A splendid building for the use of Dublin’s citizens: the opening of Pearse Street Public Library 1909


On 1 April 1909 Dublin Corporation’s newest public library was opened on Great Brunswick Street, now Pearse Street.[1] Purpose-built as a library, it was the fifth in the city’s network of free public libraries. Thomas Street and Capel Street branch libraries, the first since the adoption of the 1855 Public Libraries’ (Ireland) Act, had been opened with great ceremony by the Lord Mayor, Alderman William Meagher, M.P., on 1 October 1884. Charleville Mall followed in 1899 and the new library attached to the Technical School in Kevin Street opened its doors in 1904.

From about 1893 the Public Libraries’ Committee of Dublin Corporation was negotiating loans to build two new libraries at Charleville Mall and Great Brunswick Street. The library at Charleville Mall was completed and opened in 1899. On 7 January 1901 the Libraries’ Committee was instructed to carry out the Council resolution of 1891:

That in view of the absence of all opportunities for the literary and educational improvement of the poorer citizens inhabiting the manufacturing districts of the South Dock and Trinity wards, and the southern lines of the quays, the Public Libraries’ Committee be instructed to forthwith consider the desirability of providing a public library in the neighbourhood of South Great Brunswick Street.[2]

Money was raised from the penny in the pound rate, which funded the early libraries. However, this produced a limited income and funding was sought elsewhere. Andrew Carnegie, the American philanthropist, funded the building of libraries and museums through the Carnegie (United Kingdom) Trust, and Dublin Corporation was able to draw down monies to supplement the proceeds from the penny rate.[3] The Carnegie money was used to build an extension to Charleville Mall library in order to accommodate the library of Sir John T. Gilbert, which was purchased in 1900,[4] and to go towards the construction of the new Great Brunswick Street branch. Carnegie funding was a capital sum specifically granted for the construction and fitting out of buildings, the site had to be provided, and stocking and staffing a new library was the responsibility of the commissioning authority.


Edward Heffernan, map of Dublin (Dublin, 1868)

In November 1901 a site in Great Brunswick Street was recommended by the Public Libraries’ Committee. This site had been vacant for many years. It was obviously designated for development, it had been occupied by the builder and contractor, William Beckett, grandfather to the writer Samuel Beckett, in the late 1890s, and George Langley in 1900, before it was acquired by the Corporation.[5] The site was held for six years and in July 1907 advertisements were placed in the newspapers inviting tenders for the building of the new library.[6] In September 1907 the Libraries’ Committee, chaired by Alderman Thomas Kelly, recommended acceptance of the tender for the building, and construction began later that year.[7] The new library was designed by the Dublin City Architect, Charles J. McCarthy, M.R.I.A. The contractor was George Langley of Ringsend Road, the quantity surveyor was James Mackey of Dame Street,[8] and the heating was installed by Messrs Curtis of Middle Abbey Street.

Irish International Exhibition 1907 Home Industries building and Palace of Mechanical Arts interior

The Irish International Exhibition of 1907 was held in the year when work on the library began and many of the contractors exhibited at, and subscribed to, the exhibition, which was a showcase for the best of Irish art and industry. The exhibition had as its first objective: ‘To promote the Industries, Art and Science of Ireland by a display of their products for which the country is famous.’[9] To help promote Irish industries it was decided that only native materials should be used in the construction of the new library, and local tradesmen and labourers employed.[10]

Charles J. McCarthy, the city architect, was well regarded in his profession. He was the son of J. J. McCarthy, professor of architecture at the Royal Hibernian Academy, and architect of many of Dublin’s finest late nineteenth-century churches. Referred to as ‘The Irish Pugin’, McCarthy was the architect of the Dominican church in Dominick Street and the Capuchin church in Church Street as well as the cathedrals of Enniscorthy and Killarney.[11] Charles took over his father’s extensive architectural practice, he was a fellow and active board member of the Council of the Royal Institute of Architects and he was elected president of the Architectural Association of Ireland in 1901.[12] His interests were broad and he was also a member of the National Literary Society and the Royal Zoological Society. Appointed city architect for Dublin in 1893, he continued in that position until 1921 when he retired due to ill health.[13] He also designed Charleville Mall library, the fire stations at Buckingham Street, Dorset Street and Pearse Street, the fish market, several schemes of artisans’ dwellings, and the technical college in Bolton Street (1912).[14]

He favoured the classical style of eighteenth-century Dublin building, which also had echoes of the American beaux arts movement of the early twentieth century.[15] The façade of the building is faced with Mount Charles sandstone from Donegal, with dressings of chiselled Ballinasloe limestone.[16] The front shows eight tall windows on each floor and is surmounted by a balustrade. It is 100 feet long and 50 feet high. The building is entered through a classical doorway formed of Ionic columns, above which is a fine Venetian window, beneath an elaborately carved pediment where the coat of arms of the city is displayed.[17] The Latin motto on the coat of arms, Obedientia civium urbus felicitas, ‘Happy the city where citizens obey’, differs from the city’s motto, reading ‘urbus’ instead of ‘urbis’. The façade has been accused of being austere and cold, but this is relieved by the warmth of the sandstone which gives it a golden glow. The Mount Charles stone for the façade and the stairway was almost certainly sourced from the firm of George A. Watson and Co. Ltd., quarry owners, who had their sales premises at 190 Great Brunswick Street.[18]

The building contractor was George V. Langley, civil and consulting engineer of Ringsend Steam Joinery Works on the Ringsend Road near Boland’s Mills, whose tender of £9,997 was accepted by the Public Libraries’ Committee in September 1907.[19] Mr Langley was a prominent builder, acting as contractor to the Irish Board of Works.[20] He was listed as occupier of the Great Brunswick Street site in 1900 before it was acquired by Dublin Corporation. He built the houses in Kenilworth Park, Rathmines. In 1903 he was employed by the Automobile Club to erect barriers and gates in the Phoenix Park to ensure safety for the public during the motor racing speed trials, and to remove part of the base of the Phoenix Monument to create a straight run for the competing cars and motorbikes.[21] He worked as sub-contractor to Humphreys Ltd., official contractors for the Irish International Exhibition of 1907.[22] He was a subscriber to the Exhibition, contributing £500.[23]

Messrs W. Curtis and Sons of Middle Abbey Street installed the heating in the building. Coal fires were the norm in the earlier branch libraries, so heating with radiators, served by a furnace in the basement, was a major step forward. W. Curtis and Sons exhibited at the Irish International Exhibition in 1907, to which they guaranteed £50, and at the RDS Horse Show in 1908. At their stands they displayed the most up-to-date gas, plumbing and sanitary fittings.[24] They stated that: ‘most of the goods exhibited are of their own Irish manufacture’.[25] William and Gerald Curtis were good employers, providing an annual excursion for their employees in which games, athletic contests and musical entertainment added to the day out.[26]

We can also get a glimpse of some of the workers on the project, as the plasterers left their mark under the floorboards upstairs. In the year 2000 when Pearse Street Library was due to close for major refurbishment a number of surveys were carried out on the building. As part of the structural survey some of the floorboards were removed from the present Research Reading Room. On one of the joists a long narrow lath was nailed in place. Seven names were inscribed in black pencil on this lath, all written in the same hand, and the date was given as 10th November 1908. The names are: John Lumsden, Willie Lumsden, Patrick Malone, James Comer (or Connor), James Comerford, Patrick Ward, John Dolan and Christy Dolan, plasterers. It was a tradition for workers on a building to place their names in some part of the structure where they would be found by later generations. In this case it was the plasterers whose names have been recorded for posterity. When the building was completed and floorboards put back the lath was nailed once again in situ, where it may be found when the library is renovated again in the future.

When the tender was being prepared for furnishing and fitting out the building the Public Libraries’ Committee specified that Irish manufactured furniture should be used, if possible.[27] The tender was awarded to Thomas R. Scott and Company, cabinet makers, Middle Abbey Street, who undertook to comply with the requirement for furnishings to be made in Ireland.[28] The building was supplied with electricity for lighting, rather than gas. The tender for the electric lighting was awarded to Johnson and Phillips, Limited, electrical engineers, South Anne Street.[29] The tender for the supply of books was granted jointly to Hodges, Figgis and Company, and Combridge and Company.[30] In May 1911 David Barry, aged 28, senior assistant at Capel Street branch, was appointed to the position of librarian for the branch; he had joined the service following a competitive examination in 1899.[31]

The library was officially taken over from the contractor on 1 April 1909 by the Lord Mayor, Alderman William Coffey. The total cost of construction had come to over £10,000. The Lord Mayor, in his speech, congratulated Dublin Corporation, and declared that the provision of libraries had helped in the great cause of temperance by providing places where citizens could enjoy their leisure hours in a healthy manner.[32] This sentiment was echoed by Count Plunket who declared that the library:

stood in a district in which there was a very dense population of people working at all kinds of trades. There were times of the year when numbers of them were thrown out of employment; and to these hours of enforced leisure a great deal of intemperance was often due. It would therefore be a great benefit to them to have a place to which they could resort for a wholesome intellectual food.[33]

Due to funding difficulties the opening of the library to the public was delayed by over two years. The newspaper room was the first section to open, in December 1911, followed by the lending library and reference room on 30 March 1914.[34]

At the opening of the newsroom on 1 December 1911 the Lord Mayor, Alderman John J. Farrell, proposed to invite Mr Carnegie to Dublin ‘to see the magnificent pile that had been erected’ and ‘to accept the greatest honour they could bestow – the Freedom of the City’.[35] Unfortunately Andrew Carnegie did not come to Dublin, and he died in 1919 never having seen the results of his generosity.


