4 AUGUST 2021
This day in the archive: 4th August
On the 4th of August, 1772, William Blake was bound as an apprentice to the engraver James Basire. Blake, of course, went on to become one of the most important visionary artists and poets in England. Basire's story is less well-known, but as a Stationer, a leading engraver of his day, and a significant early influence on Blake, it's worth telling here.
James Basire (1730-1802) was the eldest son of Isaac Basire, a printmaker and draughtsman of Huguenot origin. Isaac was a highly successful printer of trade ephemera, maps and standalone prints. His commercial acumen was at times unscrupulous: in one incident, recorded in 1733, he copied a set of prints from a rival engraver, Henry Fletcher, and then published them for half Fletcher's price. Consequently, Isaac was one of the engravers invited to testify before the House of Commons committee reviewing copyright in engravings. The resulting Engraving Copyright Act 1734, also known as Hogarth's Act due to the artist's energetic lobbying of Parliament, was the first to offer engravers copyright protection for their work.
One result of the Statute of Anne was that the 'added value' of high quality illustrations could make a significant difference in sales of competing editions of the same work. Isaac Basire moved into the field of book illustration, working with such leading figures as the French engraver Gravelot and the printer Edward Cave. In 1745, he bound his son James as an apprentice to a Stationer, Richard William Seale. Seale was a line engraver who specialised in maps, a growth area at a time of urban and colonial expansion. (Isaac apprenticed another of his sons, Isaac James Basire, to Stationer William Griffin, a printer and publisher based in Fetter Lane, who published the works of Oliver Goldsmith).
Despite the technical emphasis of his education with Seale, James's career took a different path. By the time he completed his apprenticeship 1752 and earned the Freedom of the Stationers' Company, he'd spent part of his term of seven years working with the Limner Richard Dalton, whom he accompanied on a business trip to Rome. Dalton was extremely well-connected, and introduced James to a circle of successful contemporary sculptors, artists and architects. Heavily involved in the foundation of the Royal Academy, and serving as their official antiquary from 1770, Dalton's influence on James's development as an artist-engraver was significant.
By the time Blake was bound as his apprentice, James Basire had established himself as fine-art engraver, known particularly for the depiction of architectural and historical subjects, and for portraiture. He was a major contributor of engravings to both the Society of Antiquaries' periodical Archaeologia, and the Royal Society's Philosophical Transactions. His book illustrations included work on publications as diverse as Jacob Bryant's New System, or an Analysis of Ancient Mythology (1774), and Cook's Voyage towards the South Pole (1777). He was also renowned for his large-scale engraving of the huge historical painting The Field of the Cloth of Gold, for which the Society of Antiquaries commissioned the esteemed paper-maker James Whatman to produce a new size of paper, the 'antiquarian', which remained the largest paper available for more than a century.
However, it was his appointment as engraver to the Society of Antiquaries which possibly made the greatest impact on his most famous apprentice. Through this connection, Blake was involved in recording medieval monuments rediscovered in 1775, when the altar of Westminster Abbey was renovated. The commission was to have a profound effect on Blake's visual style.
As his business thrived, James Basire was a sought-after master of apprentices, able to provide his pupils with a thorough and wide-ranging training in their art. His two sons, James and Richard Woolett Basire, were apprenticed to him. He also trained his eldest daughter Caroline, whose signature appears on some of the plates she engraved. Caroline's unindentured apprenticeship ended with her marriage, and it was James junior who became his father's business partner, as joint engraver to the Society of Antiquaries, in 1791.
James Basire II (1769–1822) was made free of the Stationers' Company on 1 March 1791. He followed his father's footsteps as an antiquarian engraver and illustrator for commercial publishers; he also engraved the Oxford Almanack for the years 1797 to 1809 and 1811 to 1814. As Stationers, the Basires developed close friendships with two other Company dynasties, the Nichols and the Hansards. These personal relationships naturally intersected with professional relationships. John Nichols (1745–1826) was printer to the Royal Society and the Society of Antiquaries, and subsequent generations of the family were keen antiquarians. The Basires also contributed engravings to the Journal of the House of Commons and other publications of the State Paper Office.
James Basire II's eldest son James (1796–1869) continued the family buisness of engraving, branching out into the new technology of lithography. This cheaper medium was quickly overtaking etching and line engraving as a reprographic technique. The later Basire engravers faced more serious economic challenges than their predessors, in a publishing milieu that was rapidly moving towards a model of low-cost, higher volume print-runs. James Basire III continued to produce work for the Nichols family, particularly illustrations for the Gentleman's Magazine. He and his son James (1822-1883) found an important source of revenue in scientific and technical illustration for works such as the Philosophical Transactions, and the journals of newly-founded specialist societies such as the Royal Astronomical Society and the Zoological Society of London. However, for the last in the line, James Basire IV, engraving could no longer provide a satisfactory living, and, in a move perhaps characteristic of the time, he turned his talents to working on the railway.
