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Philipp Erasmus Reich and the Leipzig publishers' cartel (1765)

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Primary Sources on Copyright (1450-1900)

Identifier: d_1765


Philipp Erasmus Reich and the Leipzig publishers' cartel (1765)

Friedemann Kawohl

Centre for Intellectual Property Policy & Management, Bournemouth University, UK


Please cite as:
Kawohl, F. (2008) ‘Commentary on Philipp Erasmus Reich and the Leipzig publishers' cartel (1765)', in Primary Sources on Copyright (1450-1900), eds L. Bently & M. Kretschmer,


1. Full title

2. Abstract

3. The economic background of Reich's initiative

4. Reprints of Gellert's works in Berlin

5. References


1. Full title

The first basic law of the newly-established German Publishers' Association (Buchhandlungsgesellschaft)


2. Abstract

This charter of the German Publishers' Association to prevent reprinting was the result of the Leipzig-based publisher Philipp Erasmus Reich's initiative to build up a cartel of non-reprinting publishers. It was one of several steps undertaken by Reich in his struggle against reprinting, which eventually led to the Saxonian Statute of 1773. The charter was signed on 10 May 1765 at the first meeting of the Association, when Reich was also elected its first secretary. The signatories pledged themselves to "suspend any business dealings with dishonourable reprinters" and to themselves undertake reprints in revenge for reprints carried out to the detriment of fellow-members (pp. 6-7). The commentary focusses on the economic background of the dispute between the influential Leipzig publishers, who sought to implement their business model of money trade and the other booksellers, who tried to retain the traditional barter system. Furthermore the case of Gellert's works being reprinted in Berlin is identified as one of the reasons for Reich's initiative.


3. The economic background of Reich's initiative

Of the 56 signatories (including four who signed after the charter was printed), 48 were based in North Germany, which clearly reflects the basic conflict that triggered the heated reprinting debates of the following decades: the non-reprinters, many of whom came from North Germany and were led by the Leipzig publishers, sought to implement their business model of money trade rather than the traditional barter system. Under the barter system booksellers were publishers at the same time and had hardly any incentive to hire popular authors, as long as they were able to barter their second-rate-authors sheet against sheet for bestsellers. Under such conditions benefits derived from reprinting were limited.


4. Reprints of Gellert's works in Berlin

On 9 January 1765, the Berlin publisher Joachim Pauli was granted a privilege for publishing Gellert's works within the Prussian lands. Reprinting and the selling of reprints were punishable by a fine of 50 thaler. Pauli's application was facilitated by general tensions between Prussia and Saxony as a result of the Seven Years' War (1756-1763) and by the fact that Gellert's original Saxonian publishers did not accept payment in Prussian currency, but insisted on French louis-d'or.


The privilege was granted to Pauli despite the fact that three years earlier, on 30 January 1762, the Leipzig publisher Reich had received a Prussian privilege for the exclusive sale of his edition of Gellert's works within the Prussian lands. The title-pages of original and reprint copies of Gellert's Collected Works, bearing references to Electoral Saxonian, Royal Prussian and Imperial privileges, serve as an apt illustration of this conflict.


Christian Fürchtegott Gellert (1715-1769), a professor of philosophy at Leipzig University, was one of the most popular authors in eighteenth-century Germany. His collection of fables was first published in 1746 by Johann Wendler (1712-1799) after Breitkopf had turned down the project. Gellert's fables turned out to be among the most successful titles on the eighteenth-century German book market. Wendler made a fortune out of Gellert's works before he eventually sold his publishing house, together with the copyrights, to Caspar Fritsch in 1766. The Leipzig publisher Philipp Erasmus Reich (1717-1787) was also able to acquire some original works of Gellert's. For a collection of works published in one volume in 1756, Reich paid 150 thaler per sheet - an exorbitant sum at that time compared to the usual 2-3 thaler per sheet, and in fact even more than the 125 thaler which Gellert had asked for! In 1768, Reich (who at the time was manager and associate of Weidmann's heirs) and Fritsch started a joint edition and brought out vols 1-5 (out of 10). Vol. 6 (image 1) was eventually published in 1770, bearing references to Imperial and Electoral Saxon privileges. In Pauli's reprint edition (image 1) even the layout of the title is copied straight from the Leipzig original.


Pauli did not only sell his editions within Prussia but also offered them for sale at the Leipzig fair, thus causing trouble with his Leipzig colleagues Reich and Fritsch. However, Prussian officials declared the Publishers' Association - of which Reich had been elected Secretary - to be an organisation of "publishers, some of them even natives of Prussia, who have the impudence to contest His Royal Majesty's right to grant privileges",[1] and suggested summarily that Prussian publishers and booksellers henceforth be forbidden from joining the Association. Reich, though, was well-informed about the situation in Prussia thanks to the Berlin publisher Christian Friedrich Voß (1722-1795), who was a member of the Association, and he explained his view on Pauli's reprints in a letter to Jean-Baptiste de Boyer, Marquis d'Argens (1703-1771), a French philosopher who at the time was effectively acting as Lord Chamberlain to Frederick the Great. Moreover, Reich himself had successfully applied for a Prussian privilege in 1762, as was noted above.


As a result, on 21 August 1766 a decree banning reprints was issued by the Berlin Chief Constable Karl David Kircheisen (1704-1770) in the presence of all the Berlin publishers, who were summoned to the town hall for this purpose. Within just a month the Prussian Cabinet Order of 28 November 1766 (d_1766) was promulgated. Despite the general ban on reprints instituted by the latter, Pauli was nevertheless able to perpetuate his pirate edition of Gellert's works on the grounds of his royal Prussian privilege. From 1775 onwards, however, the title-page of a new, revised edition from Leipzig included references to privileges not just from the Emperor and the Elector of Saxony, but also from the King of Prussia (image 1).


5. References  

Books and articles [in alphabetical order]

Georgi, A.S., Die Entwicklung des Berliner Buchhandels bis zur Gründung des Börsenvereins deutscher Buchhändler 1825 (Berlin 1926) 

Goldfriedrich, J., Geschichte des Deutschen Buchhandels, vol. 2 (Leipzig: Verlag des Börsenvereins, 1909) 

Lehmstedt, M., Philipp Erasmus Reich 1717-1787: Verleger der Aufklärung und Reformer des deutschen Buchhandels (Leipzig: Karl-Marx-Universität, 1988) 

Meyer, F.H., "Reformbestrebungen im achtzehnten Jahrhundert", Archiv für Geschichte des Deutschen Buchhandels 12 (1889): 201-300

[1] ["es unverschämt ist, wenn Buchhändler, die zum Theil einheimisch sind, Ew. K. Maj. das Recht, ein Privilegium auszugeben, bestreiten"]. Quoted in Friedrich Hermann Meyer, "Reformbestrebungen im achtzehnten Jahrhundert", Archiv für Geschichte des Deutschen Buchhandels  12 (1889): 201-300 (242).

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