JOHN HANNETT’S BIBLIOPEGIA AND INQUIRY, AND SALT BRASSINGTON’S REVISION
In many studies on the historical aspects of bookbinding in Britain will be found the name of John Hannett, or his pseudonym, John Andrews Arnett, with references to his Bibliopegia: or, the art of bookbinding in all its branches, an early manual first published in 1835, or his Inquiry into the nature and form of the books of the ancients that appeared two years later. For instance, Mirjam Foot in ‘Some bookbinders’ price lists of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries’ cited the former.1 B. M. Breslauer in The uses of bookbinding literature also pays tribute, writing that ‘a whole string of writers have stepped into the footprints of John Hannett’.2 Rather scanty details of his not very eventful life were given by W. Salt Brassington in his History of the art of bookbinding, which appeared soon after Hannett’s death in April 1893 and was basically a revision of the Inquiry.3 These were slightly amplified by Bernard Middleton in his introduction to the facsimile of Bibliopegia published in New York in 1980.4 Bibliographical descriptions can be found in Graham Pollard & Esther Potter’s Early bookbinding manuals.5 Hannett is clearly a pioneer who deserves to be better known and this article will describe his life, and the history of his writings, in more detail.
He was born in Sleaford, Lincolnshire, in 1803, and worked for Simpkin, Marshall & Co. in London from 1827 to 1837. He then had his own shop in Market Rasen for seven years before acquiring the business of Samuel Hoitt in the small market town of Henley-in-Arden, Warwickshire, in 1844, expanding its concerns from bookselling and insurance to include printing as well. Here he stayed until his death in 1893, having retired about 1870, devoting himself to antiquarian pursuits and the welfare of his adopted town, of which he was High Bailiff from 1873 until he died.
As Bernard Middleton explains, Bibliopegia was written while Hannett was working in London. First published in 1835, it quickly achieved success and a new edition was called for in the following year, with a third in 1842. Hannett must have taken the blocks for the illustrations with him to Henley, for the fourth edition, published in 1848 by Simpkin, Marshall in London and Mozley & Son in Derby, has the colophon ‘Printed by J. Hannett, Henley’. The first page announces ‘considerable additions’, although the 212 pages of the first edition were compressed into 166, including ten pages of ‘A short sketch of the progress of modern bookbinding’, with the greatest admiration reserved for Roger Payne. A long note gave a detailed description of James Hayday’s masterpiece binding of J. B. Blakeway’s Sheriffs of Shropshire (1831) for J. W. King Eyton of Leamington; it was sold in 1848, Howard Nixon was unable to trace its modern location.6 This duodecimo is the only book printed by Hannett in Henley to have been found; his main printing work seems to have been jobbing.
No copy with ‘fifth edition’ on the title is recorded in the main libraries and union catalogues. The sixth, again published by Simpkin, Marshall, is dated 1865 and was printed by Josiah Allen of Birmingham, fourteen miles north of Henley. Hannett’s other book, the Inquiry, passed through six editions between 1837 and 1865 in combination with Bibliopegia. The third edition of the latter is dated 1842 and Bernard Middleton records having seen a third edition of the Inquiry dated 1843.7 The next stage in the history of Hannett’s texts is their reworking by William Salt Brassington (1859–1939) to produce the History of the art of bookbinding, published in 1894. Brassington’s preface states that the new work ‘is based upon a useful and now scarce little book entitled “An Inquiry...” ’, and that ‘At Mr. Hannett’s request I undertook to revise, rearrange and rewrite his treatise, so that this history is practically a new one’. In fact, Hannett’s words are so much revised and expanded that it is difficult to find much trace of the original text in the later book.
