Monday, October 16, 2006

Earliest edition of the Mahābhāṣya?

William Griggs (1832–1911) was the inventor of a photolithographic process. The DNB entry on him has the following extraordinary information:

Griggs was as successful in bringing down the price of reproducing old manuscripts and letterpress texts as he had been in reducing costs in chromolithography. His production of fifty copies of the Mahabhasya (the standard authority on Sanskrit grammar), consisting of 4674 pages (1871), was carried out for £6000 less than the estimate for a tracing of the original manuscript by hand, an enormous sum at the time. More widely known were his Shakespeare quartos, with critical introductions by Frederick James Furnivall and others, in forty-three volumes (1881–91); hand-traced facsimiles of the same works by E. W. Ashbee, superintended by James Orchard Halliwell-Phillipps, had been sold at more than eight times the price.

I was unaware of this piece of printing history, and it would be interesting to find out who commissioned this particular work, and to see copies of the photolithograph. It seems implausible that it would have cost much more than £6000 to commission scribes to copy out the Mahābhāṣya in the late 19 century. Griggs worked in London, in close association with the India Office.

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