In 1777 a series of royal decrees heralded the restructuring of the French booktrade. An important innovation was the creation of a public domain
for certain kinds of books whose privilège (or ‘copyright’) had expired. In order not to relinquish control over a vast category of books, the government decided to implement a new kind of printing and publishing permit – the ‘permission simple’.
As historian and bibliologist, the author examines the many issues involved in the implementation of the permit, explaining the circumstances that led to the creation of a public domain, the economic policies of the government with respect to the ‘permission simple’, and what exactly the procedures entailed. Other issues concerning the permit are also covered: edition runs; a number of illicit activities; the relationship of free trade, the physiocrats and Turgot to booktrade policies; the significance of Diderot’s Lettre sur le commerce de la librairie.
The study is largely based on hitherto unpublished sources and on books printed by virtue of the permit. Included in the volume is an edition of the ‘permission simple’ ledgers. This is the first time that the registers of an entire category of French books printed by virtue of a given authorisation have been published. They contain references to nearly two thousand editions – many today lost – of a wide variety of works. The
entries are invaluable for the information they provide about the output of many important provincial printers and booksellers. Together the two registers provide a unique picture of French book production during the
dozen years or so preceding the Revolution.