Untold lives blog

Sharing stories from the past, worldwide

94 posts categorized "Rare books"

26 March 2024

A letter between female activists

A letter between two 19th-century women can provide a glimmer of light into their personal lives.  It can help researchers relying mainly on published material to find out more about the women than just their public achievements.  Emily Faithfull and Mary Carpenter may not share the same historical fame as Elizabeth Garrett Anderson or Elizabeth Fry, but a letter sent by one to the other gives useful, albeit small, evidence of personality.

Letter from Mary Carpenter to Emily Faithfull  2 July 1862 -  first page

Letter from Mary Carpenter to Emily Faithfull  2 July 1862 - second pageLetter from Mary Carpenter to Emily Faithfull, 2 July 1862 - British Library, Add MS78907H

On 2 July 1862 Mary Carpenter wrote to Emily Faithfull to congratulate her ‘on [the] status given you by being appointed the Queen’s Publisher…’.  Mary was ‘desirous of becoming better acquainted’ with Emily and was keen to meet her if she happened to visit Bristol where Mary resided.  A scrawled note under Mary’s signature suggests that she also had the generosity of spirit to send Emily a mechanical Earth.

Mary Carpenter (1807-1877) was devoted to helping children who were living in poverty, especially those who had unfortunately fallen into committing criminal acts.  Through her lobbying efforts, Parliament introduced two laws known as the Youthful Offenders Act in 1854 and 1857 which approved the establishment of reformatory and industrial schools.  However, Mary became better known for her work in helping to educate women in India with her attempts to establish schools, as well as for establishing the National Indian Association in England. 

Emily Faithfull (1835-1895) was equally committed to promoting the rights of women but in the field of employment in England.  She strongly believed that with good education, women were just as equipped to do the same kind of jobs as men.  This conviction led her to create the Victoria Press in 1860, recruiting women compositors to help publish books.  Emily was rewarded for her efforts by Queen Victoria appointing her as ‘Printer and Publisher in Ordinary’ to Her Majesty.

Front cover of Emily Faithfull  Employment of WomenFront cover of Emily Faithfull, On some of the drawbacks connected with the present Employment of Women (1862) British Library shelfmark 8276.a.13, also available via Google Books

Emily not only issued her own publications about women and employment but also toured the United States giving lectures and helped movements promoting women’s employment rights.  Her beliefs were encapsulated in a paper which she presented to the National Association for the Promotion of Social Sciences.  Mary Carpenter was involved in this group, but clearly hadn't met Emily prior to 1862.  In her paper, Emily argued that a woman should not rely on the income of her husband.  A husband’s sudden death might mean having to find employment to support herself and her family, and an untrained woman was at a disadvantage.  Emily asked: ‘Is it less dignified to receive the wages of industry than the unwilling or even willing bounty of friends and relations?’ and continued to state that it must be, ‘... undignified for her to receive payment for labour...’.  Emily also established the International Musical, Dramatic and Literary Association in 1881 to represent composers and artists.

A letter helps us learn about how women activists might have needed a reason to contact each other, as well as how little they may have met each other in person.

Mary (Marette) Hickford
Library, Information and Archive Services Apprentice

Further reading:
Carpenter, M (1862) Letter from Mary Carpenter to Emily Faithfull, 2 July 1862. London: British Library, Add MS78907H.
Faithfull, E (1862) On some of the drawbacks connected with the present Employment of Women. A paper read before the National Association for the Promotion of Social Science ... 3rd edn. London.
Hunt, F (2009) ‘Faithfull, Emily’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
Prochaska, F (2004) ‘Carpenter, Mary’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
The National Indian Association and its handbook for students in Britain

20 June 2023

Charles Tuckett junior - bookbinder, inventor, author, researcher and … bankrupt

What did one have to do to succeed in Victorian London?  On the evidence of the life of bookbinder Charles Tuckett junior, versatility, luck, talent, intellect and an engaging personality were not enough.  Despite publications and patents to his name and esteem from both his British Museum Library colleagues and his trade society (the Bookbinders’ Pension Society), Charles died in 1875 at the age of 54 after a long illness, bankrupt, with his teenaged son Frederick as chief mourner.  However the Hampstead and Highgate Express emphasised that ‘affectionate respect was sincerely and mournfully given’.  Many important figures attended the funeral.