The library was two floors over basement and the public spaces originally consisted of three large rooms: a reference reading room and a newspaper room on the ground floor, and on the first floor extending the whole length of the building, a children’s reading room, which doubled as a lecture space, capable of seating 500 persons. This room gave on to the flat roof of the building, which could be used as a roof garden. The décor of the woodwork in a delicate shade of light blue and white, and the walls in coffee and cream with green dado, gave ‘a very pleasing effect’.[36] The newsroom was furnished with mahogany reading stands for the display of 40 newspapers, and tables and chairs for reading periodicals and magazines.[37] The first floor was reached by a vertiginous stone cantilevered stairs with wrought iron balustrading and mahogany hand rail. One of the modern features of the new building was the provision of wash basins in the cloakrooms which were supplied with water collected from the roof and stored in a tank in the roof space, which allowed readers to wash their hands before handling the books. The basement was used for storage and housed the ladies’ cloakrooms. The staff area on the ground floor consisted of a large book store capable of shelving 14,000 books, with a mahogany counter running the length of the room, from which the librarian would hand out books for borrowing. However, when the lending department finally opened its doors in March 1914 the new system of ‘safe-guarded open access’ had been adopted, and the long counter was closed in with a glass partition. This was the first use of the open access system in the municipal libraries, where the borrower had direct access to the bookshelves.[38]

In 1931 Pearse Street became library headquarters for Dublin city when the first chief librarian, Miss Róisín Walsh, was appointed. From the foundation of the public library system in 1884 it was overseen by the Dublin Corporation Public Libraries’ Committee, a body of city councillors and interested experts. Each branch library was run by its own librarian, and the librarians formed an ad hoc committee to discuss matters of policy. With the appointment of the chief librarian and its designation as library headquarters, Pearse Street Library’s prestige increased. The library of Sir John Gilbert remained in Charleville Mall library until 1933, when it was removed to the reference room at Pearse Street. This extensive library of rare books and manuscripts relating to Dublin became the centre-piece of the special collections and local studies section and a dedicated room was fitted out to receive the collection.[39]

The library building was completely restored by Dublin City Council from 2000 to 2003, a project which incorporated the two next-door houses to give additional space. The Corporation had purchased the interest in the houses (numbers 143 and 144) adjoining the library site in 1902, and they were leased to tenants in the intervening period.[40] One hundred years on the library provides a reference and lending space for the local communities, the people of Dublin, and visitors from the rest of Ireland and from around the world. As well as the public lending library, it is home to Dublin City Archives, the Dublin and Irish Collections and the Gilbert Library, which provide resources on the historical, literary, architectural, artistic, genealogical, and sporting life of Dublin and surrounding areas. The conference room, which occupies the ground floor area of numbers 143 and 144, and exhibition area are used to hold talks, seminars and meetings, to show films, to hold storytelling and other activities for children.

Pearse Street Public Library is essentially of its place and time. It combined classical design with the most up-to-date features in technological innovation. It was built at a period of great political and cultural ferment and this excitement is harnessed in the composition of the building: it reflects the cultural, social and political climate of the time by the intentional use of Irish manufactures and materials and the employment of local craftsmen. The Pearse Street building represents the best of the old and the new, and stands as a monument to the vision of those who commissioned, designed and built it.

This article was first published in Dublin Historical Record, LXIII, no. 2, Autumn 2010, pp 127-135.

Images courtesy of Dublin City Library & Archive (www.dublincitypubliclibraries.ie )

[1] The street name was changed to Pearse Street on 1 November 1920.

[2] Minutes of the Municipal Council of the city of Dublin, 7 January 1901.

[3] Máire Kennedy, ‘Civic Pride versus Financial Pressure: Financing the Dublin Public Library Service, 1884-1920’, Library History, Vol 9, no.3-4, 1992, pp 83-96.

[4] Mary Clark, Yvonne Desmond and Nodlaig P. Hardiman eds, Sir John T. Gilbert 1829-1898: historian, archivist and librarian, Dublin, Four Courts Press, 1999. Máire Kennedy, ‘Plans for a Central Reference Library for Dublin 1883-1946’, An Leabharlann, 2nd ser., Vol 7, no. 4, 1991, pp 113-125.

[5] Thom’s Directories 1865-1907. William Beckett is listed as occupier in 1897 and 1898, the site was vacant in 1899 and George Langley was occupier in 1900.

[6] Reports and printed documents of the Corporation of Dublin, 1907 – no. 157, pp 595-6.

[7] The Irish Times 3 September 1907.

[8] The Irish Builder 20 April 1907, p.288. James Mackey, quantity surveyor and valuer, had his office at 58 Dame Street, and his residence was at 5 Oakley Road, Ranelagh. Thom’s Directory 1907.

[9] Record of the Irish International Exhibition 1907, compiled and edited by William F. Dennehy, Dublin, Hely’s Limited, 1909. The Irish Independent 13 April 1907, letter from W. Curtis and Sons.

[10] Dublin Evening Mail 27 March 1909.

[11] The Irish Builder 18 July 1901, p.801.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Charles lived to be ninety, his death occurred on 16 October 1947. Brendan Grimes, Irish Carnegie Libraries: a catalogue and architectural history, Dublin, Irish Academic Press, 1998, p.157.

[14] The Irish Builder 18 July 1901, p.801. Grimes, Carnegie Libraries, pp 155-58.

[15] Grimes, Carnegie Libraries, p.157.

[16] Dublin Evening Mail 27 March 1909.

[17] Ibid. Weekly Irish Times 10 April 1909.

[18] Advertisement is carried in The Irish Builder 9 March 1907 and following issues.

[19] Reports, 1907 – no. 157, pp 595-6. The Irish Times 3 September 1907. An Leabharlann III, i (June 1909), p.115.

[20] The Irish Times 25 October 1905. He lived successively at 41 Wellington Road, 118 Shelbourne Road and 48 Lansdowne Road. Thom’s Directories 1908-1910.

[21] The Irish Times 27 June 1903. The speed trials took place on 4 July 1903.

[22] The Irish Times 4 June 1907. A court case was taken by Langley for monies due from Humphrey’s Ltd. for work done and materials supplied for the Exhibition.

[23] Record of the Irish International Exhibition 1907.

[24] Record of the Irish International Exhibition 1907. Freeman’s Journal 26 August 1908.

[25] The Irish Times 20 June 1907.

[26] In 1910 the excursion was to Powerscourt. Freeman’s Journal 30 August 1910. Irish Independent 31 August 1910.

[27] Reports, 1910 – no. 117, p. 258.

[28] Reports, 1910 – no. 252, pp 589-90.

[29] Reports, 1911 – no. 75, pp 809-10.

[30] Minutes, 1912, no.903, pp 634-5.

[31] Reports, 1911 – no. 138, pp 570-4.

[32] The Irish Times 2 April 1909.

[33] Freeman’s Journal 2 April 1909.

[34] Reports, 1914 – no. 79.

[35] The Irish Times 2 December 1911. Daily Express 2 December 1911.

[36] Dublin Evening Mail 27 March 1909. Irish Independent 24 November 1911.

[37] Weekly Irish Times 2 December 1911.

[38] Evening Telegraph 31 March 1914; 15 June 1914. Evening Herald 31 March 1914. Daily Express 31 March 1914.

[39] Máire Kennedy, ‘Douglas Hyde and the catalogue of the Gilbert Library’, Long Room, 35, 1990, pp 16-27.

[40] Reports, 1908 – no.61, pp 646-7.


Local distribution networks for print in Munster and South Leinster during the eighteenth-century.


In this paper a map of print culture in the Munster and South Leinster region will be outlined and discussed. The empirical foundation for the study is a database of over 700 individuals involved in the print trade, concentrating on production and distribution, more than on the creative input of authors, although sometimes the lines are blurred. During the seventeenth century there was little printing activity, but there were several ports on the south and south-west coast where printed items were imported. Merchants were not solely reliant on Dublin for the provision of printed matter, trade could be carried on independently with England and the continent. Raymond Gillespie has noted 120 merchants importing books from Bristol to the south of Ireland between 1590 and 1612.[1] Books were imported at Youghal and Dingle from England, Holland and France in 1699 and 1700.[2] In 1723 the chief coastal trading towns were Cork, with 690 ships, Waterford with 176, Limerick with 71, Youghal with 51, Kinsale with 44, Baltimore with 38, Rosse with 27, Wexford with 21 and Dingle with 6.[3] Waterford was described as ‘wealthy, populous and well situated for Trade’ where ‘Ships of a large Burthen may come up to, and safely lie at the Kay.’ Limerick too was considered ‘an elegant, rich and populous city, whose trade is very considerable; for though its Distance from the Sea is about fifty miles, yet Ships of Burthen may come up to the very Walls.’ The extensive international trading networks built up by merchants in the ports meant a steady flow of information and foreign news coming in which could be harnessed to provide newspaper content. By the early decades of the eighteenth century newspaper enterprises were initiated in many port towns. Port towns received news independently and often in advance of the capital, for example the American newspapers regularly arrived at the port of Cork from transatlantic shipping, thus providing a scoop whenever important events were taking place in America.


