Pre-1870 Copyright Records from the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress

The Rare Book Room isn’t the only part of the Library of Congress with copyright records from before copyright was entrusted with the Library in 1870.  As I blogged about a few weeks ago, there are many copyright records outside the Library of Congress.  And of course the Rare Book Room of the Library of Congress holds the main body of these pre-1870 records.  However, the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress also has four boxes of pre-1870 copyright records.  These records are held within the Library of Congress Archives, one of the collections of the Manuscript Reading Room.

Those who looked closely at the guide to these records hosted by GW Law may have already noticed these records.  They fall into two categories of records – letter books of copyright correspondence with the State Department, and what I’ve termed “ephemeral” copyright records, to indicate small lists of copyright registrations, usually compiled by the clerk of the court.

The letter books are correspondence related to copyright with the Secretary of State, who was mostly responsible for copyright deposits until 1870.  There are three continuous letter books for 1818-1824, 1824-1828, and 1828-1832.  The bulk of the letters in these books are cover letters that accompanied individual deposits, although there are other documents as well.  For instance, there is a letter in the 1828-1832 book from counsel for Henry Wheaton, attempting to establish the proper deposit of Wheaton’s Reports as part of the litigation that would become the Supreme Court case of Wheaton v. Peters.  There is also a book that appears to be deposits with the State Department for 1853-1854, but it is on onion paper and was too fragile and voluminous to scan easily.  According to the Roberts survey of the copyright records, there is also a letter book of the Patent Office regarding copyright matters for 1859-1870 as well in the Rare Book Room, which would presumably be digitized along with the rest of the copyright-related material held there.

In addition to these letter books there is also a single box of miscellaneous pre-1870 records in the Library of Congress archives, which I have dubbed “Ephemeral Copyright Records.”  I’ve already blogged about the most interesting such document, which is a list of all registrations of labels and other nontraditional copyrighted works up to 1861.  However, there are other interesting documents there as well, including a list of records created by the Library circa 1870 of documents received from the State Department, a short list of copyright deposits for which no registration could be identified, and a number of records created by individual courts.  Some of these records appear to be the only extant records of the relevant registrations, while others give us a picture of literary activity in that district – one list for a six-month period in New York City in 1859-1860 shows over a thousand titles being entered (although under 400 were actually secured with a deposit).

I hope these scans are helpful to researchers and lawyers; leave a comment if you have any questions.

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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *