January 18, 2022

Library of Congress Releases Digital Collection of Old Copyright (1790-1870) Submissions (Title Pages), Items From Hawthorne, Twain, Douglass and Thousands More

UPDATE (Additional Coverage) September 28, 2020

Peruse the Copyright Title Pages Collection at the Library of Congress (via Fine Books & Collections)

—End Update—

From a LC Blog Post:

In celebration of copyright’s 150th anniversary this month, the Rare Book and Special Collections Division launches a new digital collection, Early Copyright Materials of the United States 1790-1870, which puts online for the first time nearly 50,000 title pages that accompanied copyright registrations dating back to the foundation of the country.

The documents — just the first wave of tens of thousands of old copyright entries that we’re digitizing — form a uniquely American record of creativity, dreams and aspirations from a world gone by. The title pages sent in by authors and publishers to register their books for copyright feature serious literature, comedies, romance, true crime and plays for the theater. There are works on religious instruction, how-to books and educational texts. There are also applications for inventions, sheet music, prints, photographs and illustrated works of the sciences, most notably botany and zoology.


The documents stem from the first federal copyright laws in 1790 and 1831. They contain the earliest copyright records and materials that were held by the federal district courts and numerous government offices in D.C. The Copyright Act of 1870 — the birth of modern copyright law — consolidated previous records. The old entries were sent to the Library where they have since resided, nestled away in archival boxes, some scarcely seeing the light of day in 230 years. The Library, of course, has been home to the U.S. Copyright Office since 1897. It houses the modern records.

Learn More, Read the Complete Blog Post. View Images

From the Digital Collection Website:

Some of the titles will be readily recognized as founding publications which helped to establish American thought and sensibilities. However, many of the items in the collection were never published or have been lost to history due to their obscurity. Further, because copyright registration preceded publication, many registrations do not correspond to a published work, and these “ghost books” offer a fascinating glimpse of a “what if” in American cultural history. This digital representation allows for these items to be discovered anew. There are endlessly interesting items to be intrigued by and charmed by and many new connections and discoveries to be made.

In total, the Early Copyright Materials Collection consists of over 800 ledgers and assorted volumes of copyright related works. This release offers over 96,000 images of unbound title pages which were submitted along with copyright registrations, (the registrations themselves will be included in future releases). Digitized from front to back, all writing and notations have been captured. All told, there are approximately 48,000 individual title pages organized chronologically in fifty digital groupings. Some exceptions to this organization occur with oversized and miscellaneous groupings placed found at the end of the digital run. Full text search capability allows researchers to mine the collection in specific areas of interest. Future digital releases will present the collection of over 800 volumes of copyright registrations and related materials in its entirety.

Direct to Early Copyright Records Collection, 1790 to 1870

About Gary Price

Gary Price (gprice@mediasourceinc.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.