Transcriptions of Pre-1870 US Copyright Records

Until mid-1870, copyright registration duties were handled by the local U.S. District Court of the author or proprietor, while the work itself was deposited with the Department of State (until 1846), Library of Congress (1846-1859, 1865-1870), Smithsonian Institution (concurrently 1846-1859), and Patent Office (1859-1865, 1865-1870 concurrently).  In 1870 all copyright responsibilities were centralized in the Library of Congress.

I’ve been working on a number of projects regarding these oldest federal copyright records, which I hope to discuss more on this blog.  One of these projects has been to assemble all currently existing printed transcriptions of these records.  As each District Court maintained its own records and the pre-1870 records are still organized by Court, these transcriptions have mostly focused on individual states.  The list follows below:

A note on copyright, of sorts, for these sources. Of course the transcriptions of federal records are not protected by copyright, but some of the prefatory material is.  For the four sets of transcriptions I uploaded to the Internet Archive because no scan was otherwise available, I checked the Copyright Card Catalog for all, and could not locate a renewal for either the issue of the periodical they were published in, or the individual article itself.

I’ve adapted this list from Copyright Records and The Bibliographer by G. Thomas Tanselle.

  • All States, 1790-1800: James Gilreath & Elizabeth Carter Wills, Federal Copyright Records 1790-1800 (1987).
  • Alabama, 1861-65: Raymond V. Robinson, “Confederate Copyright Entries,” William & Mary Quarterly, 2nd ser., XVI (1936), 248-66. [122 entries, including entries from Georgia, Mississippi, and North Carolina]
  • California, 1851-56: Edith Margaret Coulter, “California Copyrights, 1851-1856, with Notes on Certain Ghost Books,” California Historical Society Quarterly, XXII (1943), 27-40. [118 entries]
  • California, 1851-62: Robert Greenwood, S. J. Suzuki, Marjorie Pulliam, “California Copyrights, 1851-1862,” in California Imprints, 1833-1862 (1961), pp. 480-504. [293 entries] (This volume had its copyright renewed in 1989, and is thus still in copyright)
  • Delaware Copyright Entries 1797-1869 – Compiled by the National Archives Regional Division in Philadelphia
  • Georgia, 1861-65: See Alabama above.
  • Illinois, 1821-50: Douglas C. McMurtrie, “Early Illinois Copyright Entries, 1821-1850,” Bulletin of the Chicago Historical Society, II (1937), 50-61, 92-101. [84 entries] (my upload)
  • Kentucky, 1800-54: John Wilson Townsend, Supplemental Check List of Kentucky Imprints 1788-1820 (American Imprints Inventory, No. 38, 1942), pp. 119-97. [448 entries] (my upload)
  • Maine, 1790-1820: Glenn Skillin, A Bibliography of Maine Imprints 1785-1820, 470-472 (2015)
  • Massachusetts, 1800-09: Ruth Shaw Leonard, “Transcript of the Copyright Entries for the District Court of Massachusetts, 1800-1809, with Bibliographical Notes,” in A Bibliographical Evaluation of the Copyright Records for the United States District Court of Massachusetts, 1800-1809 (Master’s thesis, Columbia University, 1944), pp. 69-176. [342 entries] (my upload, prefatory material not included due to copyright)
  • Michigan, 1824-29, 1837-70: William L. Jenks, “Michigan Copyrights,” Michigan History Magazine, XI (1927), 110-43, 271-87, 445-58, 630-52; XII (1928), 108-24, 584-89, 740-43; XIII (1929), 121-26, 555-59; XIV (1930), 150-55, 311-13; XV (1931), 126-29. [1472 entries — but the actual total is somewhat smaller, since certain entry numbers are skipped] (my upload)
  • Mississippi, 1850-70: Charles F. Heartman, “Mississippi Copyright Entries, 1850-1870,” Journal of Mississippi History, II (1940), 79-87. [71 entries] See also Alabama above. (my upload)
  • New Jersey, 1791-1845: Joseph J. Felcone, “New Jersey Copyright Registrations, 1791-1845“, in Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society (1994). [225 entries]; Joseph J. Felcone, New Jersey Copyright Registrations, 1791–1870 (2017) (book announcement here)
  • North Carolina, 1861-65: See Alabama above.
  • Rhode Island, 1790-1816: Howard W. Preston, “List of Rhode Island Books Entered for Copyright, 1790-1816,” Rhode Island Historical Society Collections, XIII (1920), 69-72, 95-101. [40 entries]
  • Texas, 1840-41: Andrew Forest Muir, “Patents and Copyrights in the Republic of Texas,” Journal of Southern History, XII (1946), 204-22 (esp. pp. 215-16). [3 entries]
  • Virginia (Norfolk), 1837-70: Barbara Harris and John Cook Wyllie, Norfolk Copyright Entries 1837, 1851-3, 1856-7, 1858-9, 1864, 1866-71 [i.e., 1870] (Charlottesville: Bibliographical Society of the University of Virginia, 1947), 48 pp. [82 entries]
  • Virginia (Richmond), 1790-1844: James H. Whitty, A Record of Virginia Copyright Entries (1790-1844) (Richmond: Davis Bottom, 1911), 54 pp. Also printed as a supplement (52 pp.) to the Seventh Annual Report of the Virginia State Library, 1909-10 (1911). [250 entries, fully indexed]
  • Virginia (Richmond), 1864-65: “Confederate Copyrights,” Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, XX (1912), 425-29. [28 entries]

In addition to these, there are a number of lists of works deposited with the various depository institutions identified above.  It’s worth noting that only a small percentage of the works registered for copyright were deposited in the pre-1870 era.

Author: Zvi S. Rosen

Lawyer and sometimes academic. I've written a fair deal about the evolution of intellectual property law into its present form, this blog is a way to share things that don't fit into a full-length article.

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