Members of the book trade:

To identify those involved with the production or distribution of print media in Munster and South Leinster information has been gathered from a wide variety of sources including printed books, newspapers and other printed items, advertising, subscription lists, local histories and memoirs, etc. Nine counties have been included, all of Munster plus Carlow, Kilkenny and Wexford, roughly one-third of the country. The time frame covers from the earliest reference to bookselling or printing by named individuals to 1824, the year of publication of Pigot’s Directory.[4] Included are all names that have a connection with the trade. In the case of certain booksellers, printers, papermakers and newspaper proprietors quite a lot of information is known and research has been published on them, in other cases a single reference only indicates their involvement. Ancillary trades such as engraving, mapmaking, etc. have been included. Not all are exclusively involved with the book trade, included are innkeepers, post masters, merchants, apothecaries and shopkeepers who were agents for newspapers, or who acted as subscription agents for books or periodicals.


Variations in trading patterns can be discerned from one county to another. In some counties, such as Carlow, Clare, Kilkenny, Limerick, Waterford and Wexford, evidence shows the main activity is in the county town, with general traders in other towns acting as agents for newspapers and books. In Cork, while the city shows the greatest concentration of booksellers and printers, other towns showed steady activity for the distribution of print media. Youghal featured in the early seventeenth century when a bookbinder was working there[5], and from the 1770s two printers and several booksellers were in evidence. In Kerry Tralee shows the main concentration of printers and booksellers, with agents in Killarney, Ballylongford, Castlemain, Castleisland, Listowel and Dingle from the 1760s. Tipperary is the most unusual county with a greater spread of specialist activity across towns in the county: Clonmel was the most important and book trade personnel can be identified from the 1720s and 1730s, with significant activity also in Cashel, Carrick-on-Suir, Thurles, Tipperary town, Roscrea and Nenagh at different times during the eighteenth century.


Those selling books in Clonmel sourced their stock from Dublin and from booksellers in the nearby counties. Evidence shows Clonmel as the earliest town in the county to have agents taking imported books. For example, in 1710 William Connor was subscription agent for the London publication The tryal of Doctor Henry Sacheverell,[6] and in 1720 George Bagwell was susbcription agent for Increase Mather’s Sixteen sermons, published in Dublin.[7] From about 1763 to 1773 Robert Dudley, described as a merchant, was active in Clonmel, acting as agent for Finn’s Leinster Journal, published in Kilkenny, in 1767 and 1768. In 1763 he subscribed to George Roberts’ Juvenile poems, published in Limerick, and ten years later he subscribed to 25 copies of James Jenkins’ Juvenile poems, published in Waterford.[8] At the end of the century various members of the Gorman family were booksellers in Clonmel. William Gorman was subscription agent for the Vulgate Bible printed in Dublin by Richard Cross in Dublin in 1790.[9] Thomas Gorman was printer and bookseller at Shakespeare’s Head, Main Street, Clonmel, from the 1790s to about 1811. In 1796 he subscribed to 25 copies of Rev. Joseph Moroney’s Sermons, published in Dublin, and his bookseller’s label appears in another work published in Dublin in the same year: Joseph Reeve’s Practical discourses.[10] He was agent for the New Magazine, published in Dublin in 1799, and the Cork Mercantile Chronicle in 1802.[11] He first published the best selling title The pious miscellany, a selection of 25 Irish poems, by Tadhg Gaelach Ó Suilleabháin in 1802.[12] In 1810 he was agent for The Hibernian preceptor by George Wall, published in Parsonstown (Birr, County Offaly).[13] The following year he issued his own publication of Samuel Fennell’s Original poems.[14] Ellen Gorman is listed in Pigot’s Directories as bookseller and stationer in 1820 and 1824.[15]

At the lowest end of the scale of print distribution were news hawkers and pamphlet sellers, chapmen and ballad sellers who plied their trade throughout the countryside, and postmen and couriers who delivered the newspapers and periodicals. Very little is known of these men and women. Mary Pollard, in her Dictionary of members of the Dublin book trade, notes only 75 hawkers out of the total of 2,190 names, and they are known for other reasons.[16] The same is true in Munster, individuals such as John McCormick, a blind news hawker in Cork, are known only because of falling foul of the law, or those unfortunates, such as one Carty of New Street, Cork, who met an untimely end.[17] John Wesley, in his journal, mentioned Nicholas Butler, a ballad sheet vendor in Cork, who incited the people against Methodist preachers in 1749 and 1750.[18] Advertising shows that printers aimed specific titles at chapmen, offering discounts for bulk sales. In some cases pedlars may have worked on their own account as small-time traders, in others they were employed by the printer or his/her agents. Postboys and couriers were employed directly by newspaper proprietors. In 1770 William Flyn’s unnamed courier was accused of theft in Youghal, but his innocence was proved and Flyn printed a notice in The Hibernian Chronicle thanking the ‘Ladies, Chief Magistrate and Gentlemen of Youghal, who so kindly interested themselves in behalf of his courier’.[19]


Provincial newspapers provide one of the most valuable sources for the identification of individuals involved with the print trade. They tend to be long-lasting, covering years or decades. Enterprises established by printers, they favour news and advertising connected with the industry. In an attempt to increase and facilitate circulation they established drop-off points in different places for the delivery of papers and they highlighted these networks in their advertising. In themselves they also constitute a unique artefact, containing as they a do a variety of content in different forms: news items, advertising, public notices such as proclamations, the assize of bread, ports news, social notices such as births, marriages, promotions and deaths, literary content such as essays, prose and poetry. From their first appearance in manuscript form news sheets became an important means of disseminating information. County and city officials and those involved in trade came to depend on the regular supply of news from home and abroad. Because of their serial nature and the immediacy of their content newspapers helped to keep country areas in regular contact with nearby towns and the wider world.

Advertising came into its own with the newspaper press, linking small villages to the regional capitals and the metropolis. Suddenly advertisements reached a large audience, widely dispersed around the country, creating a demand for luxury goods such as books, patent medicines, fine clothing and millinery, wine, tea and fruit, services offered by craftsmen or those in the professions, and events such as theatrical performances, horse races, balls and masquerades. On a grander scale advertising for the sale or letting of property and the services of pedigree horses constituted a major percentage of notices. Political news from London and Dublin was relayed via the press. From early on many newspapers displayed a political orientation; the supply and control of information could be manipulated for political purposes. By the end of the eighteenth century radical political views were aired through the press, provoking fear in government officials and leading to the supression of the opposition press.

From the second decade of the eighteenth century regional newspapers began to be established, the earliest is the Limerick News Letter, founded in 1716. However, neither the infrastructure nor the financial supports were sufficient to keep the early ventures in business. It was not until the late 1730s that the conditions were right for some towns to have a viable newspaper, the most long-lasting being the Belfast News Letter, begun in 1737 and still in existence. A general rise in literacy, accompanied by an increase in inter-regional trade, and an extension of the market for luxury goods, facilitated the spread of provincial newspapers from mid-century. Local newspapers, in their turn, supported trade and commerce with larger towns and with Dublin. At one penny per issue, or 5s. to 6s. per annum, subscriptions to newspapers were within the range of many in the smaller towns by the second half of the eighteenth century. Papers could be shared among neighbours and friends, and their contents made known to all, irrespective of literacy skills. Several major towns had stable newspaper publishing businesses from this period: Limerick from 1739, followed by Cork in 1753, Waterford in 1765 and Kilkenny in 1766. By the last quarter of the eighteenth century many smaller towns supported a newspaper, sustained by advertising and subscriptions gathered in their hinterlands: Clonmel from 1772, Tralee from 1774, and Ennis from 1778. Wexford had a newspaper in 1776 and another in 1777, but there was no lasting enterprise in the town until 1787.[20] The newspaper proprietor’s network of subscription and advertising agents in the surrounding towns played a major part in the success of the venture and an identification of their contacts and business partnerships greatly adds to our knowledge of trade in a region. From the beginning newspapers were aimed exclusively at an English language readership. For Irish speakers in town and country all reports and advertising had to be translated or otherwise mediated. The newspaper, therefore, may have also helped to further erode the Irish language in the towns.

Distribution networks:

From at least mid century newspaper proprietors in Munster sought to extend the circulation of their newspapers to neighbouring counties. Greater circulation meant increased costs, but also ensured greater scope for advertising, the life-blood of a newspaper. Agencies were set up in the main towns in the region to gather subscriptions, take in advertising and organise delivery of the newspapers. These agents were booksellers, sometimes even other newspaper proprietors, but in many cases the agent was the post master or a local business person. The agent would have received commission on advertising taken in, and a discount on newspapers and other goods such as periodicals, books and patent medicines, and may even have received a salary from the newspaper proprietor, as evidenced by the business records of the English Hampshire Chronicle in November 1778.[21] The distribution circuits of newspapers had areas of overlap, for example in the 1760s and early 1770s the distribution networks for The Hibernian Chronicle from Cork, Finn’s Leinster Journal from Kilkenny, The Limerick Chronicle, The Waterford Chronicle and The Hibernian Gazette from Clonmel had a broad area of intersection.

