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 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.
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.
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, 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.
Printed Historical Collections.
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).