||THIS ARTICLE has two
main purposes - firstly to describe a group of eighteenth-century English
almanack bindings now far from home in Alberta, Canada1, and
secondly to attribute one of these bindings to Sarah Messing, stationer
in Ordinary to His Majesty, George III - a tradeswoman whose name has not,
I believe, been previously associated with a specific gold-tooled binding
by any historian of the binding trade.
In May 1971, through the good offices of H. Campbell of Toronto, Calgary
University Library acquired by purchase a miscellaneous collection of mss,
broadsides, books and bindings mostly from within the period 1660 to 1800,
which had formerly belonged to Mr.
Edgar Osborne, the Canadian bibliophile, whose noted collection of
early children's books is now housed at the Toronto Public Library. Included
in the purchase was a group of eighteenth-century volumes containing one
or more almanacks, all bound in red morocco, all gold-tooled to varying
degrees of profusion, and all with decorative marbled end-papers. These
are 'almanacks' in the eighteenth-century sense: i.e. they combine, in
most cases, a true almanack - a table of the astronomical and astrological
events of the year - with a social and historical register. As Capp2
says in his book on astrological almanacks:
This description, allowing for some additional elements introduced later
in the century3, accurately describes the ten London almanacks
in the collection. The Calgary collection also contains eight bindings
of Irish design and manufacture covering, either in pairs or singly, copies
of two Dublin annuals: The Gentlemen's & Citizen's Almanack,
compiled by Samuel Watson and published by him and Thomas Stewart, and
the English Register published by John Exshaw4. In a
describing the three most ornate of these Irish almanack bindings, I speculated,
following a suggestion by Craig6, that these were bindings created
on order for individual members of the Anglo-Irish community in Dublin,
and that the two bindings carrying Royal Arms as part of their design had
possibly been commissioned for government functionaries at Dublin Castle7.
It is possible, however, that the ornate bindings in the group without
Royal Arms were available as 'stock' or 'trade' bindings on demand to any
customer who could afford to buy his or her almanacks in this rather elaborate
form. This is also true of the English bindings described here. If it could
be decisively proved that the morocco-bound alamacks were available directly
out of booksellers' stock in the last two months of the year preceding
the date of the annual, that would be strong evidence of the precision
with which almanack bindings can be dated, as opposed to other fine bindings
of the eighteenth century which may be substantially later in date than
the books they cover. Craig8 notes that 'almanacks have a double
advantage to the students of binding, for there is always a strong presumption
that they were bound in the place of publication, and in the year before
that to which they refer'. A later paragraph touches briefly, therefore,
on the fragmentary evidence that almanacks, along with certain other classes
of popular publications, were for sale ornately bound on a 'stock' as opposed
to a 'special order' basis.
Rider's British Merlin, however, which was small and
often interleaved to make it suitable for a pocket-diary , continued well
into the nineteenth century. In the 1730s there appeared The Court Kalendar,
setting out the birthdays of English and foreign royalty, a list of the
privy council, and the names of English and foreign ambassadors. It was
designed to be bound with a list of members of parliament and with Rider's
at a price of two shi1lings. The composite work resembled a modern Whitaker
The English almanack bindings under discussion cover copies of four
different publications. Four of them cover copies of The Court and City
Register for the years 1753, 1756, 1767 and 1770. In all four items
the binding also covers, printed on stamped paper, the Rider's British
Merlin for the current year. The Court and City Register was
issued by a group of booksellers headed by John Rivington of St. Paul's
Churchyard from 1748. In November 1764 Rivington got a Royal Patent9
confirming his rights (and presumably those of his partners) for another
fourteen years to 1778. Standing on its own is a copy of The Court and
City Kalendar for 1769, the binding also covering a Rider's British
Merlin for 1768. This is an example of the series begun in the 1730s
mentioned by Capp and sold by another group of London booksellers. The
remaining five bindings cover copies of The Royal Kalendar, or Complete
and Correct Annual Register for England, Scotland, Ireland and America
for the years 1773, 1776, 1782, 1787 and 1788. The 1782 binding does not
contain a copy of Rider's of any year; the other four carry the
almanack for the current year. The title-pages of all these almanacks give
the information that the publication was available bound with the Rider's
included or, at 9d less, without it. The Royal Kalendar, which presumably
called itself 'Royal' on the basis of some kind of licence or patent, was
published by a large conger, headed first by John Almon of Piccadilly,
and later by John Debrett, also a stationer and bookseller in Piccadilly,
who was Almon's successor. Debrett also published from 1782 the fashionable
and highly successful European Magazine.