A bookbinding workshop in Victorian LondonA bookbinding workshop in Victorian London from A Description of Westleys & Clark's Bookbinding Establishment, 1845

The Tuckett family comprised father Charles, sons Charles, Robert Daniel and John.   The surname was synonymous with bookbinding; notably at the British Museum, and at their own business nearby in Bloomsbury.  They were also official binders to the Queen and Prince Albert.  Charles Tuckett senior managed the Museum workshop for 40 years and Charles junior worked there too.

Plate from Tuckett's Specimens of Ancient and Modern Bookbinding showing the cover of Il Petrarcha published in Venice  1521Plate 3 of Specimens of Ancient and Modern Bookbinding showing the cover of Il Petrarcha (Venice, 1521). 

Photograph from British Library’s database of bookbindings of Il Petrarcha  published in Venice  1521Photograph from the British Library’s database of bookbindings on the same book, Il Petrarcha (Venice, 1521)

Charles junior was devoted to raising the profile of books and bookbinding.  In 1846, he published a book titled Specimens of Ancient and Modern Bookbinding Selected chiefly from the Library of the British Museum.  He subsequently organised displays at locations which would attract the interest of influential members of society, for example the Society of Arts.  Tuckett’s book reviewers encouraged him to extend his study of bindings by issuing more volumes, including a wider range of styles, but it was not to be.

Review of Tuckett’s Specimens of Ancient and Modern Bookbindings from The Bookseller 26 April 1861Review of Tuckett’s Specimens of Ancient and Modern Bookbindings from The Bookseller 26 April 1861, p. 213.

Charles junior’s interests were wide ranging, though books were central to his concerns.  He was keen on practical experimentation.  His 1860 patent recorded ‘an improved method of ornamenting book covers, which is also applicable to other purposes’ received much publicity in the newspapers.  It incorporated a new way of adding or changing colour on the surface of leather.

Detailed account from Tuckett’s new dye process patent 1860Detailed account from Tuckett’s new dye process patent, No. 2408 of 5 October 1860.

The year 1865 proved to be a turning point in the fortunes of the Tucketts.  There was a serious workshop fire in the Museum.  Tuckett senior was held responsible and dismissed.  The capable Tuckett junior assumed his father’s post of Museum Binder.  He oversaw a team of experienced binders including Stephen Would and Joseph Darby.

The Trustees and the august and knowledgeable Keepers of printed books and manuscripts relied upon Tuckett to preserve their fragile collections, maintain the workforce and balance the budget.  Additional stress and calls upon his time were caused by the family business as well as his other occupations.  The 1871 census, lists Tuckett as the supervisor of 55 men, three boys, and fifteen women.  His family home was at 7 Maitland Park Villas, Haverstock Hill, an up and coming area.  A household of his second wife, seven children under the age of thirteen and five servants must have been extremely expensive to maintain.

Perhaps Tuckett over-extended himself: the London Gazette recorded his bankruptcy under an act of 1869.  After years of ill health, which may have impacted severely on his work output, Tuckett died in October 1875.  He predeceased his father, who died five months later in March 1876.

P.J.M. Marks
Printed Historical Collections.

Further reading
Tuckett (C. , Junior ) Specimens of Ancient and Modern Bookbinding. Selected chiefly from the Library of the British Museum . (London , 1846)
The American Bookmaker (August 1894).

 

16 May 2023

The ‘Titanic Omar’ preserved for all time (virtually)?

The story of the ‘Titanic Omar’ bookbinding can hardly be described as ‘untold’ but perhaps it is time to add another chapter.

Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam bound by Stanley Bray of Sangorski & Sutcliffe following the patterns of the original binding, which was lost on the Titanic -doublureRubaiyat of Omar Khayyam bound by Stanley Bray of Sangorski & Sutcliffe following the patterns of the original binding, which was lost on the Titanic - doublure- British Library C188c27

To recap;
1909-1912 London bookbinders Sangorski and Sutcliffe bound a deluxe copy of the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám with over a thousand jewels.