No explanation is known for the use of the pseudonym ‘Arnett’; it possibly represents a broad, provincial pronunciation of his actual surname to avoid identification by his fellow workmen at Simpkin, Marshall, as it was abandoned after he left London. Andrews was his mother’s maiden name. No binding by Hannett has been recorded; the copyright deposit copy of the fourth edition of Bibliopegia (1848) in the Bodleian Library is still in its original blue paper covers.8
In Henley, Hannett’s antiquarian enthusiasm turned towards the history of the area and in 1863 The Forest of Arden, its towns, villages and hamlets; a topographical and historical account was published by his old employers, Simpkin, Marshall and J. Russell Smith in London. The Colophon reads ‘Printed for J. Hannett, Bookseller, Henley-in-Arden, by J. Allen, jun., Birmingham’. It was bound in green cloth with a large gilt oak-tree on the upper cover.9 As the preface points out, the volume was ‘illustrated by upwards of fifty engravings, executed by Mr E. Whimper [sic], of London, principally from photographs taken expressly for the purpose’. The engraver is now more renowned as the pioneer alpinist Edward Whymper (1840–1911); the use of photography, the ultimate destroyer of engraved illustrations, is also noteworthy. The list of some 280 subscribers includes a score or so from Hannett’s native Lincolnshire; in contrast, there are only two from that country among the 85 subscribers to the revised edition that he prepared just before his death and was published posthumously in 1894.
Other antiquarian articles appeared in the Stratford-upon-Avon Herald and Redditch Indicator, but his bibliographical interests were not entirely forgotten. His obituary notice in the former local newspaper records that he gave ‘numerous and instructive lectures’; in March 1864 he delivered two on ‘Writings, books and bookbinding, from the earliest times to the present day, illustrated by diagrams and numerous engravings’, of which the text fortunately survives.10 The manuscript includes the original plan for the poster, printed by Hannett himself, advertising the lectures in aid of the Henley Reading Room Association, to be given in the Assembly Room of the Swan Hotel. It is written out in full in Hannett’s clear, flowing hand with additions and emendations on pasted-in slips. The first talk covered the Babylonian era to the sacking of Alexandria and Constantinople by the Saracens and the Turks; the second, dealing with the whole period from the Middle Ages to Roger Payne, fills five more pages than the first. The talks were well illustrated with objects, listed at the front of the manuscript, ranging from a copy of a cuneiform tablet to an ‘old folio binding’, the ‘stages of binding a book’, and a modern sixpenny Bible. Listeners were provided with printed synopses and a sheet of 27 numbered illustrations. This consisted of pulls from the blocks of the Inquiry of which the sixth edition was then about to go, or was already going, through the press, numbered in heavy type. In the manuscript they have been cut out and inserted at the appropriate place, when Hannett refers to ‘the sheet of engravings with which you were supplied’. They follow the same order as in the Inquiry and the text follows the book in abbreviated form. It was all earnestly serious with no apparent light touches. At one point an earlier lecture on printing was mentioned.
The sixth edition of Bibliopegia was the last to be overseen by Hannett himself, and for the next quarter of a century he concentrated on his local and antiquarian interests. But during these decades there was a growing appreciation in Britain of bindings as achievements of fine craftsmanship, and not merely as evidence of a technique, a growth that has been admirably described by Goldschmidt.11 The trend was epitomized in 1891 by the Burlington Fine Arts Club Exhibition of bookbindings with a fine catalogue with introduction and descriptions by Sarah T. Prideaux and E. Gordon Duff. The same year also saw the publication of Salt Brassington’s Historic bindings in the Bodleian Library, which may have been the catalyst in Hannett’s request to the younger man to revise Bibliopegia and the Inquiry.
