printer's series number ☜☞ serie numerada del impresor
Printer’s series numbers appeared either on the top left or top right corner of the title page, usually preceded by N., No., Num., or Núm. (Num being the most frequent form). There was one contrarian printer who placed the number in the center; a few others started a trend using roman numerals. The practice of numbering sueltas was probably introduced by printers to gain control over the large quantity of their stock.
Hannah Bergman’s article “Calderón en Sevilla” (see in Bibliography) which is really about the Hermosilla dynasty of printers, gives a clue to the extraordinarily large number of sueltas that printers held in stock.
This long quotation in English (from the above-mentioned article published in Spanish), is from Hannah Bergman’s own notebook and includes the following observation which she was following up for a longer publication regarding this theme:
The family business was established by Lucas Martín de Hermosilla. As early as 1676 he had a bookstore on Calle de Genova . . . [and] he remained in business almost forty years more. Comedias may well have been his most important stock in trade; the inventory of the bookstore drawn up at his death in 1720 lists as its third item:
Diez y siete mill quinientas y setenta y una docenas y media de Comedias
It is not specified how many titles this figure represents, nor can we be sure how large an edition he printed of each; towards the end of the century, 2000 copies seem to have been a typical edition . . . . Joseph de Hermosilla is already listed as a bookseller with his own shop on Calle de Genova in the 1706 census . . . . In the settlement of Lucas Martín’s estate, the book holdings were divided among all the heirs, but a far larger portion of them went to Joseph than to the others; we already know that comedias made up a very substantial part of these holdings. In the inventory of Joseph’s own estate, some twenty years later, we once more find, at the head of the list:
Yt, mill seiscientas y ocho docenas y ocho comedias de diferentes títulos.
Yt. Veinte y nueve docenas y media [dichas]… encuadernadas y contadas.
Several studies have been published on printers and their numbering system and what clues they offer for chronology. See Karl Gregg, Julián Martin Abad, and Jaime Moll entries in Bibliography. Hannah Bergman’s research cites the surprisingly large number (to us) of sueltas in the possession of a printer as quoted from testamentary documents from the Archivo de Protocolos in Seville. It further underscores the need by printers to keep track of their stock.
The relationships (in terms of publishing) between comedias sueltas and relaciones de comedias is not yet clear. Joseph Antonio, as Mercader, issued a relación of Manos blancas no ofenden, and as Imprenta Castellana y Latina, two different relaciones of El mayor monstruo. Perhaps corresponding editions of these comedias will still come to light.
For a fuller discussion of printer’s series numbers, see entry in Miscellanies by Don W. Cruickshank.