1912 Purchased by American collector Gabriel White who sent the book home on the Titanic. Lost.

1912 July Sangorski drowned in the sea while bathing.

SangorskiPress cuttings about Sangorski's death provided with the Bray bequest

1932-39 Sutcliffe’s nephew, binder Stanley Bray, recreated the binding.

Lower cover of second versionLower cover of second version - image provided with the Bray bequest

1941 Placed for safekeeping in a vault, which received a direct hit during the Blitz. Destroyed.

1985-1989 Bray bound the third (and final?) version during his retirement.

Stanley Bray working on the third OmarStanley Bray working on the third Omar - image provided with the Bray bequest

2005 Bequeathed to the British Library by Mr and Mrs Bray.

Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam bound by Stanley Bray of Sangorski & Sutcliffe following the patterns of the original binding - lower doublureRubaiyat of Omar Khayyam bound by Stanley Bray of Sangorski & Sutcliffe following the patterns of the original binding, which was lost on the Titanic - lower doublure- British Library C188c27

The next part of the Omar’s story involves conservation and recording.  The book has been on show in the British Library galleries but needs to be rested periodically.  Can we use new processes including 3D imagery to ensure the binding is available virtually, while the item itself is assessed by Conservation?  You be the judge.  

This model was created by the British Library’s Imaging Services and Sketchfab.   Supervision was provided by the Library’s conservators.  Only the outside of the binding has been captured.  It is important to establish that the process can cope safely with the many protruding onlays and jewels before considering its application to the dazzling inner boards and printed content.

The next stage is an assessment of the book’s structure.  It is hoped that specialists will check and record its physical condition, notably the mounting of the jewels.

P. J. M. Marks
Printed Heritage Collections.

Further reading
Rob Shepherd. Lost on the Titanic (London:Shepherds Sangorski & Sutcliffe and Zaehnsdorf, 2001.)
BL Image Database of Bookbindings

 

14 April 2023

Paul Ferris - printer and publisher

Paul Ferris was born in 1766 at Fort St George. Madras, the son of Paul Ferris and Agnes Daniel.  He trained as a printer under James Augustus Hicky at his printing office in Calcutta and was one of Hicky’s assistants along with Archibald Thompson in the establishment of Hicky’s Bengal Gazette, India’s first English language newspaper, printed from 1780-1782.

Men busy in 18th century printing works18th-century printing works from A Picaud, La Veille de la Revolution, (Paris 1886).General Reference Collection 9225.l.12 BL flickr

In 1792 Ferris and Thompson founded their own newspaper, the Calcutta Morning Post, and were later joined by Morley Greenway as a co-owner.  In June 1818 they acquired the Calcutta Gazette, which had been in circulation since 1784 as the Government’s official news circular.  Shortly after this acquisition, the Calcutta Gazette ceased publication, with its last edition being printed on 29 September 1818.

Ferris also went on to establish his own printing press, Ferris & Co, and a bookselling business in Calcutta. By 1802 Ferris & Co were acting as the Calcutta agents for the Mission Press in Serampore.

In 1815 Ferris printed a new edition of John Miller’s The Tutor in English and Bengalee, first published in 1797.  It was published with an addendum stating that it had been ‘carefully revised and corrected by a professional pundit’.  The ‘professional pundit’ was Ganga Kishore Bhattacharji, a publisher of Bengali works who was just starting to work with Ferris. In 1816 Ferris & Co became the first printers to produce an illustrated book in Bengali, a narrative poem Annada Mangal written by Bharatchandra Ray in 1752-1753 and published by Ganga Kishore Bhattacharji.

Ganga Kishore would go on to publish numerous Bengali works with Ferris & Co including Ingreji byakaran (An English grammar), Daybhaeg (Hindu inheritance law) and Bidyasundar (a courtly romance), which was also the first Bengali book to be accompanied by woodcut illustrations.

