increase in spoilage. On the contrary, Strahan completed most of the contracts in the ledgers without an increase, as we have seen.

The presence of nine split runs in the list seems significant until we find that every one was ordered by a single customer: Major General Andrew Stuart. He is also represented six times in the group of entries in which two or more difficulties apparently caused increase in spoilage. All fifteen jobs occurred in 1784-85 when Stuart was publishing books about the war with the Colonies and about political economy. Stuart is significant in two other ways, however. First, he is the only customer who consistently re-ordered split runs in which the size and quality of the paper were changed. Stuart's marked preference was for 350 copies on Demy and 150 copies on Writing Medium. Secondly, Stuart is one of very few customers about whom a personal remark is made in the ledgers. Even though Stuart ordered expensive printing and paid his bills within a year or two, he demanded a good deal of special attention. For years the ledgers record his orders for alterations and corrections, night work and Sunday work, cancellations, reprints and bindery work — all without comment. Then, two months after Strahan's death when his son Andrew had taken over management of the shop, one entry in the middle of Ledger F, folio 81 recto, gives us a rare glimpse of the printer's exasperation:

Septr.  Papers and Correspondence from July 
1783. 16 Sheets, No. 500. with many 
Corrections &c.mmat;£2:2: (cheap)  [£]33.12.0 

Of greater significance is the fact that nineteen of the entries indicate at least two possible reasons for increase in spoilage. One of these entries reads:

Messrs. Geo. and Thos. Wilkie 
1785  £ s d 
Febry  Short Essay on the Modes of Defence best adapted to the Situation of this Island, 6 Sh. No. 500, &c.mmat; £1:  6. 6.0 
One Sheet cancelled for 2d Edit. No. 300  1. 1.0 
7 R/ of Paper for Do. &c.mmat;18s.  6. 6.0 
Corrections and Sunday Work  3. 3.0 
[Ledger F 16r] 


Page 194

I believe it is apparent from this discussion that when the ledger entries are detailed enough to give us the information, we find increase in spoilage is amply justified by the difficulties in the job.[10] It follows that anyone using Strahan's ledgers for information about a particular book should look upon an increase in spoilage as highly significant and should try to find reasons — either in the ledgers or in other sources.

Even when the entries give meager detail, a knowledge of Strahan's standard practice can often resolve an apparent anomaly:

Mr. John Osborne 
Janry  Roderick Random 30 ½ Sheets No. 2000 &c.mmat;£1:16  [£]54.18.0 
Two Reams of Paper for Do.  1. 4.0 
[Ledger A 62v] 
A student of literature could be quite upset about this entry for the first edition of a famous novel (or part of it) obviously requiring at least 122 reams, unless he knew the methods of the ledgers. It seems to me fairly obvious that the bookseller Osborne didn't send enough paper, so Strahan provided the balance and charged him for it. The literary problem is not why Strahan entered a peculiar transaction but why Osborne didn't send the paper.

We see, then, that Strahan used paper and charged for paper in a pattern of procedure which began with the contract between him and the customer. In standard practice, the customer bought his own paper. Strahan used a ream of 516 at the press. The customer had a right to expect that spoilage would stay within the sixteen sheets of ream allowance unless some unusual difficulty arose. A few customers asked for detailed summaries of paper received or used.

A wide variety of size and quality of paper was available to the customer from a wide selection of paper suppliers: eight sizes with nine quality distinctions are mentioned in the ledgers, as are the names of a number of suppliers in addition to Strahan. However, the customer usually chose common Demy, which could easily fold to the


Page 195
octavo size so popular in Strahan's business. On the few occasions when the customer ordered a split run of copies, he tended to order Demy and Royal rather than change the quality of paper.

Such was the standard practice, 94% of the time. In the remaining 6% of his business, Strahan supplied the paper. Sometimes, when the contract was a small one, he agreed to a contract "with paper," in which the charge for setting, correcting and printing included the charge for paper as well. Most of the time, however, he recorded the contracts for which he supplied paper by itemizing the reams and charges in separate entries. He roughed in skeleton entries as the job was in work and then filled in the blanks when the job was finished. Strahan charged the customer on a scale in which size and quality determined price; it is assumed that he added a profit markup. The scale fluctuated with the paper market, but the general relationship of prices within the scale remained constant and the prices did not increase markedly over the years.

The cost of paper was about half the total cost of printing a work in the eighteenth century, as it is today. Strahan's printing ledgers indicate that he was conservative in his use of paper stock and consistent in his methods of charging for and recording this costly necessity. The regularity of method throughout the ledgers and the scope of the ledgers, forty-eight years from 1738 to 1785, combine to give us a good indication of the practices that probably prevailed in large London shops during the period.