Text publication society

A text publication society is a learned society which publishes (either as its sole function, or as a principal function) scholarly editions of old works of historical or literary interest, or archival documents. In addition to full texts, a text publication society may publish translations, calendars and indexes.

Members of the society (private individuals or institutions) pay an annual subscription, in return for which they either automatically receive a copy of each volume as it is published, or (as in the case of, for example, the Royal Historical Society) are eligible to purchase volumes at favourable members' rates. Some societies attempt to keep to a regular cycle of publishing (generally one volume per year, as in the case of the London Record Society and the Canterbury and York Society: the Royal Historical Society, exceptionally, aims for two volumes per year). Others, however, publish on an irregular and occasional basis, as the completion of editorial work allows. Volumes are usually also made available for sale to non-members, but the price is invariably higher than that paid (either as the retail price or through subscriptions) by members, thereby establishing an incentive for interested parties to join. The model originated and is most commonly found in the United Kingdom, but has also been adopted in other countries.

In the 19th century, when many of the societies were founded, they were sometimes known as book clubs. They have also been termed printing clubs.[1] Those that publish exclusively archival material are often known as record societies or records societies.

Historical development

The principle of subscription publishing – that is, of funding the publication of a volume by securing multiple advance subscriptions from individuals interested in buying the final product – was first established in the 17th century, and routinely adopted during the 18th.[2][3] The idea of extending the model to the membership of a society was initiated by the Roxburghe Club, founded in 1812 as a convivial association of bibliophiles, but which rapidly introduced the principle that each member should sponsor the publication of an edition of a rare work of interest to members, and that other volumes would be published by the Club collectively. In both cases the volumes were intended for distribution to the entire membership. The Club's first publication, donated by Sir William Bolland and issued in 1814, was the Earl of Surrey's translation of parts of Virgil's Aeneid, originally printed in 1557.

One early Roxburghe Club member (from 1822) was Sir Walter Scott, who was inspired by it to establish the Bannatyne Club to print works of interest for Scottish tradition, literature and history. Other special-interest societies followed. In contrast to the exclusive Roxburghe Club (which had an elite membership and issued its publications as luxurious limited editions), most had broad membership criteria, and had as their primary objective the dissemination of valuable historical texts as widely as possible.[4] Nevertheless, their activities tended to appeal to the "monied and educated" classes: in 1838, 20% of the Camden Society's members were clergymen, 9% held legal qualifications, and 36% were Fellows of the Society of Antiquaries.[5]

Success being dependent on fund-raising and the attraction of new members, the early societies often suffered from financial and organisational troubles. Controversy followed Frederick James Furnivall, a prime mover in many of the early ventures. In the second half of the 19th century the government-sponsored Rolls Series took over some of the territory of the amateur societies, particularly in respect of the publication of chronicles.[6] The productions of several of the early societies included literary texts, but by the end of the 19th century the majority of societies were tending to focus instead on the publication of archival records. This continued to be the pattern in the 20th century.

The Durham-based Surtees Society, founded in 1834 and modelled in part on the Scottish Bannatyne and Maitland Clubs,[7] was the first English society to adopt a specifically regional remit, in its case the elucidation of the history of the area constituting the ancient kingdom of Northumbria. Its establishment was deeply rooted in local pride: in an early prospectus, James Raine (its principal founder and first secretary) drew attention to just a few unpublished manuscripts of Durham interest, "which, in these times, few individuals would incur the risk of printing at their own cost; but which nevertheless, afford even singly, how much more collectively, the most valuable materials to those who are anxious to study rightly the History of our forefathers under its different characters".[8] The Chetham Society, founded in 1843, concerned itself in much the same way with the counties of Lancashire and Cheshire. From the 1880s onwards, many societies focused on a single county. A particularly energetic advocate was W. P. W. Phillimore, who was active in the foundation of the British Record Society, Scottish Record Society, Thoroton Society, Canterbury and York Society, and Irish Record Society.[9]

Several county archaeological and historical societies undertook text publication as just one among a broader range of activities, and in certain cases – for example, the Yorkshire Archaeological and Historical Society and the Kent Archaeological Society – continue to do so. In other cases, a new society has broken away from its parent archaeological society to become an independent body dedicated solely to text publication: examples include the Surrey Record Society and the Wiltshire Record Society.