To exemplify the deep market penetration which a successful newspaper allowed, it is proposed to examine the distribution of The Corke Journal, published in Cork by Eugene Swiney from 1753 and The Hibernian Chronicle published in Cork by William Flyn from 1769. The Corke Journal was the first successful long-lasting newspaper issued in Cork, which continued for about 20 years. Published by Eugene Swiney in Paul Street, Cork, from December 1753, it targeted ‘the Corke and Munster Gentlemen and Ladies’. In his advertisement for the new venture Swiney hoped to make the paper ‘instructive, useful and amusing’.[22] He considered it ‘the first attempt to establish a good newspaper’ in Cork.[23] The importance of foreign news was stressed from the beginning: ‘it shall contain the freshest advices, foreign and domestick; and when pacquets do not arrive, it shall be composed of history, essays, letters, &c. the newest and most agreeable that can be had in London &c.’[24]


Distribution of the Corke Journal 1754

Swiney was willing to commence production as soon as 300 subscribers were enlisted. It was published twice a week and country subscribers could have their copies collected in town or delivered by courier at an extra charge. Readers in Youghal, Bandon and Kinsale would have their papers delivered on the day of publication as soon as the printer had 100 subscribers in each town.[25] The cost was 10s. English per annum compared to 6s. English to city subscribers. A difference of 4s. in the cost per subscriber amounted to £20 per hundred subscribers per year. This sum paid the salaries of one or more couriers, possibly maintained a team of horses, and allowed a percentage of the profits to the local agent. Four months after its launch Swiney employed a courier to take copies of The Corke Journal to Clonmel and ‘to drop them at any house on the road, seal’d up and directed for all such gentlemen as are pleased to subscribe for the same, at the price of half a guinea (10s.6d.) per annum’.[26] Subscriptions were taken in Clonmel, Clogheen, Castlelyons, Rathcormack and Kilworth. Two agents were described as merchants,[27] and one, Patrick Brennock in Clonmel, was also subscription agent for Jer Calwell’s Seven Sacraments published in Waterford about 1750-51.[28] By June 1754 Swiney offered to deliver the Dublin newspapers with The Corke Journal for 24s. per annum. Delivery was made to Kinsale, Bandon, Mallow, Midleton, Carrigtwohill, Castlemartyr, Youghal, Rathcormack, Fermoy, Kilworth and Clogheen. Couriers may not have worked exclusively with the newspaper, in 1754 Swiney’s courier to Kinsale was robbed of a quantity of sugar outside Philip Stacpole’s grocery shop, in Barrack Street, Cork, which ‘he had bought for persons in Kinsale’.[29]

William Flyn established his newspaper, The Hibernian Chronicle, in Cork in October 1769. He printed 2,000 proposals in September, and when he had attracted ‘a respectable number of ladies and gentlemen’ as subscribers he launched the venture.[30] The paper was published twice a week, on Mondays and Thursdays, at the price of one penny per issue, or five British shillings per annum to town subscribers, and a half guinea (10s.6d.) per annum to country subscribers, for this sum Flyn included a title page and index at the end of the year.[31] His customers were encouraged to settle their accounts at the assizes in Cork.[32] The newspaper was distributed widely using the Post Office network. For circuits not covered by the Post Office Flyn found it necessary to employ couriers whom he paid quarterly.[33] By early 1770 agents were in place in the major Cork towns: Youghal, Cloyne, Midleton, Castlemartyr, Mallow and Kinsale, and by the middle of the year he had an agent in Killarney, Co. Kerry. These agents were not booksellers but an innholder, a merchant, an apothecary, a cooper, two post masters, and a teacher.[34] By 1772 The Hibernian Chronicle was circulated by couriers to 26 towns in Cork, Limerick, Waterford and Kerry, “besides a great number to the different post-offices in the kingdom”.[35] At Flyn’s retirement from publication of the paper in April 1802 his successors renamed the newspaper The Cork Mercantile Chronicle and increased its publication to three times a week.[36]


Distribution of the Hibernian Chronicle 1772

The distribution networks formed to convey newspapers to subscribers outside the main towns could be used for other commodities and for new newspaper projects. In 1773 William Bingley, printer from London, made a circuit of Ireland establishing agents for the Independent Chronicle and Bingley’s London Journal.[37] Munster agents were found in Cork, Kerry (Killarney and Tralee), Limerick (Limerick and Rathkeale), Tipperary (Tipperary, Cashel and Clonmel), Kilkenny and Wexford (Ross, Wexford, Enniscorthy and Gorey) to take subscriptions and organise delivery of the papers. The agents were the local newspaper proprietors: John Ferrar in Limerick, Edward Collins in Clonmel, and Edmund Finn in Kilkenny, the bookseller Ellis Chandlee in Cork, and merchants or other business people in towns that had no specialist bookseller. It is notable that agents were established particularly in towns that did not have a local newspaper at this period. Two years later, in 1775, William Flyn formed a business link with Bingley for the sale of The Hibernian Chronicle in London, Bingley was appointed to sell the paper and take in advertising.[38]

A provincial newspaper created a network by which books and periodicals could be distributed to the smaller towns and country places. The regular delivery of a paper ensured a constant audience for the advertisements carried in its pages. The agents for the newspaper took in subscriptions and orders for books and other commodities advertised. For example James Craswell, a merchant in Killarney, was agent for The Corke Journal, The Hibernian Chronicle, and in 1773 Craswell was appointed one of Bingley’s Irish agents for the Independent Chronicle and Bingley’s London Journal.[39] He acted as subscription agent for John Brenn’s book-keeping in 1767, and when William Flyn published Poulsons’ Moral and divine observations by subscription in 1775 James Craswell was on the subscription list.[40] John Furzer, post master in Kinsale, and with his sisters, linen draper, hosier, haberdasher, and distributor of stamps, was agent for The Hibernian Chronicle, he subscribed to Temple’s History of the general rebellion, published in Cork in 1766, and to Fitzgerald’s Cork remembrancer in 1783.[41] Mrs Furzer became agent for The Waterford Herald in 1792, Miss Furzer subscribed to Dodd’s Essays and poems in 1770, and was agent for The Cork Mercantile Chronicle in 1802.[42]


The role of the Post Office in the distribution of newspapers was crucial from the earliest days, but in the second half of the eighteenth century private couriers were also used to distribute newspapers on the day of publication to towns not well served by the post.[43] Gathering news from home and abroad the newspaper printer used his/her contacts in the smaller towns to distribute the papers deep into the countryside. The newspaper opened up channels or used existing ones to convey other print media, such as monthly magazines and book catalogues offering books, pamphlets, schoolbooks, subscription editions, expensive books sold in parts, as well as stationery, patent medicines and fancy goods. Customers could order from catalogues and books would be delivered to the agent’s shop with the newspapers.

Newspaper readership is difficult to quantify, and individual readers hard to identify, except in rare circumstances. In the countryside gentry, clergy, landowners and their agents took out subscriptions to Dublin and local newspapers, and often also to monthly periodicals, all of which were made available to guests and visitors. We know that Jonathan Swift visited one Mr Matthews in Thomastown, Co. Tipperary. He had a room ‘fitted up exactly like a coffee-house, where a bar-maid and waiters attended to furnish refreshments at all times of the day. It was furnished with chess-boards, Backgammon Tables, Newspapers, Pamphlets &c. in all the forms of a City Coffee-house’. Touring Ireland in 1776 Rev. Dr Thomas Campbell mentioned a ‘public news or coffee-room’ at Castletown House, Co. Kildare, provided by Thomas Conolly for the ‘common resort of his guests in boots’. The accounts from Castletown show numerous bills for newspapers. [44] A ledger of accounts covering the years 1781 to 1813 is held in the National Library of Ireland and it itemises the newspapers and periodicals supplied to individuals, coffee houses, the administration and businesses and shows the range of titles imported from London for the market.[45]

In the towns gentlemen, clergy, merchants and traders were the likely subscribers to local newspapers. Advertising the copyright of the Belfast Newsletter in 1794, the print run was estimated at over 3,000 copies, it was calculated that each copy would be read by six persons, making a readership of over 19,000 per issue.[46] Print runs are generally not known and 3,000 may have been an optimum, but even calculating with smaller print runs the potential readership was extensive. Each single issue of a provincial newspaper could reach some thousands of readers or listeners, bringing international and domestic news, metropolitan and local advertising. Newspapers were not as ephemeral as they are today, they tended to be passed on to other readers. Their life was longer than just one day and they were sometimes kept for long periods and even bound into volumes, a fact which has contributed to the survival of many titles. A letter from a reader to the Freeman’s Journal in 1771 states: ‘The Freeman’s Journal being a paper more like than any other to be laid by and kept for future reading and service, makes it the best paper for any useful essay or discovery to be inserted’.[47] From 1769 The Hibernian Chronicle, issued in Cork, published a title page and index at the end of the year, making it suitable for binding and retention.

Images courtesy of Dublin City Library & Archive (www.dublincitypubliclibraries.ie )

[1] Raymond Gillespie, ‘The book trade in southern Ireland, 1590-1640’, Books beyond the pale: aspects of the provincial book trade in Ireland before 1850’, Gerard Long, ed. (Dublin, Rare Books Group of the Library Association of Ireland, 1996), p. 4.

[2] M. Pollard, Dublin’s trade in books 1550-1800 (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1989), p.160.

[3] Wyndham Beaves, Lex Mercatoria Rediviva: or, merchant’s directory (Dublin, printed for Peter Wilson, 1754), pp 494-6. Dublin was the largest port with 1,834 ships.

[4] The commercial directory of Ireland … for 1820-21 &22, Manchester, published by J. Pigot, 1820; Pigot and Co.’s city of Dublin and Hibernia provincial directory, Manchester, J. Pigot and Co., 1824.

[5] Bartholomew Larking, listed as free of the city of Youghal in 1639. Richard Caulfield, The council book of the corporation of Youghal (Guildford, J. Billing and Sons, 1878), p. 211.

[6] Dublin Intelligence, 24 June 1710; 1 July 1710.

[7] Dublin Courant, 4 July 1720.