Study of the advertisements for all these almanacks in contemporary
newspapers makes it quite clear that, as well as being available ready
bound, with or without Rider's, they were also offered for sale
'stitched', to allow for the creation of individual bindings. Copies were
also available with other inserts - for example, a 36-page insert carrying
engravings of the armorial bearings of the baronets of England. The Calgary
copy of The Court and City Kalendar for 1769 contains this variant
(Binding IV below). The product was clearly directed at the ; more fashionable
end of the market. What the contemporary advertisements do not make clear,
unfortunately, is the nature and degree of elaboration of the bindings
supplied for prices ranging from 2s. to 3s.6d. W.H.J .Veale seems to assume
in his short description of this class of binding, based on his examination
of copies in the Victoria and Albert Museum and elsewhere, that all such
almanacks were issued in red morocco bindings. He says: 'The annuals issued
in London, such as Watson's Court Kalendar, Rider's British Merlin and
the Court and City Register were, during the greater part of the eighteenth
century, bound in red Morocco, elaborately tooled with a constant variation
of design; some of them remarkably good10. This is not true
of all copies of eighteenth-century almanacks which I have seen, although
it is true of a relatively large number , which may be explained by the
fact that the more elaborately bound copies are the more likely to be treasured,
retained and collected. But almanacks of this kind can also be found bound,
usually in groups, in plain calf bindings. My own small collection of eighteenth-century
almanacks - admittedly all Scottish - are cheaply and soberly half bound
in calf, with red labels. Dorothy Miner speaks in her catalogue of 'shops
specialising in the Bible Trade, which produced Bibles, prayer books, hymn
books and other devotional works ready bound for sale in elaborate looking
bindings11, and Gaskell's extremely compressed account of eighteenth-century
binding practices in his New Introduction to Bibliography speaks,
presumably generically, of 'prayerbooks' being available in 'stock' or
'trade' bindings, and there is supporting evidence in newspaper advertisementsl2.
As far as almanacks are concerned, the evidence from advertisements seems
to me to be ambiguous because of lack of detail. Material similar to almanacks
- of the pocket book variety - does seem to have been sold from stock in
fancy bindings. For example, the firm of G. G. & J. Robinson, advertising
their large stock of annuals in the Whitehall Evening Post during
November 1787, offers a choice of ladies' pocket books bound in red, blue
or green gilt, with tucks or clasps, at 1s.8d. each. This would seem to
indicate that the advertised bound copies of almanacks, retailing from
2s. to 3s.6d. each, might well have been bound in stock 'fancy morocco'
bindings. I find it easier to believe that Morocco bindings of the simpler
and plainer sort as exemplified in Nos. I-III of the following list were
available from stock, and that profusely decorated ones as exemplified
inter alia by Nos. VIII-X were only created when specifically ordered.
It would also be interesting to know whether style or sample books were
kept. The evidence for 'stock' fancy bindings, based on prices and advertisements
only, is inconclusive.
Attributing bindings to the same workshop, on the basis of general similarities
in design, or even on the continued use of the same group of tools, is
a hazardous business to be undertaken with great caution. As the reader
will see from the following descriptions, I have not completely avoided
this temptation in comparing examples from the Calgary group with each
other and with the comparatively scarce published examples. It is this
scarcity which encourages me to publish illustrations of three of the ten
bindings, along with concise descriptions of all of them.
In order to keep the descriptions as short as possible, I have not listed
within each description the following characteristics which all ten bindings
have in common:
A. The bindings are in grained leather, probably goatskin dyed
red, usually called 'morocco'. B. The bindings feature gilding on
all paper-edges. The edges of the bindings themselves are also gilt-tooled. C.
