Death of Edmond Hoyle, 1769

by on March 7th, 2015
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We don’t know much about Edmond Hoyle’s early life. To be honest, he doesn’t seem to have made much of an impression on anyone until about 1741. And then he took up Whist.

Whist was a popular card game in 18th and 19th century England. Earlier, it had not been very well regarded, and was, in fact, thought of as something that might be played in the servants’ hall. It might also have been played by hunting men or rough squires — but certainly not by people of fashion.

By 1728, however, all that had changed. By that year, it was being played in the Crown Coffee House in London, and some attempt was being made to develop scientific strategies for the game. Hoyle may have been a member of the Crown Coffee House; we don’t really know, but it seems that he must have been highly regarded as a Whist player, somewhere. By 1741 he was tutoring members of society in the game, and he wrote up a copy of his notes for the class, which he sold to his students.

In 1742 Hoyle expanded the book, and began selling it to the general public, for the price of one guinea. He called it A Short Treatise on the Game of Whist and the book sold out quickly. Rather than go to the trouble and expense of printing another edition, Hoyle sold the rights to Francis Cogan, a London bookseller. He received 100 guineas for the rights — it was considered quite a sum for such a small book.

Cogan was all set to put out another edition, but before he could do so, two pirated versions came out, both under assumed names, one citing the author as Webber and the other as Webb. Cogan put out a second and a third edition anyway, and in the meantime got an injunction against the pirates. In the preface to the fourth edition, Cogan announced that his was the genuine article, and began paying Hoyle tuppence a copy to autograph the works. It made a nice little additional income for Hoyle, but Cogan didn’t make out too well on the whole transaction.

Hoyle followed up his literary success with some more works: A Short Treatise on the Game of Backgammon, An Artificial Memory for Whist, and shorter works on Piquet (which includes a section on Chess), and Quadrille. Cogan published them all, but went bankrupt in 1745 and sold the rights to Thomas Osborne.

Osborne did better financially on the works than Cogan had, and eventually began selling a volume combining all the works as Mr. Hoyle’s Treatises on Whist, Quadrille, Piquet, Chess and Backgammon. Hoyle also came out with separate books on Chess, Brag, and Probability Theory. During Hoyle’s lifetime, the Whist book (in its various forms) went into 14 editions, with Hoyle happily autographing all of them. After his death, the autograph was accomplished by means of a woodblock print.

Hoyle’s treatise on Whist was considered the authoritative work on the game until 1864, when new rules were written by John Loraine Baldwin, and adopted by various whist clubs. Over time, all rulebooks for games became known as “Hoyles”, whether or not he had had anything to do with them. By 1869, Brown and Bigelow, a St. Louis, Missouri company, acquired the rights to the Hoyle name. (Brown and Bigelow is probably best known for the Boy Scout calendars with Norman Rockwell illustrations that they published for many years, but they also printed playing cards and other gaming materials.) This explains, in part, why Hoyle’s name is associated with so many games that he would never have been familiar with.

In 1979, the Poker Hall of Fame inducted Edmond Hoyle into as a Charter Member. According to the Hall of Fame standards, in order to be inducted, a gambler must have played against top competition, for high stakes, consistently well. Non-players must have contributed to the game with positive and lasting results. It’s quite an honor for Hoyle, considering that he died well before the game of Poker had been invented.

Sources: Chase’s Calendar of Events, 2011 Edition: The Ultimate Go-To Guide for Special Days, Weeks, and Months, Editors of Chase’s Calendar of Events; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/August_29; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edmund_Hoyle; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whist; http://www.bookrags.com/biography/edmond-hoyle/; http://www.hoylegaming.com/c-9-history-of-hoyle.aspx; http://www.pokerpages.com/pokerinfo/hallofame/.


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