Pen and ink drawing of the Danish settlement of Serampore  viewed from the opposite bank of the River Hooghly, with a man wearing a turban resting with his arms crossed in the foreground and boats on the water.Danish settlement of Serampore  viewed from the opposite bank of the River Hooghly - pen and ink drawing by Frederic Peter Layard (1842) British Library WD4359 British Library Online Gallery 

Paul Ferris died in Serampore on 29 June 1821 at the age of 55.  He had married Ann Esther Mullins in 1800 (she died in 1845 in Bombay), and the couple had seven children together.  He also had three children prior to his marriage, a son Paul and two daughters Frances and Ann.

Paul Ferris’s obituary is somewhat intriguing as it suggests that, despite the success of his various enterprises, he may have been struggling financially prior to his death: ‘Mr. P. Ferris - in his age 55 years - formerly Editor of Calcutta weekly newspaper, The Morning Post and owner of Calcutta Biblioteck-circulating Library and during the last years reduced to the necessity of keeping a sort of school at this place for Boys and Girls’.

The references in the obituary to the two other initiatives, the Calcutta Bibliotek circulating library and a school, are interesting as no other records of them appear to exist. There was however a Calcutta Library Society with its own lending library, which was established in 1818.  It is perhaps possible that this may be the ‘Bibliotek’ referred to in the obituary, but Ferris’s name does not appear in records as one of its founders.

Karen Stapley,
Curator, India Office Records

Further Reading:
Paul Ferris, Memorial at Fort William Burial Ground
‘Glimpses of Serampore (1810-1820)’, published in Bengal Past and Present, Vol. 46 1933 Jul-Dec. British Library Shelfmark: Ac.8603
Hicky’s Bengal Gazette: PENN.NT330 NPL
Calcutta Morning Post: Asia, Pacific & Africa SM 32

 

04 April 2023

Exercises for Ladies

Following on from Walker’s Manly Exercises, we bring you, by the same author, Exercises for Ladies; calculated to preserve and improve beauty, and to prevent and correct personal defects, inseparable from constrained or careless habits: founded on physiological principles.  This book was first published in 1836.

Donald Walker claimed that few young women were exempt from some degree of deformity which always increased with age.  These deformities were caused by the women performing nearly every act of their lives in a one-sided manner.  Prevention required an equal and similar use of the other side of the body.

Illustrations of bad positions leading to a crooked spineBad positions leading to a crooked spine

The book was divided into several sections.

Physiological Principles – the structure of the body, the vertebral column, the chest.

Functions of the body connected with exercise – locomotion, nutritive, thinking.  The effects of excessive exercise – exhaustion of the cerebral and spinal nervous system, and premature ageing of appearance.

Debility caused by constraint – whalebone stays causing debility and wrong positions.: ‘The little girl, in the attempt to render her thin and genteel, speedily becomes hump-backed’.  If boys are straight in figure without the aid of whalebone stays, why shouldn’t girls be the same?

Illustration of two young women showing the wrong and right positions in writingWrong and right positions in writing

Wrong positions which resulted from debility and from the employment of muscles unfavourably situated – standing, sitting, writing, drawing, guitar-playing, harp-playing, riding, lying in bed, all the acts of common life.

Guitar playing - wrong and right positionsGuitar-playing – wrong and right positions

Wrong and right positions in harp-playingPlaying the harp – wrong and right positions

Standing – if standing for a long time, the tendency to balance on one leg throws out the hip and distorts the spine.
Sitting – by always sitting on the same side of the window or fire, persons lean to one side, and this has the effect of raising one shoulder.

Injuries done by wrong positions to locomotive organs and functions, vital organs and functions, mental organs and functions.Utility of exercises to locomotive, nutritive, and thinking systems.

Exercises – active (the body is moved and agitated by its own powers); passive (the body is moved without any effort of its own); mixed.

Position of figure – standing (‘females, in particular, find the standing position very fatiguing’ because of the size of their pelvis), walking, dancing.

Exercises for the arms (rod, dumb-bells, Indian sceptre, clubs). Walker describes Indian sceptre exercises practised in the Army with clubs.

Young woman performing Indian Sceptre exercise

Young woman performing Indian Sceptre exercise Indian sceptre exercises

Exercises for the limbs (balance step, walking at different speeds, running and leaping).