The spines have raised bands and the number of bands and compartments on
the spine are given in each entry. D. The bindings have marbled endpapers.
In the entries I have described the marbling as either 'conglomerate' or 'combed'. E. The pattern of decoration of the lower cover of each
binding is the same as that on the upper cover .
The bindings are listed in chronological order of the date of publication of the
chief item within the binding. The measurements given are those for the
length and breadth of the front cover . (Click on the thumbnails
to go to the full-size image)
|On The Court and City Register
for the year 1753, the seventeenth edition. (Also contains Rider's
British Merlin, 1753) 135 x 78 mm. The spine has four gold-tooled
bands and five compartments. All five compartments contain the same
squared design made up of small stylised floral tools. The front
and rear covers have a border consisting of two fillets and a stylised
fleuron roll and brass clasps. No corner or centre ornaments. Combed
|On The Court and City Register
for the year 1756. (Also contains Rider's British Merlin,
1756) 134 x 80 mm. The spine has four gold-tooled bands and five
compartments. The second compartment from the top contains the date.
The other compartments have a stylised cross design. The front and
rear covers have a border of two fillets and a single 'large crown,
spear and leaf' roll. No corner or centre ornaments. Combed marbled
|On The Court and City Register
for the year 1767. Compiled by John Rivington. (Also contains
a copy of Rivington's fourteen-year patent for the publication and
Rider's British Merlin, 1767) 138 x 80 mm. The spine has
four gold-tooled bands and five compartments. The second compartment
from the top contains the date. The other compartments feature a
stylised gold-tooled design with acorns. The front and rear covers
have a single 'fleuron and circle' stylised roll within a serrated
fillet. No corner or centre ornaments. Combed marbled endpapers.
This is the most austere of all the bindings in the group. .
|On The Court
and City Kalendar, or Gentleman's Register for England, Scotland,
Ireland and America for the year 1769. (Also Rider's British
Merlin, 1768 and a 36p. insert of engravings of the armorial
devices of the baronets of England) 138 x 78 mm. The spine has four
gold-tooled bands and five compartments. The second compartment
from the top contains the date 1769. Stylised floral design in the
other four compartments. The front and rear covers are tooled in
gold to a cottage-roof design with an extensive use of spray bird,
insect and snake tools. This binding uses many of the tools, arranged
in a strikingly similar pattern, found in the binding of the same
period covering a Book of Psalms printed by C. Rivington
for the Stationers Company13. I am fairly confident that
it is from the same bindery. There are signs of two missing clasps.
Conglomerate marbled endpapers. (See Fig. I.)
|On The Court and City Register, or, Gentleman's
Complete Annual Kalendar for the year 1770 ...with many improvements.
(Also contains Rider's British Merlin, 1770) 140 x 78 mm.
The spine has five gold-tooled bands and six decorated compartments.
The second compartment from the top has a blue title-label. The
other five compartments feature a central flower-tool with smaller
leaf-tools and rosettes in the corners. The front and rear covers
have a frame of two fillets, one banded and one solid, enclosing
a massed design made up of individual sunflower, star, spear and
rosette tools. Each corner contains a 'vase and lily' tool. No central
ornament. Conglomerate marbled endpapers. In my opinion this binding
is by the same workman as Binding VI.
|On The Royal Kalendar, or Complete and Correct
Annual Register for England, Scotland, Ireland and America,
1773. (Also contains Rider's British Merlin, 1773) 138 x
80 mm. The spine has four gold-tooled bands and five compartments.
The second compartment from the top carried a title and date label
(missing). The other four compartments feature a large flower tool
in the centre and four corner leaf and bud tools. The front and
rear covers feature exactly the same design and tools as Binding
V, and this binding is presumably from the same shop, if indeed
not by the same tradesman. Conglomerate marbled endpapers. (See
|On The Royal Kalendar, or Complete and Correct
Annul Register for England, Scotland, Ireland and America, 1776.
(Also contains Rider's British Merlin, 1776) 140 x 80 mm.
The spine has four gold-tooled bands and five compartments. The
second compartment from the top contained the date label (missing).
