Christmas opening times

Over the Christmas period the Royal Observatory, National Maritime Museum, Cutty Sark and Queen's House will be open as usual. We are closed to the public from 24-26 December. Plan your next visit

You may have noticed that I'm rather interested in the production and alteration of books. I think this comes from working in a museum – hence an emphasis on books as objects that are made and used.

One financial model for the production of books in the eighteenth century (and in other periods, of course) was by subscription, in which pre-payment from each subscriber, or at least the promise to buy a certain number of copies, ensured that setting and printing could go ahead.

Recently I discovered an annotated proposal and subscriber list for one of the Board of Longitude's publications, Michael Taylor's A Table of Logarithmic Sines and Tangents, which was exactly what it sounds like – although excitingly it also includes a table of the logarithms of every number from 1 to 100,000. It was, I suspect, unlikely to be a runaway bestseller – I think we'd call it a specialist work today.

The subscription proposal is dated 16 July 1789, but the work had clearly been in progress for a number of years by this time: the Board of Longitude awarded Taylor (who was a computer for the Nautical Almanac) £300 for his calculating efforts towards it in November 1783 and a public announcement was made in the Journal des Scavans [Sic.] in 1786.

The annotated proposal is interesting because it not only sets out what subscribers would get, but also shows something of how the list of names was changing in the years up to publication. For a payment of 3 Guineas (with the price to non-subscribers to be at least 4 Guineas), subscribers were promised a 480-page work on 'superfine Elephant Paper, and in a beautiful new Type cast on purpose'. They could pay the subscription at one of about 25 named booksellers and 'opticians' in London and elsewehere, including well-known instrument makers such as P. & J. Dollond and J. Ramsden.

There then follows a list of subscribers from King George III, through libraries and observatories, Admirals, Professors and Fellows of the Royal Society, to a longer list of others not already named. This is where the changes over the years come to light in more detail. Charles Brown, M.D. of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, for example, is noted as being dead.

Taylor subscriber list B

Less morbidly, new additions to the list include John Crosley, Assistant at the Royal Observatory.

Taylor subscriber list C

Taylor's Table was successfully published in 1792 with the final list of subscribers included in the front matter, by which time further amendments included John Crosley noted to be 'late Assistant at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich'  (late in the sense of no longer working there, I should add).

As we can see, the final list erased much of the process of assembling supporters for a work to help the 'nice calculations' of astronomy and navigation.