Printing evidence at the Royal Society.

In the mid seventeenth century, Charles II chartered The Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge. Within that charter, he gave them the right to print texts without using a process layed out in a previous law, his Licensing of the Press Act of 1662. The society’s right became the basis of a vibrant published record beginning in 1664 that continues to the present day.

The printing they conducted between 1664 and 1695, when the Licensing of the Press Act official lapsed, differs from the typical accounts of the history of copyright. Our received history of the 1662 act claims that every book was registered with the Stationers’ Company and approved by an official Licensor. Registration and licensing were required by the process in the act of 1662. However, the act specifically excludes regulating printing done under the Royal prerogative, typically monopolies on Bibles and laws, but also the printing of the society.

Thus the printing conducted under the charter of the society follows different rules, produces different evidence, and represents a different legal regime.

This summer, I’m working on assembling that evidence into a series of articles and talks that help us to understand the other sorts of legal regimes in which books were printed in early modern London and the broader anglophone world. I’ll write more posts as I go along, but for now, you can see the in-progress essays here:

The work has been generously funded by Bibliographical Society, the Bibliographical Society of America, and my own thrift while working at a call center during the pandemic.