Wednesday 17 February 2016

Staunton's Chess-Player's Handbook (part 3)

Chess-Player's Handbook, 1847 Frontis

Some book dealers imply that the 1847 first edition  of The Chess-Player's Handbook is scarce or even rare. 

Bookseller's note inside first edition of The Chess-Player's Handbook

However, while the first edition certainly appears much less frequently than the edition dated 1848, there was, in fact, a very large printing of the first edition.

The Notices to Correspondents on p266 of the The Chess Player's Chronicle for Saturday August 21, 1847 (volume VIII) include a reply to "Aros" as follows: `The first impression of the Chess-Player's Handbook was a very large one, and there is not likely therefore to be a demand for a second edition just yet´.

Interestingly this followed a reply to F.R.S.; `To command anything like a remunerative sale, a Chess Work must be adapted to the taste and capacity of the multitude. A book for "finished players" would be a ruinous affair both for author and publisher´.

However, on the very next page (267) is the letter previously mentioned in my article of 1st January 2016 from Oxoniensis which begins `As Mr Staunton's Handbook  has deservedly met with such success that a second edition will soon be called for by the public, it will be an object to make it as perfect as possible....´

Chess Player's Chronicle Vol VIII title page

Page 306 (September 1847) of The Chess Player's Chronicle volume VIII has a reply to correspondent N.T. `The Chess-Player's Handbook can be got of any bookseller in the kingdom´ and page 346 (October 1847) of the same volume includes a reply to J.G.T., Hon. Secretary; `With respect to the Handbook, the success more than equals our anticipations; it has already reached a larger sale than any chess book ever published...´

Regarding the actual numbers sold we can refer to The International Chess Magazine volume IV, 1888 where Steinitz writes on page 15: `For I have positively ascertained that the above number [50,000] was sold of Staunton's Handbuch which first appeared about 35 years ago.´ (should be 41 years ago).

International Chess Magazine 1888 page 15

Steinitz amplifies this on page 309 of the same volume, when discussing the forthcoming publication of his Modern Chess Instructor, New York 1889, (which at the time was envisaged to be a book of about 500 pages). He stated:

`As regards the financial prospects of my forthcoming work, I may state that the probable estimate in our last January number from the reputed sale of Staunton's Handbook first published in 1844 (should be 1847) apparently falls far short of the real mark. For the Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News of London has since positively stated that no less than 45,000 copies of this work were sold in the first year of its publication alone, and the book has had an excellent sale ever since´.

The Modern Chess Instructor detail from cover

The relative scarcity of the first edition compared with the second edition is no doubt due to the short time during which the first edition was printed compared with the second edition which was printed with the 1848 publication date right up to 1861.

                                        © Michael Clapham 2016

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