The early career of Brassington is obscure before his appointment in April 1896 as Librarian of the Shakespeare Memorial Library in Stratford-upon-Avon.12 He matriculated as a non-collegiate student at the University of Oxford, aged 20, in 1879; no degree is recorded and when elected a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London in June 1891 he was styled ‘gentleman’.13 The first evidence of an interest in bookbinding appeared in 1886 when he gave a paper on ‘Early bookbinding’ to the Oxford Architectural Society. It was also seen in his account of the library given to the parish of King’s Norton by Thomas Hall (died c. 1650), which he delivered to the meeting of the Library Association in Birmingham in September 1887, and repeated to the Birmingham Archaeological Society in December where his interest in sixteenth-century blind-stamped panels is revealed.14 Brassington was among the book-collectors mentioned by Sam: Timmins in a talk on ‘Special collections of books in or near Birmingham’ at the same Library Association meeting; he owned ‘rare and important works of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, generally illustrated with fine engravings’, ‘editions of the classics (Greek and Latin) and many historical works (French and English)’, and some rare local reprints of famous books ... &c’, but bindings were not mentioned.15
In 1888 and 1889 he contributed a series of short unillustrated articles on sixteenth-century English blind-stamped binding to the first two volumes of The Bookbinder. His artistic rather than scientific approach aroused the scorn of Gordon Duff who wrote to Francis Jenkinson on 1 March 1889: ‘I have just been reading The Bookbinder for this month which is intensely stupid – Salt Brassington is surpassing himself in folly.’16 Similar comments were passed on other occasions. In March 1889 he again addressed the Birmingham Archaeological Society, this time ‘On bookbinding’, a very general survey from the earliest times to Cobden-Sanderson, who lent two specimens of work.17 More significantly, Gordon Duff lent some ‘stamped specimens’ and ‘arranged the exhibition’. Brassington’s request for help had occasioned some heart-searching by Duff, who wrote to Francis Jenkinson on 17 November 1888: ‘[Brassington] wants me both to lend him some examples to show and to tell him of people to write to to ask for the loan of others. I don’t think I shall lend mine as I mistrust his care and I won’t breathe your name as owning such things. If I thought he would do a paper on any scientific principle I shouldn’t so much mind, but I do extremely object to my treasured specimens being held up as “pretty examples of monastic binding”.’ Duff eventually agreed on condition that he wrote his own labels, that there would be a scientific arrangement, and no touching.
At about this period, Brassington must have been preparing his Historic bindings in the Bodleian Library, Oxford whose preface is dated from the New Manor House, Moseley, Birmingham, 25 July 1891. It was the first work to call attention to the Library’s rich holdings of fine bindings and consists of 24 coloured plates and descriptions, selected from an examination of about five hundred volumes. He was never on the Library’s staff.18 W. D. Macray and Falconer Madan are thanked for assistance. The preface reveals the source of inspiration as Joseph Cundall (1818-95), ‘whose name for upwards of half a century has been associated with many standard works upon Industrial Arts, and to whom the inception of this book is due, for the kind manner in which he has assisted me by piloting the work through the press’.19 Cundall’s book On ornamental art, applied to ancient and modern bookbinding (1848) is similar, containing 20 or 21 plates; Brassington was probably also influenced, as was Cobden-Sanderson, by his later work On bookbindings ancient and modern of 1881.20
In view of all these publications it is, therefore, not surprising that Hannett turned to a young expert living in his neighbourhood, although Brassington was not listed in the local newspaper as attending Hannett’s funeral in April 1893.21 Consequently, with Elliot Stock as publisher, Hannett’s duodecimos were turned into a large quarto with 277 pages, 10 coloured plates, and 110 illustrations of all sorts and sizes, which included 23 of the original engravings among chromolithographs and reproductions of photographs and Brassington’s own drawings; he also contributed several headpieces. It seems a little odd that Hannett is absent from the title-page and Brassington is called the editor. Although there is a completely new text, the subject arrangement follows Hannett’s two books. Part I is headed ‘Books of the ancients’ and is in 4 chapters; part II has ‘A history of the art of bookbinding’ and is in 15 chapters, followed by three appendices. There is much quotation from literary sources. A fascination with sixteenth-century blind-stamped panels is revealed by the fact that no less than fourteen are illustrated and only four rolls. References are made to the Burlington Fine Arts Club exhibition and to articles by W. H. James Weale (his Bookbindings and rubbings did not appear until 1896–8); there are frequent mentions of historical sources, but no references to Sarah Prideaux’s Historical sketch, which must have just preceded Brassington and was well received.22 Brassington’s book, on the other hand, had a mixed reception. Although it was welcomed in the January 1895 issue of Notes and queries as ‘a work of much research and importance’, an anonymous reviewer in the issue of The Library (then the ‘organ of the Library Association’) in the same month took an entirely opposite view:
Mr. Brassington’s refurbishing of John Hannett’s work … would require a lengthy notice. It forms a handsome quarto volume, is profusely illustrated, and has all the appearance of a work of great learning. A large number of the illustrations, however, are old friends, about a dozen having been contributed by Mr. Cyril Davenport to the Queen, while others are taken from Cundall’s Bookbindings ancient and modern … and others, doubtless from sources with which we are not acquainted. If our ignorance … is reprehensible, it is apparently shared by Mr. Brassington who, in a letter to The Athenaeum, which our contemporary unkindly entitled ‘The art of bookmaking’, excused himself for appropriating Mr. Davenport’s drawings without acknowledgement, by explaining that his publisher had purchased the clichés and sent him proofs without acquainting him of their authorship. Thus are two-guinea books constructed … however, at least a few of the plates are both new and good … Mr. Brassington’s text does not call for much notice. It is superficial and ill-arranged, and has a plentiful sprinkling of small mistakes, which makes it a dangerous book for the uninitiate … He has sat at the feet of Mr. Weale and Mr. Gordon Duff, and has thus avoided some popular errors ... We cannot honestly praise his book. … As an introduction to a serious study of the subject it should be avoided.23
It is not surprising that Salt Brassington published nothing more about bookbindings during the remaining 45 years of his life.