26 JULY 2021
This day in the archive: 26th July
On 26th July 1678, an unusual entry was recorded in the Stationers' Register. It's the wording of an affidavit form, to be completed by two witnesses who 'doe severally certifie and make oath that the corps of the person of ... late of the parish of ... was not put in, wrapt or wound up or buried in any shirt, shift or shroude made or mingled with flax, hemp, silke, haire, gold or silver, or other then what is made of sheepe's woll onely.' The affidavit goes on to specify that the coffin must also be lined in wool.
5 JULY 2021
This day in the archive: 5 July
Luke Hansard, printer to the House of Commons, was born on the 5th July 1752. An exceptionally successful printer who established a thriving family business, he joined the Stationers' Company as a Liveryman in 1799. He endowed two charitable bequests, one for 'needy printers over the age of 65', the other for a 'neatly bound Church of England prayer book' to be given to every youth bound at the hall. He also ensured that all three of his sons were apprenticed through the Company. Two generations later, his grandson, Thomas Curson Hansard II served as Master to the Stationers' Company in 1886. It was Thomas who presented the Company with Samuel Lane's portrait of Luke, which now hangs in the Court Room of Stationers' Hall.
2 JUNE 2021
This day in the archive: 2 June
On the 2nd of June 1656, Nathaniel Ponder was apprenticed to the bookseller and Stationer Robert Gibbs. Ponder went on to have an eventful career in publishing. He oversaw the publication of several nonconformist works of divinity and political pamphlets. His dissenting views sometimes brought him into conflict with the authorities, and he was notoriously imprisoned for publishing a seditious work by Andrew Marvell. Today, he is best remembered as the publisher of The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan
20 MAY 2021
This day in the archive: 20 May
On 20 May 1609, a bookseller named Thomas Thorpe entered for his copy 'a booke called Shakespeares sonnetts'. The sonnet, imported to England from Italy during the Renaissance exchange of ideas, was popularised by Elizabethan poets such as Sir Philip Sidney and Edmund Spenser. Within the sonnet's formal constraints, Shakespeare introduced ideas and imagery which subverted the conventions of Elizabethan love poetry. ‘My mistress’ eyes,' declared Sonnet 130, 'are nothing like the sun’.
11 MAY 2021
This day in the archive: 11 May
22 APRIL 2021
Our next Archive Evening will be a virtual event on Monday 26 April at 6pm. For more details, and to register, go to our events page at: https://www.stationers.org/events/detail/5994.
To support the event, we have created an online exhibition, which you can view here: https://www.stationers.org/company/archive/print-profit-and-people-an-exhibition
Hope you can join us for what promises to be a fascinating evening!
22 MARCH 2021
We're delighted to anounce a forthcoming series of online discussions, organised by the University of Newcastle's Medieval & Early Modern Studies Research Group in conjunction with the Stationers' Company Archive.
16 MARCH 2021
Lockdown has presented archivists with unforeseen problems: restricted access to physical collections and closed reading-rooms have required us to find new ways of maintaining contact with our research communities. But it's also been a chance to reach out virtually to people who might not previously have considered visiting an archive. And it's been heartening to see that, despite the uncertainty and anxiety of our current situation, public interest in our collections has not diminished. Online enquiries have increased over the last year. Among our new researchers are people who decided to use lockdown to tackle that perennial bugbear of household chores, clearing out the attic. In the process, they stopped to wonder about the history behind hoarded personal effects - and found that, even if they themselves weren't Stationers, their enquiries led them to our Archive. One such is Michael Windet, who shares with us here the story of his personal voyage into the past.
2 MARCH 2021
This Day in the Archive: 2 March
The 2nd of March, 1545, is the date of birth of Sir Thomas Bodley. An erudite scholar and accomplished diplomat, he is perhaps most widely remembered today as the founder of Oxford's Bodleian Library.
Leading image: Detail from 'Philanthropists: twenty portraits of public benefactors'. Engraving by J.W. Cook, 1825.. Credit: Wellcome Collection. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)
21 FEBRUARY 2021
This Day in the Archive: 21 February
February 21st marks the death, in 1813, of Henry Baldwin, founder of a family dynasty of newspaper proprietors. Baldwin was apprenticed to Stationer Edward Say in 1749, and in 1756 was called to the Livery on the day he attained his Freedom of the Company by servitude. Not long afterwards, in March 1761, Baldwin published the first issue of the St James's Chronicle, a triweekly evening paper which remained in print until the end of the nineteenth century.
11 FEBRUARY 2021
This year, the Stationers' Company will unite online for a streamed Shrove Tuesday Service, followed by Cakes and Ale via Zoom. Coming together at the start of Lent has been a Stationers' tradition since the early seventeenth century. In 1612, John Norton, bookseller and erstwhile Master of the Company, bequeathed money for 'one sermon be preached in [the Parish Church of St Faith’s under St Paul’s] upon Ash Wednesday yearly for ever', with funds set aside for 'Cakes Wine and Ale after or before the Sermon upon Ash Wednesday.' Although the virtual nature of 2021's ceremony is unprecedented, this is not the first time that the ritual has been modified by historical events.