Walking - the quick paceWalking – the quick pace

Running and leaping – ‘Owing to the excessive shocks which both of these exercises communicate, neither of them are congenial to women’.  So Walker moved quickly on to exercises for the feet.

Dancing – Ladies were to dance in a very different manner from gentlemen – ‘lithesome and graceful motions’.  Every lady was to desist from dancing as soon as she felt any difficulty breathing –‘oppression and overheating render the most beautiful dancer an object of ridicule or of pity’.

Gesture.

Deportment – how to curtsey.

Three stages of a curtseyThe curtsey


Games – ‘Le Diable Boiteux’ (which exercised shoulders), 'La Grace' (catching hoops on sticks), skipping rope, shuttlecock and battledore, bow and arrow.

Geary's exercise staysGeary’s Exercise Stays

Walker recommended exercise stays invented by Mrs Nicholas Geary of 61 St James’s Street.  He said that these stays were absolutely essential for all exercises of the arms, especially the Indian exercises for which they were constructed.  Their pressure on every part of the chest was slight as the very elastic shoulder straps were longer and fixed lower than usual, and they also played freely in the lateral direction under a transverse band at the back.

Advertisement for Mrs Nicholas Geary’s stays from Morning Herald (London) 3 October 1836Advertisement for Mrs Nicholas Geary’s stays from Morning Herald (London) 3 October 1836 British Newspaper Archive

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
Donald Walker, Exercises for Ladies 

 

09 February 2023

Peritas - Alexander the Great’s dog

Most people have heard of Alexander the Great or his teacher Aristotle.  Many have heard of Alexander’s warhorse Bucephalus, a horse so beloved that Alexander named a city, Bucephala, after him.  How many people can tell the tale of Alexander’s dog?  Who can name that Good Boy?

Little is known about Alexander’s dog ownership.  He may well have had more than one dog but the canine companion who is most frequently mentioned in the myths and legends that surround his master is Peritas.

If Plutarch is to be believed, Alexander reared Peritas from a puppy and the bond between the two was so strong that when Peritas died he was honoured in the same way as Bucephalus.  Alexander named a city after him. (Plutarch, Lives, 61.1).

We don’t know what breed of dog Peritas was, we don’t know what Peritas’ coat looked like, we don’t know if he enjoyed a game of Fetch.  All we know about that dog’s appearance comes from Pliny who recorded that Alexander was gifted a dog which was unusually large (Pliny, Natural Histories, 8.149).

A dog, a lion and an elephant walk into an arena… This may sound like a riddle or the beginning of a Christmas cracker joke but it’s actually one of the best known stories about Peritas.  Or the dog often believed to be Peritas.

According to Pliny (Pliny, NH, 8.149), Alexander was gifted his dog by the King of Albania.  Alexander was told by the King to test the ability of this dog by sending the dog into a battle with a lion or an elephant.  Alexander did just that.  The dog immediately killed the lion and then defeated the elephant by biting it in strategic places and causing the elephant to spin around and around until it was too dizzy to stand.

Alexander watching a battle between a dog  a lion and an elephantAlexander watching a battle between a dog, a lion and an elephant, C.107.k.7.

Aelian tells a slightly different version of the tale.  He tells of a ‘hound which can boast a tiger for a father’ that would not fight a deer, nor a boar; it only leapt into action when it saw a lion.  Aelian records that Alexander was so amazed by that dog that he was gifted dogs of this breed by the people of India (Aelian, On the Nature of Animals, 8.1).

Alexander receiving the gift of a dog; a dog battle against a lion and an elephantAlexander receiving the gift of a dog; a dog battle against a lion and an elephant, Royal MS 20 B XX, f.41v

Do we know for certain that the dogs in these stories were Peritas?  No, but perhaps they were.  Perhaps Peritas really was a dog so incredible he deserved to have a city named for him.  Or perhaps Peritas is merely one of the many myths that has grown up around Alexander the Great in the 2,300 years of storytelling that surrounds the historical man.  To discover more of the myths and legends surrounding Alexander the Great, visit our exhibition Alexander the Great: The Making of a Myth, closing on 19 February 2023.  Alternatively, explore our website.