1 Mirjam Foot, ‘Some bookbinders’ price lists of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries’, Economics of the British booktrade 1605–1939, ed. by Robin Myers & Michael Harris (Cambridge, 1985), pp. 124–75. Reprinted in Mirjam Foot, Studies in the History of Bookbinding (Aldershot, 1993), pp. 15–67.
2 Bernard H. Breslauer, The uses of bookbinding literature (New York, 1986), p. 14.
3 W. Salt Brassington, A History of the art of bookbinding with some account of the books of the ancients (London, 1894).
4 J. A. Arnett, ed. B. C. Middleton, Bibliopegia; or, the art of bookbinding in all its branches (New York, 1980) (facsimile reprint of the London, 1835 edition).
5 Graham Pollard & Esther Potter, Early bookbinding manuals: an annotated list (Oxford Bibliographical Society, occasional publication 18, 1984), nos 100–1.
6 Howard M. Nixon, Five Centuries of English Bookbinding (London, 1978), p. 202.
7 Arnett/Middleton, Bibliopegia, p. x. It is curious that Hannett’s obituary notice in the Stratford-upon-Avon Herald of 14 April 1893 included: ‘he was also the author of a work entitled An Inquiry into the Nature and Form of the Books of the Ancients, with a History of the Art of Bookbinding, published in 1843’.
8 Bodleian Library, Oxford 48.1001.
9 An example in original condition is the copy in Cambridge University Library, D.37.25. This, like all other copies I have seen, has the binders’ ticket of Westleys of London.
10 Now Bodleian Library, Oxford, MS. Don. C. 157, found by the present writer in the stock of William Jaggard (1867–1947) in Stratford-upon-Avon.
11 E. Ph. Goldschmidt, ‘The study of early bookbinding’, The Bibliographical Society 1892–1942: studies in retrospect (London, 1949), pp. 175–84.
12 I am grateful to Ms Lindsey Thomas for help on Brassington biography.
13 J. Foster, Alumni Oxonienses 1715–1886, vol. I (London, 1888), p. 154; I am indebted to Mr Bernard Nurse for information on the Society of Antiquaries.
14 W. Salt Brassington, ‘Thomas Hall, and the old library founded by him at King’s Norton’, Library Chronicle, 5 (1888), pp. 61–71; Transactions of the Birmingham Archaeological Society for 1887 (1889), p. 16, where J. B. Oldham, Blind panels of English binders (Cambridge, 1958), REL.3 is illustrated.
15 Sam: Timmins, ‘Special collections of books in and near Birmingham’, Library Chronicle, 4 (1887), pp. 157–63, 159.
16 Cambridge University Library, Add. MS. 6463; I am indebted to Dr Arnold Hunt for help in tracing this extract.
17 Transactions of the Birmingham Archaeological Society for 1889 (1890), p. 107.
18 I am grateful to Mr Steven Tomlinson for checking the Library’s archives for me.
19 W. Salt Brassington, Historic bindings in the Bodleian Library, Oxford (London, 1891), end of preface.
20 See Ruari McLean, Joseph Cundall, a Victorian publisher, (Pinner, Middlesex, 1976), p. 45.
21 Stratford-upon-Avon Herald, 21 April 1893.
22 See for example the anonymous review in The Library, 5 (1893), pp. 200–1.
23 The Library, 7 (1895), pp. 93–4. The Notes and queries review is in 8th Series, 7 (January 1895), pp. 59–60. I have failed to locate Brassington’s letter in The Athenaeum.