The other four compartments contain a central large flower-spray
with stylised leaf sprays in each corner. The front and rear boards,
within a frame made up of a banded and a solid fillet, a Greek key
roll and a dotted fillet, are decorated with massed flower, acorn
and leaf tools. There is no centre ornament. Conglomerate marbled
endpapers. (See Fig. III.)
|This handsome binding can be attributed with some
confidence to Sarah Messing, Stationer in Ordinary to the King,
whose engraved binder's ticket is pasted on the inside of the front
cover14. Neither Howe15 or Ramsden16
list Sarah Messing as a binder. Maxted's dictionary entry, which
treats her as stationer, is the fullest to date17. Maxted
points out that Sarah Messing succeeded Frederick Messing as Stationer
in Ordinary to the King and held that office from 1770 to 1779,
and gives her the same business address as the binder's ticket -
Compton St., St. Anne's, Soho. Frederick Messing was presumably
Sarah's father, or husband. He is, I think, a different man from
the Frederick James Messing, bachelor, who married Penelope Clark,
spinster, on March 10, 178118. There are two Sarah Messings
in published marriage registers. A Sarah Messing, spinster, married
Thomas Smallman, bachelor, on August 23, 177019. As Sarah
Messing was trading as a stationer and bookbinder under the name
Messing later than that date, it seems unlikely that this is the
same woman. More likely she is the Sarah Messing who married John
Dixon on January 13, 180120, who may be the John Dixon,
copperplate printer, Goodge Street, Tottenham Court Road, listed
in Maxted21. What information there is about the book
tradesmen associated with the Royal Household is derived mostly
from the kind of almanacks discussed in this article, although there
may be extant accounts in the Royal Archives. The official bookseller
and stationer by patent in 1776 was Mrs. K. Castle, who succeeded
William Castle for the period 1773 to 1795. The royal bookseller
in that year was John Nourse and the royal bookbinder was W. Shropshire
(Bookbinder to the King, 1762-1788). This is presumably Walter Shropshire,
son to William Shropshire, bookseller, who died in 1785. Frederick
Messing appears as Stationer in Ordinary in the almanacks up to
1770. In those at Calgary, Sarah Messing's name appears as the holder
of this office in the 1773 and 1776 volumes. She was replaced by
Francis Knight, stationer in St. James's Street in 1780, who held
the office until 1807. The Compton Street business address22
placed Sarah Messing in an environment where she was surrounded
by predominantly French and artistic neighbours including artists,
tapestry makers, engravers and modellers. She was also close enough
to the aristocratic neighbourhood of Soho Square to have the type
of customer who would buy royal almanacks in fancy morocco bindings.
The name Messing is probably German, and presumably Sarah should
be added to that formidable list of bookbinders of German origin
who catered to the London carriage trade in the second half of the
|On Royal Kalendar, 1782. 142 X 80 mm. The spine
has four gold-tooled bands and five compartments. The compartment
second from the top carried a title-label (missing). The other four
compartments feature a cornucopia with flowers. The front and rear
covers have an overall cottage-roof design within a double serrated
fillet, featuring dotted and curved lines, leaf and casket tools.
Conglomerate marbled endpapers. [The binding bears a general, stylistic
resemblance to an almanack binding in the British Library's Henry
Davis Collection23, but, in my opinion, does not come
from the same shop. On the other hand, although the treatment of
the spine is noticeably different in each case, I think it highly
likely that bindings VIII, IX and X in this collection come from
the same shop.]
|On Royal Kalendar, 1787. (Also contains Rider's
British Merlin, 1787) 141 x 80 mm. The spine has four gold-tooled
bands and five compartments. The second compartment from the top
contained the title-label (missing). The front and rear covers are
within a serrated fillet and Greek key roll border with an overall
cottage-roof style design with vase, leaf, star and floral tools.