[8] George Roberts, Juvenile poems on various subjects (Limerick, printed for the author by John Cherry, 1763). James Jenkins, Juvenile poems on several occasions (Waterford, printed for the author by Esther Crawley and Son, 1773).

[9] Finn’s Leinster Journal, 27-31 March 1790.

[10] Joseph Morony, Sermons, and exhortations for the whole year (Dublin, printed by T. M’Donnel, 1796).

[11] Cork Advertiser, 3 August 1799. The New Magazine (Dublin, John Gough, 1799). A catalogue of the Bradshaw collection of Irish books in the University Library Cambridge, 3 vols (Cambridge, 1916).

[12] Richard Sharpe, ‘Tadhg Gaelach Ó Suilleabháin’s Pious miscellany: editions of the Munster bestseller of the early nineteenth century’, Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy 114C (2014), pp 235-93.

[13] George Wall, The Hibernian preceptor (Parsonstown, John Bull, 1810).

[14] Samuel Fennell, Original poems (Clonmel, printed by T. Gorman, 1811).

[15] Pigot’s Directory, 1820; 1824.

[16] M. Pollard, A dictionary of members of the Dublin book trade 1550-1800 (London, Bibliographical Society, 2000).

[17] John M’Cormick, blind news hawker, murdered his wife, Corke Journal, 18 November 1754, while Carty, news hawker, fell down stairs drunk and died, Corke Journal, 15 March 1754.

[18] D. A. Levistone Cooney, The Methodists in Ireland: a short history (Blackrock, Co. Dublin, Columba Press, 2001), pp 36-7. Wesley’s Journal 20 July 1749 and 14 April 1750.

[19] Hibernian Chronicle, 23 July 1770.

[20] Surviving issues of Irish newspapers have been located and listed in James O’Toole, Newsplan: report of the Newsplan project in Ireland (Dublin, The British Library/National Library of Ireland), 1992. Newspapers also form part of the English Short Title Catalogue (ESTC).

[21] C. Y. Ferdinand, ‘Local distribution networks in 18th-century England’, in Spreading the word: the distribution networks of print 1550-1850, Robin Myers and Michael Harris, eds (Winchester, St Paul’s Bibliographies, 1990), pp 131-49.

[22] Corke Journal, 7 December 1753.

[23] Corke Journal, 24 June 1754.

[24] Corke Journal, 14 December 1753.

[25] Corke Journal, 11 December 1753.

[26] Corke Journal, 8 April 1754.

[27] Patrick Brenock, merchant, Clonmel; Denis M’Grath, Clogheen; Atfield Bell, Castlelyons; Andrew Morrogh, merchant, Rathcormack; Edward Griffith, Kilworth. Subscriptions were taken at the Bowling Green Kinsale.

[28] Jer Calwell, Seven sacraments, advertised in The Oeconomy of human life (Waterford, printed by Jer. Calwell, n.d. [1750-51]).

[29] Cork Journal, 15 August 1754.

[30] Hibernian Chronicle, 23 October 1769.

[31] Hibernian Chronicle, 31 December 1770; 2 January 1772.

[32] Hibernian Chronicle, 30 March 1772.

[33] Hibernian Chronicle, 16 July 1772.

[34] Thomas Shea, cooper, Youghal; John Scanlan, teacher and land surveyor, Cloyne; Mr Barry, innkeeper, Midleton; William Hamilton, Midleton; Robert O’Brien, apothecary, Castlemartyr; John Furzer, post master, Kinsale; Kennedy Hayes, post master, Mallow; James Craswell, merchant, Killarney.

[35] Kinsale, Bandon, Bantry, Skibereen, Clonakilty, Rosscarbery, Berehaven, Skull, Mallow, Buttevant, Charleville, Limerick, Youghal, Midleton, Cloyne, Castlemartyr, Lismore, Tallow, Cobh, Passage, Macroom, Killarney, Shanagh, Castleisland, Tralee and Dingle. Hibernian Chronicle, 2 January 1772.

[36] Hibernian Chronicle, 25 March 1802. Cork Mercantile Chronicle, 26 April 1802. Newsplan.

[37] Hibernian Chronicle, 30 August 1773; 6 September 1773.

[38] Hibernian Chronicle, 31 August-4 September 1775. ‘Cork, printed by William Flyn at the Shakespeare, near the Exchange and sold by W. Bingley, opposite St. Dunstan’s, Fleet Street, London, by whom advertisements for this paper are received…’

[39] Hibernian Chronicle, 18 June 1770. Corke Journal, 2 April 1770. Hibernian Chronicle, 6 September 1773. Freeman’s Journal, 19-21 October 1773.

[40] Finn’s Leinster Journal, 7-11 March 1767. James Poulson, Moral and divine observations (Cork, printed for the author, and sold by William Flyn and Thomas White, 1775).

[41] Richard Lucas, The Cork directory (Cork, printed for the author by J. Cronin, 1787). Hibernian Chronicle, 14 May 1770. John Temple, History of the general rebellion in Ireland (Cork, printed by Phineas and George Bagnell), 1766. John Fitzgerald, Cork remembrancer (Cork, printed by J. Sullivan, 1783).

[42] Waterford Herald, 4 February 1792. J.S. Dodd, Essays and poems (Cork, printed by Eugene Swiney, for the author, 1770). A catalogue of the Bradshaw collection, ii, p. 873.

[43] Máire Kennedy, ‘Eighteenth-century newspaper publishing in Munster and South Leinster’, Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society, 103 (1998), pp 67-88.

[44] Thomas Sheridan, The life of the Rev. Dr. Jonathan Swift, Dean of St. Patrick’s, Dublin, 2nd edition (London, 1787), p. 355. Thomas Campbell, A philosophical survey of the South of Ireland: a series of letters to John Watkinson by Rev. T. Campbell (Dublin, 1778), p. 55. National Library of Ireland: Ms. 3939-3940, tradesmen’s receipts, Thomas Conolly, 1778-1795.

[45] National Library of Ireland: Ms 42,103, ‘Ledger of accounts furnished by an agent supplying members of the British army, civilian and ecclesiastical establishment in Ireland … 1781-1813’.

[46] Freeman’s Journal, 20 December 1794.

[47] Freeman’s Journal, 2-5 February 1771.

‘Rare, Valuable and Extensive Libraries’: the book auction catalogues of Charles Sharpe, 1819-1851.


The book auction has an honourable tradition in Irish cultural life.[1] The earliest Irish book auctions took place in Dublin in the late seventeenth century, run by booksellers such as William Norman, Robert Thornton and Patrick Campbell. John Dunton arrived in Dublin from London in 1698 bringing a ‘venture of Books (of near Ten Tun)’ to be sold by auction at Dick’s coffee house and later at Patt’s coffee house. He published a lively account of his time in Dublin, entitled The Dublin scuffle.[2] Throughout the eighteenth century book auctions provided the Irish reading public with rarities, and spiced up the everyday fare of bookshops in Dublin and in other cities and towns.

The last quarter of the eighteenth century saw some of the most renowned libraries in the country come under the hammer, which attracted an international interest in the sales. The library of Denis Daly, MP for Galway, celebrated for its fine editions, was auctioned by James Vallance in 1792. The catalogue went on sale three months prior to the auction in bookshops in Dublin, Cork and Belfast, and from the ‘principal Booksellers in Great Britain, and on the continent’.[3] Similarly, for the sale of the Mornington library in 1795, R.E. Mercier’s auction catalogue was to be had in London, Chester, and from the principal booksellers of Great Britain and Ireland.[4] After the Act of Union many of the great houses were closed up as their inhabitants moved to London in response to the shift of power to Westminster. The early nineteenth century saw very many libraries and collections of books coming on the market due to this migration of the administrative elite.

Charles Sharpe’s business:

Charles Sharpe began his career in partnership with Charles Cumming in the firm of Charles Cumming & Co., booksellers and stationers, 19 Dame Street, but the partnership was dissolved in August 1819.[5] In December 1819 Sharpe announced his intention to set up as auctioneer ‘in all its numerous branches’, first at 11 Dame Street, and temporarily at 26 Parliament Street ‘during the period of his procuring an eligible and permanent situation’.[6] In May 1820 he moved to 43 Upper Camden Street and in March 1821 settled at 33 Anglesea Street.[7] The Anglesea Street premises had been the book shop of John Parry, whose death occasioned the sale of his stock by Sharpe in November 1820. At the conclusion of Parry’s sale the furniture and lease of the house were to be disposed of by auction ‘unless an acceptable offer for the purchase is made in the meantime’.[8] On 14 March 1821 the lease was signed and the building on the east side of Anglesea Street became Sharpe’s, at an annual rent of £75.[9] Recently refurbished, the house consisted of a ‘breakfast and dining parlour, drawing room, six bedrooms, two kitchens, out-offices and an excellent shop’.[10] Sharpe occupied the literary sale room in Anglesea Street for his entire career until 1851. The street numbering changed in 1844 due to alterations to buildings near Cope Street, and Sharpe’s address became 31 Anglesea Street, but the premises remained the same. He left Anglesea Street in November 1851 and was succeeded by H. Lewis, who continued the business of book auctioneering.[11]

In the first half of the nineteenth century Anglesea Street was occupied mainly by those in the book and textile trades. When Sharpe opened his literary sale room he was in the heart of a bookselling and printing enclave, with nearby Eustace Street, Dame Street and Grafton Street prime locations for the trade. Between 1820 and 1850 from a quarter to one-third of businesses in Anglesea Street were involved in the print trade, including engravers, printers, booksellers, stationers and bookbinders. In the 1820s the Hibernian Journal had its newspaper office at 19 Anglesea Street. In 1824 Sharpe announced sales at his enlarged sale room indicating success in his business venture.[12] This success is mirrored in the extensive advertising of his sales carried in the Freeman’s Journal and other newspapers at this period. A contributor to The Dublin University Magazine in March 1868, reminiscing on Dublin book auctions of the past, noted Sharpe’s auction room in Anglesea Street, and Jones’ in Trinity Street, as the most prestigious venues.[13]

Sharpe’s life.