Yrja Thorsdottir
Digital Content Exhibition Curator

Further reading:
Affective Relations and Personal Bonds in Hellenistic Antiquity. United Kingdom, Oxbow Books, 2020.

 

24 January 2023

The hidden life of Winifred Arthur, fore-edge painter

The working lives of Victorian women in England were apt to be hidden, rarely referenced in contemporary publications.  This term could be doubly applied to gifted artist Winifred Arthur (b. 1864 in Lancashire) whose work was literally hidden.  Winifred created ingenious paintings on the fore-edges of books.  The edges were then coated with gilt, thus concealing the image until the pages were fanned out.

Fore-edge painting of Windsor Castle by Winifred ArthurRimmer’s Rambles around Eton and Harrow (shelf mark C.188.a.525.) bound by Fazakerley of Liverpool with a fore-edge picture of Windsor Castle by Winifred Arthur. Image copyright Cooper Hay with thanks.

The Library has recently acquired a copy of Rimmer’s Rambles around Eton and Harrow (shelf mark C.188.a.525.) bound by Fazakerley of Liverpool with a fore-edge picture of Windsor Castle by Winifred Arthur.  Fore-edges are difficult to photograph and Winifred’s signature can be challenging to distinguish.  She signed using her initials W A, visible above on the lower left corner, somewhat resembling a five legged spider.  Specialist Jeff Weber believes it is likely Winifred signed all her fore-edges, other practitioners did not always do this.

Winifred Arthur's initials on the fore-edgeWinifred Arthur's initials on the fore-edge

Hiding such decoration was not a new procedure.  'Royal’ examples were made in the 18th century by bookbinder John Brindley for Queen Caroline, Consort of George II.  They were unique and were often included to personalise a book or to enhance presentation copies. Winifred’s edge paintings also had regal recipients, in her case the Princess of Wales, the Duchess of Teck and even Queen Victoria herself.

Newspaper report of Winifred Arthur’s fore-edge painting on John Lovell’s ‘Literary Papers’ Newspaper report of Winifred Arthur’s fore-edge painting on John Lovell’s ‘Literary Papers’  - Liverpool Mercury 11 June 1894 British Newspaper Archive

At the age of 16, Winifred was described as ‘Art scholar’ in the 1881 census.  She may have received instruction at the Liverpool school of art and design, which was not far from the family home in West Derby and admitted women students from 1832.  By the 1891 census, Winifred was listed as ‘Artist in watercolours’, implying that she worked on her own behalf.  There is no record of her adult sisters’ employment but her brothers were clerks or assistants.

Winifred was fortunate in that she could conduct business via commissions through the bookshop (and publisher) Howell's of Liverpool (which was founded by her grandfather Edward Howell).  Winifred’s father John Sanderson Arthur managed the shop, as did her brother Edward subsequently.  Without such connections, she would have found it difficult (as a woman) to sell her work.

Winifred’s art appeared in newspapers from time to time.  The Western Mail reported upon the 1898 exhibition of the ‘ladies’ (defined as amateurs) of the South Wales Art Society; 'There are, while perhaps nothing very remarkable, few really bad specimens this year'.  The first contributor named was Winifred Arthur.  The review was mostly positive, though the tone appears tooth-grindingly patronising to the modern ear.  One study was ‘charming’ and ‘admirable’ and another titled ‘Sweet Hawthorn’ was a 'sweet little bit of colour'.  A final sentence concluded that two of her landscapes 'were not so good'.

According to the 1911 census, Winifred lived with her widowed father in Toxteth Park.  He died in 1917.  The 1921 census shows Winifred living in Edge Lane, Liverpool ,with Sara Evelyn Seckerson, her widowed younger sister, and her teenage nephew Richard Arthur Seckerson.  Winifred died on 6 July 1934 at Braddon on the Isle of Man.

P J M Marks
Curator, bookbindings. Printed Historical Collections

Further reading;
Jeff Weber, Annotated Dictionary of Fore-Edge Painting Artists & Binders, 2010.
Marianne Tidcombe, Women bookbinders, 1880-1920, 1996
Dataset of selected fore edge paintings on British Library books.