List of societies

United Kingdom and Ireland


Began publication 1800–1849
  • Roxburghe Club (founded 1812): publishes editions of rare early printed and unpublished manuscript works, often in facsimile.
  • Surtees Society (founded 1834): publishes mainly archival material relating to the counties of Durham and Northumberland.
  • Camden Society (founded 1838): published editions of texts of value for British history, including unpublished manuscripts and rare early printed books. In 1897 it merged with the Royal Historical Society, which continues to publish material in what is now known as the Camden Series.
  • Irish Archaeological Society (founded 1840): published texts relation to the history of Ireland.
  • Chetham Society (founded 1843): publishes editions of texts relating to the counties of Lancashire and Cheshire.
  • Ray Society (founded 1844): publishes works of natural history, mainly British.
  • Hakluyt Society (founded 1846): publishes editions and translations of primary records of voyages, travels and other geographical material relating to all parts of the globe.
Began publication 1850–1899
Began publication 1900–1949
Began publication 1950–

Defunct, or no longer active in text publication

Began publication 1800–1849
  • Bannatyne Club (founded c.1823; dissolved 1861): published works of Scottish history, poetry, and literature.
  • Maitland Club (founded 1828; dissolved 1859): published early Scottish texts.
  • Abbotsford Club (founded in 1833 or 1834; dissolved c.1866): published editions of a variety of literary and archival texts, including many of Scottish interest, and others in Middle English.
  • Welsh Manuscripts Society (founded in 1837; dissolved c.1874): published editions of literary and archival texts relating to the history of Wales and Britain.
  • English Historical Society (founded c.1838; dissolved c.1856): published editions of medieval English chronicles and Anglo-Saxon charters.
  • Spalding Club (founded 1839; dissolved c.1870; revived as the New Spalding Club 1886; dissolved c.1924; revived as the Third Spalding Club c.1929; dissolved c.1960): published editions of texts relating to the history of Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire and northern Scotland.
  • Percy Society (founded 1840; dissolved 1852):[10] published editions of rare English poems and songs.
  • Shakespeare Society (founded 1841; dissolved 1853)[11]
  • Parker Society (founded 1841; dissolved c.1855): published editions of texts relating to the Church of England in the 16th century.
  • Ælfric Society (founded 1842; dissolved 1856): published editions of Old English texts.
  • Spottiswoode Society (founded c.1844; dissolved c.1856): published editions of texts relating to the ecclesiastical history of Scotland.
  • Caxton Society (founded 1844; dissolved c.1854): published editions of medieval texts relating to English history, especially chronicles.
  • Hanserd Knollys Society (founded c.1846; dissolved c.1854): published editions of 17th-century texts relating to the early history of the Baptist denomination.
  • Iona Club (founded c.1847): published just one volume of editions of documents relating to the history of the West Highlands of Scotland and the Hebrides.
  • Manx Society for the Publication of National Documents (founded 1858; dissolved c.1893): published editions of historical documents relating to the Isle of Man.
Began publication 1850–1899
  • Scottish Burgh Records Society (founded c.1868; dissolved c.1967): published editions of records relating to the burghs of Scotland.
  • Chaucer Society (founded 1868; dissolved c.1914):[12] published editions of the writings of Geoffrey Chaucer, especially from manuscripts.
  • Ballad Society (founded 1868):[13] published rare English poems and songs, especially folksongs.
  • Grampian Club (founded c.1869; dissolved c.1891): published editions of historical and genealogical Scottish texts.
  • Société Jersiaise (founded 1873 as a general antiquarian society, with text publication among its activities; ceased systematic text publication 1924): published editions of historical documents relating to the Bailiwick of Jersey; remains active in other spheres.
  • New Shakspere Society (founded 1873; dissolved 1894):[14] published texts illustrating the works and times of William Shakespeare
  • Wyclif Society (founded 1882; dissolved c.1904):[15] published editions of the works of John Wycliffe.
  • Aungervyle Society (founded c.1881; dissolved c.1886): published editions of early printed texts.
  • Clarendon Historical Society (founded c.1882; dissolved c.1888): published editions of 17th- and 18th-century texts relating to the Wars of the Three Kingdoms and Jacobitism.
  • Saint Paul's Ecclesiological Society, an offshoot of the Cambridge Camden Society
  • North Riding Record Society (founded c.1884; dissolved c.1897): published editions of records relating to the North Riding of Yorkshire.
  • Middlesex County Record Society (founded c.1886; dissolved c.1892): published four volumes of calendars of quarter sessions records for the county of Middlesex.
  • Hampshire Record Society (founded c.1889; dissolved c.1897): published editions of records relating to the history of Hampshire. Now succeeded by the Hampshire Record Series, sponsored by the Hampshire Record Office, which began publication in 1976.
  • Lincolnshire Record Society (founded 1889; dissolved c.1891): published one volume relating to the history of Lincolnshire. Succeeded by Lincoln Record Society.
  • Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion (founded 1751 as a literary society: published its Record Series between 1892 and 1936): published editions of texts relating to the history of Wales; remains active in other spheres.
Began publication 1900–1949
  • Scottish Clergy Society (founded c.1901; dissolved c.1909): published editions of texts relating to the history of the Church of Scotland in the 16th and 17th centuries.
  • Cantilupe Society (founded c.1907; dissolved c.1925): published editions of records relating to the cathedral and diocese of Hereford.
  • British Society of Franciscan Studies (founded c.1908; dissolved c.1937): published editions of texts relating to the history of the Franciscan Order of Friars Minor in the British Isles.
  • Rymour Club (founded 1903; dissolved c.1928): published traditional Scottish poems, ballads and rhymes.
  • Historical Society of West Wales (founded c.1912; dissolved c1929): published editions of records relating to the history of West Wales.
  • South Wales and Monmouth Record Society (began publication 1949; fell into abeyance c.1963): published editions of records relating to the history of South Wales and Monmouthshire. Succeeded by the South Wales Record Society.
Began publication 1950–
  • Derbyshire Archaeological Society (founded as an archaeological society in 1878: volumes in its Records Series were published 1966–1977): published editions of records relating to the history of Derbyshire. Remains active in other spheres, but superseded in record publication by the Derbyshire Record Society.
  • Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle upon Tyne (founded as an antiquarian society in 1813; three volumes in its Records Series were published 1968–1987): published editions of records relating to the history of Northumberland and Newcastle upon Tyne; remains active in other spheres.