Sharpe was born about 1782 and seems to have come to Dublin from England.[14] His mother was living at Stoke Newington in Middlesex up to January 1830.[15] He does not appear in the records of the guild of St Luke the Evangelist. In 1820 and 1821 when he started business on his own, he is listed in Wilson’s Dublin directories as ‘accountant, general-agent and auctioneer’. By his first marriage he had six daughters and two sons; his wife Julia died in 1830.[16] Both sons predeceased him, Charles in 1833, aged 12, and Thomas Cain in 1850 at the age of 33, ensuring that there would be no male successors in the business.[17]

On 19 October 1838 Sharpe married as his second wife Deborah Mullen, eldest daughter of the late George Mullen, at St Mary’s church.[18] Deborah was the daughter of the renowned bookbinder who had died in 1822. Sharpe was already acquainted with the Mullen family through a rather unhappy circumstance, when in June of 1827 he auctioned a collection of valuable books in rich bindings, the property of George Mullen junior, Deborah’s brother, who was declared bankrupt in May.[19] The witnesses at the Sharpe marriage were Deborah’s brother, George, and Samuel Orson, husband of her younger sister, Margaret Louisa. Samuel Orson, who had a coach building business at Bachelor’s Walk, was already a member of the Mullen family as his sister Eliza had married George, Deborah’s brother, in 1824.[20] Thus Sharpe had allied himself to two important Dublin families of the period. From about 1850 increased prosperity allowed Sharpe to have a country residence at Uplands, the Hill, Monkstown. In November 1851 he retired due to ill health, leaving Anglesea Street and moving fully to Monkstown. He was succeeded by H. Lewis who had worked in the business for the previous four years and had been conducting the auctions for some years.[21] Sharpe died at Uplands on 7 December 1854, aged 73 years, and was buried in St Andrew’s churchyard with his first wife, two sons and daughter, Sarah, who had died in 1836.[22]

The collection.

The collection of book auction catalogues and folded sheets of Charles Sharpe’s sales, held at the Royal Irish Academy is very complete, covering the years 1820 to 1851. A manuscript note loosely inserted in the bound volume for 1820 states that these are ‘the late Charles Sharpe’s private collection of all his own sales of Books, Paintings, Engravings, extending from 1820 to 1851, partly priced with ms notes.’ Few catalogues have survived elsewhere, the National Library of Ireland has only a handful of Sharpe catalogues, Trinity College holds a small number, and some catalogues are to be found in Harvard University, the Bodleian Library, Oxford, the British Library and the National Library of Scotland. Considering that many hundreds of catalogues are likely to have been printed for each sale, the survival rate is quite poor and points to the very ephemeral nature of auction catalogues. The fact that this collection was gathered together and bound into annual volumes has helped ensure its survival. Auction hand-bills, posters and fold-out sheets are very rare and have little hope of survival unless bound into volumes or scrapbooks. Here many fine examples have been preserved, giving an excellent flavour of the auction milieu, from advertising to the practicalities of the sale.

Freeman’s Journal, 16 June 1827; 22 April 1848

Sharpe auctioned the libraries of great and small collectors throughout his career. Some libraries were of international prestige, while smaller collections were often included as part of a miscellaneous sale. Catholic clerymen’s libraries are prominent in his sales, some owners identified and many more remaining anonymous. During the eighteenth century Catholic clerical libraries sold by public auction were nearly always low-profile, anonymous sales. One exception was the sale of the very valuable library of Dr John Carpenter, Irish scholar and archbishop of Dublin, which was offered for sale in 1787 by James Vallance.[23] However, by the late eighteenth, and particularly in the nineteenth century, Catholic clergymen’s names appeared increasingly on auction catalogues. The contents of these libraries were varied and interesting, including continental editions and books in several European languages, particularly French, Italian and Spanish, reflecting the educational backgrounds of these men in the Irish Colleges of Paris, Rome, Lisbon, Salamanca etc.

Among the more prestigious Catholic clerical libraries to come under the hammer in the early years of his business were those of Dr John Thomas Troy (1739-1823), archbishop of Dublin, in 1823, Dr Michael Blake (1775-1860) in 1825, and the libraries of Dr Patrick Joseph Plunkett (1738-1827), bishop of Meath, and Rev. Michael Kearney (1753-1827), archdeacon of Meath, sold together in 1827. Archbishop Troy’s library of over 1,000 lots, was rich in continental imprints, including a Canon missae pontificalis, a present from ‘His Holiness’.[24] He was also in possession of many books from the library of his predecessor, Archbishop John Carpenter, auctioned in 1787. Dr Michael Blake, vicar general of the diocese of Dublin, returned to Rome in 1824 to re-establish the Irish College there after the French revolutionary and Napoleonic wars, and to become president of the college until 1828. His library of over 1,000 lots was auctioned by Sharpe in 1825, realising £340.11s.5d.[25] Dr Patrick Joseph Plunkett went to France disguised as a merchant’s apprentice to receive his education in 1753, going on to become professor and later superior of the Collège des Lombards in Paris, and royal professor of theology at the Collège de Navarre. Returning to Ireland in 1779 during the American war of independence, his possessions, including his library and a ring given to him by Queen Marie Antoinette, were seized by the privateer, John Paul Jones. They were only restored to him after the intervention of Benjamin Franklin, the American envoy to Paris.[26]

When George Mullen, Sharpe’s future brother-in-law, was declared bankrupt in 1827 it was Sharpe who undertook the auction of his stock. George Mullen senior had his bookbinding business at Fleet Street and later at Temple Bar, carrying out regular binding work for Trinity College library and Marsh’s library.[27] George and his son, George, moved to 38 Nassau Street, near Grafton Street, having taken the lease in September 1821 at £150 per annum. Both father and son were listed at this address in 1822, George senior as bookbinder and George junior as bookseller and stationer.[28] In 1822 George junior issued his first bookseller’s catalogue, in which both men advertised their businesses, George senior stating that he had been 25 years in business in Dublin, and George junior saying that he had recently commenced, having gained his bookselling experience ‘in a highly respectable bookselling establishment in London’.[29] The catalogue is dated 6 April 1822 and George senior died later in the month, on 23 April. In May 1823 George advertised a ‘splendid sale of books and shop fixtures’ stating that ‘in consequence of the Book-binding business having devolved upon him, by the death of his Father, and finding that it is absolutely necessary to devote his whole attention to it, is resolved to dispose of his present very choice and select Collection of Books by Auction’. On this occasion the auctioneer was Samuel Jones of Trinity Street.[30] In 1825 Mullen issued a catalogue of books in ‘handsome and costly bindings’, and also advertised his services in ‘the arranging and cataloguing of libraries’, noting that he acquired his bibliographical expertise ‘during five years’ Residence in London’.[31] Like his father he carried out binding work for Trinity College and Marsh’s libraries.

The notice of Mullen’s bankruptcy appeared in May 1827 and his stock was sold over two days, on 11 and 12 June of that year.[32] The collection comprised 454 lots, some of the books were folded for binding and some had fine bindings unfinished. As well as his stock of books, Mullen’s bookbinder’s tools, his household furniture including a piano, and the lease of his dwelling house and premises at 38 Nassau Street, formed part of the sale. It is not clear what led to Mullen’s bankruptcy, but he seems to have recovered from this major setback and cleared his debts. He continued in business at a new address, 61 William Street, until his death on 16 April 1848, at the age of 50, after an illness of five years.[33] The lease on this premises was transferred to the Provincial Bank of Ireland by his widow, Eliza, in June 1848, and she went to live with her son, George, in Dawson Street.[34] The binding output of both George Mullens, father and son, achieved an excellent reputation and is highly thought of, with fine examples present in most major Irish libraries.

Two of the most extensive and distinguished libraries auctioned by Sharpe were the libraries of Joseph Abbott in 1840 and the Putland library in 1847. Abbott’s library of 2,420 lots realised £1,755.7s.11d.[35] Joseph Abbott, solicitor, of 104 Capel Street may have been George Mullen’s solicitor as he acted as witness when Mullen’s premises at 38 Nassau Street was acquired in 1821 and as agent in the bankruptcy proceedings in 1827.[36] Abbott’s own library of books and engraved prints was very fine: many of the books in the best editions with sumptuous bindings. Continental imprints, with plates by the most noted engravers, in large paper editions with gilt edges and the best continental bindings in leather or vellum are prominent in the catalogue. He was primarily a collector, with an eye towards the rare and valuable, he collected book sale catalogues of important English and European collectors, bibliographical dictionaries and guides to book collecting. The Putland library was collected by three generations of the Putland family: John Putland (1709-1773) of Great Britain (now Parnell) Street, and Bray Head, County Wicklow, his son George (1745-1811) and his grandson George (1783-1841).[37] John was a leading member of the Dublin Society and its treasurer from 1754 to 1772, and both Georges were members of the Dublin Society and the Royal Irish Academy. The Putland family crest has an elephant-head motif, and this motif was used on the spine panels of their custom-bound books. The library comprised 1,268 lots, with many rare editions, continental imprints, Latin manuscripts on vellum, and some incunabula including a copy of Polychronicon in black letter, printed at Westminster by Wynkyn de Worde, Caxton’s successor, in 1495.[38]

The Sharpe collection contains a great many anonymous catalogues. Several of the anonymous catalogues have the true identity of the consignor inscribed on the title page, for example ‘the genuine property of a Roman Catholic Clergyman’, auctioned on 19 and 20 April 1830, is identified as belonging to Rev. J.H. King, and the ‘Library of a Private Gentleman’, sold on 6 August 1850, belonged to Sir George Goold, baronet.[39] A scrapbook compiled by Sharpe is held at the National Library of Ireland in which he has gathered together his newspaper advertisements and a fine collection of hand-bills spanning his whole career. This is a fascinating document giving an overview of his business activities over a 30 year period. Unfortunately the newspaper extracts are not identified, but the dates can be estimated from the dates of auctions advertised and their chronological arrangement.[40]

Features of the sales.

