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What does a copyright year on books mean?

The book I have has a copyright date of 1888

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A copyright year in a book, which is normally in the first few pages right next to a "C" with a circle around it illustrates the date of publication. Copyright at first was conceived as a way for government to limit printing.

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Anthonymm,thank you so very much for your answer. The book I have does not have a C next to the year. At a yard sale I purchased this book titled "Maurine and other poems by Ella Wheeler Wilcox . Mrs. Wilcox' picture and signature are on the inside of the second page. On the third page is the copyright date 1888. I've been web searching for more info on this book of poems, with little luck . Would enjoy reading more about my book if you or anyone else. Thank you!
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