Tracking Accuracy in Copyright Records – A Case Study
A few weeks ago, Joseph Felcone emailed me to ask about helping with a mystery in the copyright records he’d been investigating, and asked if I’d help. For folks not in the know, Joe is an expert on New Jersey books and publishing, and the author of a number of wonderful books on the subject – including a recent catalog of all New Jersey copyright registrations from 1791-1870, which all fine libraries should own (if unsure if your library is truly fine, order a copy from Joe to cement such status).
Joe was trying to determine information about A Member of Congress. A Novel. By William Wentworth (New York: G. W. Dillingham, 1898). He’d already figured out a fair bit of what I discuss below, but I think the process of figuring out the information is informative, because it tells us about how inaccuracy and uncertainty can creep into the copyright records. The story continues below.
If you knew nothing about the book you’d go looking for William Wentworth as an author, but that would be for naught, because William Wentworth was a pseudonym. A visit to the pre-1938 pseudonym section of the copyright card catalog will resolve that issue, though:
With the power of Google we’re able to bypass the pseudonym card, though – Worldcat and the Catalog of Copyright Entries both show the author as being “Edwin Beckman.” The Catalog of Copyright Entries reports the copyright information as:
[Beckman, Edwin.] A member of congress. A novel. By William Wentworth [pseud.]. New York. (G. W. Dillingham co., 1898. 243pp. 12 . cop. (Dillingham’s metropolitan Library. no. 37.) (1898. no. 18639, Mar. 21., 2 copies rec’d Apr. 18. 1898.) Copyright by E. Beckman, Middleton. N.J.
Thank you, Zvi. Having spent four decades doing this kind of bibliographical research, I can testify to the importance of going back to the source whenever possible and never assuming that a subsequent record, in any form, is accurate. Skepticism is often rewarded.