Sharpe’s general auctions were normally held at one o’clock, ‘Post Office time’, and law libraries at three o’clock in the afternoon ‘for the convenience of those in the profession’. Some sales were held at eight o’clock in the evening, or at half past eight in the summer months. While Sharpe was primarily a book auctioneer, he also termed himself a general auctioneer, offering to hold ‘out-auctions’, which would include estates and farming stock. His book auctions extended to the sale of sheet and framed prints, paintings, maps, music and musical instruments, musical boxes, library furnishings, plate and china, and items such as microscopes, celestial and terrestrial globes, pairs of pistols, coins, medallions, snuff boxes, kaleidoscopes, magic lanterns with slides, mathematical and medical instruments, a ‘bust of Buonaparte’ and a ‘Wellington writing case’. The variety of library furnishings offered at his various sales gives a fascinating glimpse into the environment in which books were collected and read. Writing desks in rosewood and mahogany, glass-fronted book cases, library ladders, study lamps and bell pulls are commonly listed. One library boasted a ‘Handsome Room Screen (four folds) covered with prints’ in 1826.[41] At another sale in May 1826 a portable library book case is described in detail: ‘A Travelling Portable Library Book-Case, most singularly constructed, and divided into 14 compartments, capable of holding upwards of 1,000 volumes’. It was considered ‘a very complete and important article for any gentleman to possess’.[42] An unusual sale took place on 14 February 1820 when a raffle was held for a painting of the Venus de Medicis, commissioned by Frederick Hervey, earl of Bristol and bishop of Derry, and painted in Italy by Sir William Hamilton. Twenty tickets at one guinea each could be purchased from Sharpe.[43]

Interest in the sales was expected to be widespread and catalogues of some of the more high-profile sales were distributed to booksellers around Ireland and in England. The library of Archbishop Troy went on sale in June 1823 and catalogues were available in London, Cork, Limerick, Clonmel, Kilkenny, Waterford, Carlow, Belfast, Newry, and at the hotel in Maynooth.[44] Booksellers in the Irish provincial towns and the hotel in Maynooth also carried the catalogue of Rev. John Barrett’s library in May 1823 and of Dr Michael Blake’s library which came up for sale in February 1825.[45] These libraries, rich in Catholic works of continental and local origin, would have appealed to Catholic clergy living around Ireland, and in particular to those studying and teaching at St Patrick’s College, Maynooth. Catalogues for the sale of the library of John Walker of Trinity College in May 1835 were available in Belfast, Cork and Liverpool.[46] The Irish library, Bibliotheca Hibernica, of Edward O’Reilly, the Irish scholar, went on sale in November 1830, and catalogues were to be had from the principal booksellers in Ireland, and in Edinburgh and London.[47]

A number of catalogues for Sharpe’s more prestigious sales were distributed in London in the 1840s and 1850s by Messrs Sharpe and Sons, 56, Fenchurch Street, which might indicate a family connection. The libraries of John Foster, last speaker of the Irish House of Commons, and of his son, Thomas Henry Foster, Viscount Ferrard, were put up for sale in April 1843, and catalogues were available in Liverpool and from Sharpe’s in London.[48] The sale, comprising 2,288 lots, grossed £900 against the estimated £500, due to the prestige attached to the sale.[49] Catalogues for the earl of Clanwilliam’s sale were also to be had from booksellers in Liverpool and Sharpe in London in 1846.[50] The catalogue of the rare, valuable and extensive library of Sir George Goold, auctioned in August 1850 was distributed by Sharpe in London, and by booksellers in Bristol, Liverpool, Edinburgh, Cork and Belfast.[51]

Not all sales were held in the literary sale room, but were sometimes conducted in a public venue. In the early years of his business Sharpe frequently held his sales at the vendor’s house, and on many occasions the lease of the house was auctioned at the end of the sale.[52] In 1820 and 1821 he conducted a series of sales in Ulster, in July 1820 he held evening auctions at Shipquay Street, Derry, and from August to October he used the Castle-Place public rooms in the Corn Market, Belfast.[53] In February 1821 he returned to the Castle-Place rooms and later in the month moved to Hill Street, Newry.[54] In June 1823 the Rotunda, with its entrance in Cavendish Row, Dublin, was used by Sharpe for the sale of the library of C.P. Archer, a gentleman going to the continent, and later in the month for the library of Archbishop Troy.[55] In December 1823 the library of Dr Martin Hugh Hamill, Catholic vicar general of the Dublin diocese, was sold at Francis Street chapel house.[56] Some years later, in July 1827, Rev. Peter Ward’s books, furniture, framed prints and paintings were also sold at the chapel house in Francis Street.[57]

The book stock of the bookseller Robert Marchbank was sold after his death at Wyley’s Royal Hotel (late Spaddecini’s) on College Green in May 1825.[58] The theological library of an unnamed Catholic clergyman was sold in Carlow, near the Market Cross, in December 1825.[59] When Sharpe’s neighbour, Sylvester Tyrrell, bookseller at 28 Anglesea Street, was forced to sell out for non-payment of rent in January 1826, his stock was auctioned from the book shop.[60] In February of the same year, the library of Martin French Lynch, Catholic barrister, was sold from his house, 4 Mountjoy Place.[61]

Sharpe was a prominent member of the Dublin business circle in the first half of the nineteenth century, connected with some of the other important business families. His auctions are celebrated in a song entitled ‘The Booksellers’ Charter Song’, which was composed for John Cumming’s annual trade sale on 11 November 1840.[62] It was to be sung to the air of ‘The Fine Old English Gentleman’:

I’m now at home, fill up each glass, we’ll drink our noble selves,
And first, John Cumming’s honest health, long may he fill our shelves,
Smith, Curry, Tyrrell, Webb, Keene, Tims, Grant, Milliken, and Coyne,
And our own Sharpe, whose knock is felt, from London to the Boyne,
With cheering rapture drink their healths, these of the present time.


Because of the ephemeral nature of book auction catalogues a sequence as full as this is relatively rare and very valuable. As they formed the auctioneer’s own collection they include many exceedingly scarce items such as handbills and auction posters, neatly folded and bound in place. Yet, even this collection is not complete, from advertising notices in the press we know that many more Sharpe auctions took place for which we have no surviving catalogues.

As a set, the catalogues represent the reading and collecting tastes of several sections of Irish society. Clerical libraries great and small, carefully amassed in the person’s lifetime, family libraries built up over generations, fine editions gathered by collectors, booksellers’ stocks sold because of bankruptcy or death, miscellaneous collections made up of discarded books from a library, unsold stock or small parcels purchased from individuals, give a clear indication of late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century concerns and interests among the book buying public. Sharpe’s sales represent the upper end of the market, he handled some of the best sales of the period, advertising them widely in Ireland and Great Britain, and achieving large sums of money for his clients.

Extending over thirty years these catalogues give an insight into the intellectual life of the time. It is clear from the catalogues that continental editions in the vernacular European languages, chiefly French and Italian, and to a lesser extent Spanish and German, formed a significant part of a well chosen library. Contemporary literature and history especially are to be found in their original languages. Works in Latin continued to find a place, and increasingly Irish language texts and manuscripts were coming on the market. Rare and curious editions, valuable more for their scarcity perhaps than their content, achieved high prices. Books containing fine engraved prints were very much sought after. Beautiful bindings were also much in demand, and the level of expertise in assessing typography and bindings can be seen in the catalogues and may be assumed among collectors.

A version of this paper was given as one of the joint Royal Irish Academy/Linen Hall library lunch-time lectures, held at the Royal Irish Academy library, during April and May 2000. The Sharpe collection of catalogues in the Royal Irish Academy were conserved and rebound by Nick Abrahms, the English craft bookbinder, and the project sponsored by Mealy’s book auctioneers of Castlecomer, County Kilkenny.

This article was first published as ‘“Rare, Valuable and Extensive Libraries”’: the book auction catalogues of Charles Sharpe in the library of the Royal Irish Academy’, in Long Room, 46 (2001), pp 24-33.

[1] Máire Kennedy, ‘Book mad: the sale of books by auction in eighteenth-century Dublin’ Dublin Historical Record,  LIV, no. 1 (Spring 2001), pp 48-71.

[2] John Dunton, The Dublin scuffle: being a challenge sent by John Dunton, citizen of London, to Patrick Campbel, bookseller in Dublin (London, 1699); new edition with an introduction and notes by Professor Andrew Carpenter (Dublin,Four Courts, 2000).

