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Papers of the Board of Longitude : Printers' and publishers' accounts

Papers of the Board of Longitude

<p style='text-align: justify;'>Accounts, receipts, correspondence and official appointments from between 1766 and 1829 related to the publications put out by the Board of Longitude. It forms a partial financial record of the body in conjunction with volumes <a href='/view/MS-RGO-00014-00002'> (RGO 14/2)</a> and <a href='/view/MS-RGO-00014-00016'> (RGO 14/16)</a> through <a href='/view/MS-RGO-00014-00021'> (RGO 14/21)</a>. There is some overlap between these volumes with, for example, receipts and accounts related to publishing also appearing in volume <a href='/view/MS-RGO-00014-00016'> (RGO 14/16)</a>. As the Board institutionalised and became more active from the 1760s on, the preparation and publication of tables, texts and sometimes accompanying diagrams became one of its central pursuits. This often fell under the auspices of the Astronomer Royal Nevil Maskelyne until his death in 1811 and then (with more mixed results) under his successor John Pond. Derek Howse has estimated that out of about £157,000 spent over the body's 114-year existence, £45,000 were applied to publications, with a return profit of £26,000. [Derek House, 'Britain's Board of Longitude: The Finances, 1714-1828', <i>The Mariner's Mirror</i> 84(4), 1998, pp. 400-417.]</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>The publications were generally intended to describe or facilitate the use of new and improved approaches to finding the longitude at sea and to general navigation, or to provide accounts of other work rewarded by the Board and of Board-assisted activities. They included the annual <i>Nautical Almanac</i> and other astronomical works and associated tables, accounts of the work done and trials undergone by chronometer makers like John Harrison and instrument makers like John Bird, accounts of voyages of 'science' and exploration to which the Board contributed such as those of James Cook and those to observe Transits of Venus, and accounts of other 'scientific' and technological efforts to which the Board contributed such as pendulum experiments. The Commissioners also occasionally published accounts of communal and individual activity which were intended as evidence or arguments in conflicts including those which took place between the Commissioners and various chronometer makers (including Harrison and Thomas Mudge) and the decades-long effort in collaboration with the Royal Society to obtain and publish the observations of the late Astronomer Royal James Bradley.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>The records in this volume shed light on the print runs of such publications, but also on the relevant internal workings of the Board and on its dealings with actors including tradesmen, computers, comparers, authors, editors or revisors. They reveal the types of negotiations and socio-economic networking which often underpinned the preparation, publication and sale of publications. Examples can be seen in the discussion of the details and numbers for each print run, but also in the communications over choosing and hiring new Board-sanctioned printers due to a predecessor's death, bankruptcy or unsuitability. In addition, some of these papers reveal broader socio-economic networks and a multitude of gestures of patronage, flattery and collaboration, such as in the lists of the individuals and institutions across Europe who were to receive presentation copies of texts <i>gratis</i>. There is also some information on the advertising and posting of publications, and about the Board's warehouse. The specific printers, booksellers and similar tradesmen mentioned include William Richardson, Richardson and Clark, Charles Nourse, Mount and Page, Peter Elmsley, Charles Buckton, Payne and Mackinlay, John Murray, William Nicol, Wright and Gill, Longman and Dickenson, the Farlows, Charles Fenwick, and Bensley and Son.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>The later Astronomer George Airy<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage();return false;'> sorted (RGO 14/15:1)</a> many of the papers in this volume according to the individual printer or Commissioner primarily involved, or by the specific publication or event being covered (such as a specific voyage or set of experiments). It must be remembered that these and the other financial documents in the RGO volumes are partial and heavily weighted towards the final decades of the Board's existence. This is due to a combination of the body's having become much more active from the 1760s on and of some earlier documents have been lost or archived elsewhere, or having been judged irrelevant to the official history because they predate the beginning of known communal meetings in 1737. Therefore, there are no records here from about a half century of relevant events, including almost three decades of collaboration with John Harrison.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Alexi Baker<br />History and Philosophy of Science<br />University of Cambridge<br /></p>

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