Sunday, 15 March 2015

The Price-Code "CUMBERLAND"

This week I gave a presentation about "Price-Codes and Provenance" at a conference in London; one of my slides is above. I have posted before about how price-codes work.

Last night I finished reading Janet Ing Freeman's The Postmaster of Ipswich: William Stevenson Fitch, Antiquary and Thief (London, 1997). At p.81 she writes:
"Fitch went on to say [in a letter written in October 1836] that in each volume he had pencilled his estimate of its 'fair value', using the code word CUMBERLAND for the figures one to ten."
Surprisingly, this use of the code is overlooked by Ian Jackson in The Price-Codes of the Book-Trade: A Preliminary Guide (Berkeley, 2010), the de facto Bible of price-codes. But he does record (p.10) that it was used by at least four other businesses and individuals:

We have previously encountered the same code being used by Robert Ormes Dougan.

I find it very curious that so many people all chose the same price-code. Is it possible that they all used a similar dictionary to search for a ten-letter word with all different letters, and decided against using the first one they found, "BANKRUPTCY"?

EDIT A little Googling leads me to realise that CUMBERLAND was an especially popular/widespread code; see for example this:

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