The elaborate centrepiece features two casket tools. There are also
four large bird and leaf tools, one in each quadrant. The overall
design is strongly similar to Bindings VIII and X. Conglomerate
|On Royal Kalendar, 1788. (Also contains Rider's
British Merlin, 1788) 142 x 80 mm. The spine has four gold-tooled
bands and five compartments. The second compartment from the top
contained the title-label (missing). The other four compartments
feature leaf and 'cameo box' tools with small stars. The front and
rear covers carry a variant of the basic cottage-roof design in
VIII and IX, using many of the same tools. The main difference is
the development of the centre which does not use casket tools but
features four large curved and stylised sprays. The tools in the
vertical space between the cottage-roof overhangs are exactly the
same in all three bindings. Conglomerate marbled endpapers.
|In her admirable Introduction to v.2 of The Henry
Davis Gift, M.M. Foot says: 'Volumes II and III are meant to
be reference books, to be used by binding historians, librarians,
booksellers, collectors, and other book lovers to check their own
and other holdings, and to help identify undetermined bindings24.
It is in the spirit of this scholarly exhortation that I offer these
illustrations and descriptions, and in the hope that scholars, from
institutions outside the United Kingdom especially, will look closely
again at the eighteenth-century bindings in their own libraries
and, where necessary, make further illustrations available.
R.H. Carnie, University of Calgary.
1. I am grateful to A. MacDonald, the Director of Libraries,
University of Calgary and Mrs. Apollonia
Steele, Rare Books Librarian, for their co-operation and permission
to study and illustrate the bindings.
2. B. Capp, English Almanacks 1500-1800. Astrology
and the Popular Press, (Ithaca, N.Y., 1979), p.245. See also Cyprian
Blagden, The Stationers Company. A History (London, 1960).
3. Both descriptions of the officers of the Royal Household,
including the bookbinders and stationers, and of the establishments of
the royal princess can be found in late eighteenth-century calendars.
4. Details of the careers of these tradesmen can be found
in H.R. Plomer, G.H. Bushnell and E.R. McC. Dix, Dictionary of the printers
and booksellers who were at work in England Scotland and Ireland from 1726
to 1775 (Oxford, 1932 (for 1930)), pp.383, 402-03 and 405.
5. R.H. Carnie, 'Irish
decorative bookbindings at Calgary', Amphora 28 (1977) 2-5.
6. M. Craig, Irish Bookbindings 1600-1800 (London,
7. Craig, note to Plate 49.
9. A copy of this patent is bound into the 1767 Court
and City Register.
10. W.H.J. Veale, Bookbindings and Rubbings of Bindings
in the Victoria and Albert Museum (London, 1898; repr. London, 1962),
Introduction, p.50. I
11. Dorothy Miner, The History of Bookbinding 525-1950
(Baltimore, 1957), p.204.
12. Philip Gaskell, New Introduction to Bibliography
(Oxford, 1972), p.152.
13. Described and illustrated by Mirjam M. Foot as No.175
in The Henry Davis Gift. A Collection of Bookbindings, v.2: A
Catalogue of North-European Bindings (London, 1983).
14. This binder's ticket is not in J.R. Abbey's useful
list 'British signed bindings in my library', Transactions of the Cambridge
Bibliographical Society 2 (1951) 271-9. See Fig. IV.
15. Ellic Howe, A List of London Bookbinders 1648-1815
16. Charles Ramsden, London Bookbinders 1780-1840
17. I. Maxted, The London Book Trades 1775-1800
(Folkestone, 1977), p.153.
18. The Registers of Marriage of St Mary le Bone,
Middlesex, 1775-1783, ed. W.B. and R.B.B. Bannerman, Publications of
the Harleian Society, v.51 (London, 1921), p.83.
19. The Registers of Marriage of St Mary le Bone,
Middlesex, 1754-1775, ed. W.B. and R.B.B. Bannerman, Publications of
the Harleian Society, v.48 (London, 1918), p.105.
20. The Register Book of Marriages belonging to the
Parish of St George, Hanover Square, in the County of Middlesex, ed.
J.H. Chapman, v.2: 1788-1809, Publications of the Harleian Society, v.14
(London, 1888), p.231.
22. See Survey of London, Vol.23. Chapter VII
of the account of Soho deals in some detail with Compton Street
and its inhabitants.
23. Foot, v.2, No.188.
24. Foot, v.2,p.7.
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