 

03 January 2023

Charles Tuckett Senior and the British Museum Bindery fire of 1865

What a difference a day makes!  On the morning of 10 July 1865, Charles Tuckett (1796-1876) was manager of the British Museum bindery, a post he had held for 40 years.  That evening a fire, which lasted from approximately 21.00 to 22.15, ended his employment there.  According to Andrew Prescott, ‘The 1865 Bindery fire was arguably the greatest single disaster to the collections since the establishment of the Museum in 1753’.

Red and black leather binding with gold tooling by Charles TuckettBookbinding by Charles Tuckett -  British Library C.21.e.3.  Tuckett’s ‘signature’ as a bookbinder Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The bindings workshop was necessarily stocked with supplies of paper and other flammable materials.  Charcoal braziers supplied the heat required for processes including the tooling of leather.  A brazier in the ‘finishing’ room (the location for gold tooling and other ornamentation) was probably the source of the blaze.  Finishing involved heating engraved metal tools, one in the binder’s hand and three lying flat.

Drawing of a finisher at work with his heated toolsA finisher at work from The Penny Magazine September 1842 supplement RB.23.a.30032. The apparatus shown here was more modern than those in use in the Museum but it is clear what a precarious operation ‘finishing’ could be. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The museum’s fireman was absent on leave; the hosepipe burst; the fire brigade arrived after half an hour but only one of the two fire engines worked.  The manuscripts under treatment were either burned or drenched.  There were some positives: the wind drove the flames to the northeast which prevented further spread, and staff members Fricker and Farrant managed to close an iron workshop door to isolate the fire and protect the Library stacks. Eyewitness Frederick Madden of the Department of Manuscripts noted; 'such a want of organization (after all the fair printed rules and instructions)… I never beheld in my life'.

Accidental fire was a recognised hazard for Master Bookbinders.  Tuckett had taken out insurance with the Sun Fire Office for his family business located near the Museum in Little Russell Street.  The British Museum Trustees had ordered precautionary measures.  In 1861 one of the flues in the workshop caught alight and Tuckett was instructed to have the flues swept regularly.  The following year, the Trustees ruled that the binders should use lamps not candles.  Only four days before the fire, the London Evening Standard reported Trustee Earl Stanhope’s statement that means of fire prevention were ‘under consideration’.

Early reports stated that the fire was promptly extinguished without any material damage done, but that proved to be wildly optimistic.  The loss included seven unique manuscripts and 282 printed books.

Report of the bindery fire in the Pall Mall Gazette 11 July 1865Report of the bindery fire in the Pall Mall Gazette 11 July 1865 British Newspaper Archive

Half of the six rooms in the bindery were ruined.  By 1 January 1866, however, the repaired bindery reopened.  A fireproof building for ‘finishing’ was built nearby.

Around fifteen manuscripts and 258 printed books had been salvaged and required treatment.  Tuckett was experienced in tending to such material, having learned from specialist Henry Gough, but he was dismissed by the Museum trustees.  His son was appointed his successor.  Charles Tuckett Junior (1822-75) had worked as apprentice to his father, and had written about historic bindings and also devised new bookbinding techniques and patented them.  His brother John (1828-1908?) trained as a lithographer but assumed control of the family workshop in Little Russell Street until 1880.

Letterhead of invoice issued by Charles Tuckett, Bookbinder to the Queen and Prince Albert and to the British Museum.Letterhead of invoice issued by Charles Tuckett, Bookbinder to the Queen and Prince Albert and to the British Museum - Royal Collections Trust RA PPTO/PP/QV/PP2/23/7860

Charles Tuckett senior appeared in the 1871 census as a widower and ‘Retired Bookbinder’ living with his unmarried daughter in Croydon.  It was a far cry from his entry in the 1861 listings for Bloomsbury, as a bookbinder employing 52 men, 19 women and a boy.

P. J. M. Marks
Curator, Bookbindings; Printed Historical Sources

Further reading;
Philip Harris, A History of the British Museum Library, 1753-1973 (London, 1998).
Andrew Prescott 'Their Present Miserable State of Cremation': the Restoration of the Cotton Library.

 

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