  • Champlain Society (founded 1905): publishes documents relating to Canadian history.
  • Hudson's Bay Record Society (founded 1938; dissolved 1983): published records of the Hudson's Bay Company
  • Rupert's Land Record Society



See also


  1. Levine 1986, pp. 16, 40-45, 178-9.
  2. Clapp, S.L.C. (1931). "The Beginnings of subscription publication in the seventeenth century". Modern Philology. 29: 199–224. doi:10.1086/387957.
  3. Williams, F. B. (1948). "Scholarly publication in Shakespeare's day: a leading case". In McManaway, James G.; Dawson, Giles E.; Willoughby, Edwin E. (eds.). Joseph Quincy Adams: memorial studies. Washington, DC: Folger Shakespeare Library. pp. 755–73.
  4. Levine 1986, pp. 14–15.
  5. Levine 1986, pp. 43–4.
  6. Levine 1986, p. 45.
  7. Levine 1986, p. 41.
  8. Thompson, A. Hamilton (1939). The Surtees Society, 1834–1934, including a catalogue of its publications with notes on their sources and contents, and a list of the members of the society from its beginning to the present day. Surtees Society. 150. Durham. p. 5.
  9. Tiller, Kate (2004). "Phillimore [formerly Stiff], William Phillimore Watts (1853–1913)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/57556. (subscription required)
  10. Gregory 2006.
  11. Shakespeare Society of London, 1841–1853
  12. Chaucer Society
  13. Gregory 2006.
  14. Research Collections in Microform: New Shakspere Society Publications - Bowling Green State University Archived 2007-06-12 at the Wayback Machine
  15. John Wyclif (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)


Critical studies

Lists of publications

  • Mullins, E. L. C. (1958). Texts and Calendars: an analytical guide to serial publications. Guides and Handbooks. 7. London: Royal Historical Society. [lists publications relating to English and Welsh history issued between 1802 and 1957]
  • Mullins, E. L. C. (1983). Texts and Calendars II: an analytical guide to serial publications. Guides and Handbooks. 12. London: Royal Historical Society. ISBN 0861931009. [lists publications relating to English and Welsh history issued between 1957 and 1982]
  • Stevenson, David; Stevenson, Wendy B. (1987). Scottish Texts and Calendars: an analytical guide to serial publications. Guides and Handbooks. 14. London: Scottish History Society and Royal Historical Society. ISBN 0861931009. [lists publications relating to Scottish history issued up to 1985]
  • "National & Regional History". Royal Historical Society. Retrieved 24 May 2015. [links to lists of national, regional and local record society publications: these incorporate and update the material in the Texts and Calendars lists published by Mullins and the Stevensons]
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