The Society was a scholarly collective, aimed at publishing limited-edition books of rare poems and songs. The president was Lady Braybrooke, and the twelve founding members of the committee included John Payne Collier, Thomas Crofton Croker, Thomas Wright, James Orchard Halliwell (treasurer), Charles Mackay, Edward Francis Rimbault (secretary) and William Chappell. Later members included William Sandys, and Robert Bell.
The editors took care to print the text exactly as given in their sources. This was in contrast to their main inspiration, Thomas Percy, who often polished up vernacular text by adding lines or merging different incomplete versions. Like Percy, they omitted obscene songs and verses. Unlike Percy they tried to find the tunes to songs. John Payne Collier founded the Shakespeare Society in 1841.
The members of the Percy Society drew on manuscripts and printed ephemera in the British Museum, the Bodleian Library, the Ashmolean Museum, the Pepys collection (Cambridge), The Douce collection (Oxford), and their own private collections. The committee would decide on the theme of the next publication, and send out the bound volumes to their subscription list. All members of the society were enthusiasts of Elizabethan drama. The society grew out of the Roxburghe Club. As well as reprinting so-called "Garlands" (collections of songs), they created their own compilations related to a particular region of Britain, or to a single subject such as Robin Hood. There were 90 small publications and 31 larger volumes called "Early English Poetry, Ballads and Popular Literature".
In 1868 the Ballad Society was formed to do similar work, but was more focused on reprinting folksongs.
Of all the Percy Society publications, the ones that have been most frequently in print recently are the Irish folklore books by Thomas Crofton Croker. James Orchard Halliwell sold his personal collection of ballads, which became known as the Euing Collection, in the University of Glasgow. William Sandys' landmark volume "Christmas Carols, Ancient and Modern" (1833) contained several carols that are still sung every year in churches in Britain. The "Crow Collection" at the University of Kent at Canterbury has an almost complete collection of Percy Society publications.
Early English Poetry, Ballads and Popular Literature
|2||A selection from the minor poems of Lydgate / Early naval ballads of England / A search for money, by William Rowley / The mad pranks and merry jests of Robin Goodfellow||1840|||
|17||Scottish traditional versions of ancient ballads / Ancient poems, ballads and songs||1846|||
|21||Popular songs, illustrative of the French invasions of Ireland||1847|||
|28||An Anglo-Saxon passion of Saint George / A poem on the times of Edward II. / The Poems of William de Shoreham / The triall of treasure||1851|||
|29||Notices of fugitive tracts and chap-books / The man in the Moone / The use of dice-play / The loyal garland / Poems and songs on the assassination of the Duke of Buckingham||1851|||
- Lowndes, William Thomas; Bohn, Henry George. "Percy Society publications". Bibliographer's Manual of English Literature. vol. 6. pp. 59–65.