Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue – Day Eighty-Seven

The Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue was first published at the end of the eighteenth century, and given that the Coronavirus crisis is giving too much time to read books, I thought I’d pick a daily word from it until I got bored…..

Conger

This is defined as “to conger; the agreement of a set or knot of booksellers of London, that whosoever of them shall buy a good copy, the rest shall take off such a particular number, in quires, at a stated price; also booksellers joining to buy either a considerable or dangerous copy”.

This was an arrangement amongst booksellers, which were nearly all in London, to jointly finance the production of a book and they purchased shares to that effect and also agreed to purchase a certain number of copies for their shops. This agreement took hold in the early eighteenth century and lasted until around the middle of the nineteenth century. The subscription model was the other way of funding expensive books, such as encyclopaedias, where purchasers would subscribe in advance to help fund the cost of production and printing.

The conger agreement was financially very useful to the booksellers and they fought to retain permanent copyright for everything that was produced. Eventually, the courts started to decide that this made books more expensive for the general public and that excessive power was being retained with the sellers. The principle of copyright was extended and the conger model started to face away as competition increased.