American Creativity: Early Copyright Title Pages

18th- and 19th-century title pages from the Early Copyright Records Collection offer a uniquely American sensibility and chronicle an industrious new nation and its intellectual pursuits. Some of the titles will be readily recognized, but many were never published or have been lost to history due to their obscurity.

The title pages are broadly organized by date and include every type of publication imaginable. Books, sheet music, prints, maps, dramatic compositions, advertising labels, patent drawings and books are represented. Topics include histories, dramatic plays, religious and educational instruction, music scores, science and invention, as well as many fictional works, to name a few.

Where did they come from? The title pages are the result of the first federal copyright laws. From 1790 through 1870, copyright registration was accomplished by completion of a form at the local federal district court, payment of a fee, and deposit of a printed title page with the clerk of that court. The Copyright Act of 1870 — the birth of modern copyright law — consolidated all these records. The old entries were transferred to the Library of Congress, where they have since resided, nestled away in archival boxes. Some scarcely saw the light of day until digitized and published online in 2020. The Library of Congress is the home of the modern Copyright Office, but this collection is part of the Rare Book and Special Collections Division. All records postdating 1870 are held by the U.S. Copyright Office.

Instructions: The title pages are mostly in English, but also contain German, French, and other languages. Please insert letters with the correct accents for the relevant language. Visit this History Hub post to learn how.

We have also compiled a list of FAQs about some of the common symbols, abbreviations, and conventions that you'll find in this campaign and how to transcribe them. Respond to the History Hub thread to ask your question!