[3] Catalogue of the library of the late right hon. Denis Daly which will be sold by auction by James Vallance on 1 May 1792 (Dublin, 1792). Dublin Chronicle, 24 March 1792. J.S.C., ‘Book buyers in the olden time’, Irish Book Lover, 3, no. 10 (1912), pp 159-60. T.U. Sadleir, ‘An eighteenth-century Irish gentleman’s library’, Book Collector, 2 (1953), pp 173-6.

[4] Dengan sale. Part the first; containing the books. A catalogue of the extensive and valuable library, prints, paintings, statues, music, mathematical instruments and superb furniture of the chapel which belonged to the late Earl of Mornington at Dengan Castle (Dublin, R.E. Mercier, 18 May 1795).

[5] I would like to thank Charles Benson of Trinity College library for letting me know about Sharpe’s partnership with Cumming. Dublin Gazette, 23 September 1819, p.853. Wilson’s Dublin directory 1819.

[6] Freeman’s Journal, 18 December 1819; 9 March 1820. Catalogue of a valuable and excellent collection of miscellaneous books (Dublin, Charles Sharpe, 4 April 1820).

[7] J. Pigot and Co., The commercial directory of … Ireland 1820-21 and 22 (Manchester, 1820), p. 42. Catalogue of a select and valuable collection of books (Dublin, Charles Sharpe, 25 May 1820).

[8] Catalogue of the late Mr John Parry, bookseller (Dublin, Charles Sharpe, 13 November 1820; 27 November 1820). Freeman’s Journal, 4 December 1820.

[9] Registry of Deeds Dublin: 14 March 1821, Williams to Sharpe, 760.415.516351.

[10] National Library of Ireland, LO 2374: Charles Sharpe, ‘Cuttings and handbills 1819-1853’, p. 20, 27 December 1820.

[11] Wilson’s Dublin directories 1820-1833. Pettigrew & Oulton, The Dublin almanac and general register of Ireland 1834-1847. Thom’s Irish almanac and official directory 1847-1855.

[12] A catalogue of books (Dublin, Charles Sharpe, 10-11 December 1824); 1500 volumes of books, Hogarth prints (Dublin, Charles Sharpe, 20-23 December 1824).

[13] ‘The Dublin book auctions and book buyers of yesterday’, The Dublin University Magazine, LXXI, no. 423 (March 1868), p. 281.

[14] D.F. McKenzie ed., Stationers’ company apprentices 1701-1800 (Oxford, 1978). The one Charles Sharpe listed must be of the firm of Sharpe in Fenchurch Street, London, who may be related to this Charles Sharpe.

[15] His mother died at Nelson Terrace, Stoke Newington, Middlesex in 1830 aged 84. Morning Register, 26 January 1830.

[16] Journal of the Association for the Preservation of the Memorials of the Dead in Ireland, viii (1913), St Andrew’s Churchyard, pp 550-1, Sharpe’s death is misread as 1834.

[17] Freeman’s Journal, 15 November 1833; 5 June 1850. Morning Register, 15 November 1833.

[18] Representative Church Body library, Register of St Mary’s parish, Dublin, P.27715. I would like to thank Dr Susan Hood of the Representative Church Body library for her help in checking the church registers. Saunders’ News Letter, 20 October 1838. Morning Register, 24 October 1838.

[19] Freeman’s Journal, 16 May 1827.

[20] Appendix to the thirtieth report of the Deputy Keeper of the Public Records and Keeper of the State Papers in Ireland (Dublin, 1899).

[21] ‘Cuttings and hand-bills’, circular dated October 1851, loose at p.175, with manuscript notes.

[22] Journal of the Memorials of the Dead, pp 550-1. [Sharpe’s date of death is misread as 1834.] Dublin Evening Mail, 29 April 1836. Evening Freeman, 30 April 1836. Daily Express, 8 December 1854. Freeman’s Journal, 9 December 1854.

[23] Faulkner’s Dublin Journal, 14 July 1787.

[24] Catalogue of the very choice and valuable library of the late most Rev. Doctor Troy, Roman Catholic archbishop of Dublin (Dublin, Charles Sharpe, 25 June 1823, p. 8, lot 84.

[25] Catalogue of scarce, useful and important books, forming the valuable library of the very Rev. Dr Blake, V.G., (of Exchange St chapel) (Dublin, Charles Sharpe, 28 February 1825.

[26] Catalogue of the rare and valuable library of books of the late right Rev. Dr Plunkett, R.C. bishop of Meath (Dublin, Charles Sharpe, 30 April 1827). Catalogue of the choice library of books … of the late very Rev. Mich. Kearney, V.G., R.C. archdeacon of the diocese of Meath … an appendix to the preceding sale. Liam Swords ed., The Irish-French connection 1578-1978 (Paris 1978), p. 51.

[27] M. Pollard, A dictionary of members of the Dublin book trade 1550-1800 (London, Bibliographical Society, 2000).

[28] Registry of Deeds Dublin: 12 September 1821, O’Rorke to Mullen, 769.140.521475. Wilson’s Dublin directory 1822.

[29] A catalogue of books for the year 1822; containing many curious and scarce works, in various languages, Irish history, &c. &c. now selling at the prices affixed, by George Mullen, jun. bookseller and stationer, no. 38 Nassau Street (Dublin, 1822).

[30] Freeman’s Journal, 19 May 1823.

[31] Catalogue of a collection of books, in various languages (chiefly in handsome and costly bindings) marked at very low prices, now on sale at George Mullen’s, book-binder, 38 Nassau Street (Dublin, 1825). Copy held at Dublin City Library & Archive.

[32] Catalogue of books, which are to be sold by auction, by order of the assignee of George Mullen, a bankrupt (Dublin, Charles Sharpe, 11 June 1827). Freeman’s Journal, 9 June 1827; 12 June 1827.

[33] Dublin Evening Post, 18 April 1848.

[34] Registry of Deeds Dublin: 2 June 1848, Mullen to the Provincial Bank of Ireland, 1848.11.239.

[35] Catalogue of the valuable, select and distinguished library of the late Joseph Abbott Esq. (Dublin, Charles Sharpe, 23 November 1840).

[36] Registry of Deeds Dublin: 12 September 1821, O’Rorke to Mullen, 769.140.521475. Freeman’s Journal, 16 May 1827.

[37]Bibliotheca Putlandiana. Catalogue of the extensive and valuable library of George Putland, esquire, deceased (Dublin, Charles Sharpe, 19 July 1847).

[38] Bibliotheca Putlandiana, lot 1082.

[39] Bibliotheca theologia et rarissima. Catalogue of a library of books … of a Roman Catholic clergyman (Dublin, Charles Sharpe, 19-20 April 1830). Catalogue of the rare, valuable and extensive library of a private gentleman (Dublin, Charles Sharpe, 6 August 1850).

[40] ‘Cuttings and hand-bills’.

[41] Modern standard publications (Dublin, Charles Sharpe, 4 November 1826).

[42] Two day’s sale of 1500 volumes of excellent books (Dublin, Charles Sharpe, 18-19 May 1826).

[43] ‘Cuttings and hand-bills’, p.4.

[44] Catalogue of Doctor Troy (25 June 1823).

[45] Catalogue of theological and miscellaneous books, being the library of the late Rev. John Barrett, of Francis Street chapel (Dublin, Charles Sharpe, 19 May 1823; 4 June 1823). Catalogue of scarce, useful and important books (Dublin, Charles Sharpe, 28 February 1825).

[46] Catalogue of the library of the late John Walker, Esq. (Dublin, Charles Sharpe, 9 May 1835).

[47] Bibliotheca Hibernica. Catalogue of the library of the late Edward O’Reilly, Esq., of Harold’s Cross (Dublin, Charles Sharpe, 30 November 1830).

[48] Catalogue of the valuable and extensive library of the late Right Hon. Lord Viscount Ferrard, including the library of the Right Hon. John Foster, (Baron Oriel), speaker of the Irish House of Commons (Dublin, Charles Sharpe, 6 April 1843).

[49] Manuscript note in the Royal Irish Academy’s copy of the catalogue.

[50] Catalogue of a valuable library of English and foreign books, formerly belonging to the last earl of Clanbrassil (Dublin, Charles Sharpe, 7 February 1846).

[51] Catalogue of the rare, valuable and extensive library of a private gentleman (Dublin, Charles Sharpe, 6 August 1850).

[52] Catalogue of a select and valuable collection of books … part of the stock of Graham and Son, [16 College Green] (Dublin, Charles Sharpe, 25 May 1820).

[53]  ‘Cuttings and hand-bills’, pp 10-13. Catalogue of a valuable and excellent collection of books (Belfast, Charles Sharpe, 11 September 1820). Catalogue of an excellent collection of English and foreign books (Belfast, Charles Sharpe, 16 October 1820).

[54] ‘Cuttings and hand-bills’, pp 21-4.

[55] Splendid library. Catalogue of choice and valuable books in various departments of literature, the property of a gentleman going to the continent (Dublin, Charles Sharpe, 17 June 1823). Catalogue of Doctor Troy (25 June 1823).

[56] Catalogue of the valuable library of the late Rev. Dr Hamill, V.G., (of Francis Street chapel) (Dublin, Charles Sharpe, 11 December 1823).

[57] Catalogue of the select library of books, parlour and bed chamber furniture, framed prints and paintings of the late Rev. Peter Ward of Francis Street chapel (Dublin, Charles Sharpe, 11 July 1827).

[58] Catalogue of books bound and in quires (Dublin, Charles Sharpe, 26 May 1825).

[59] Valuable library of books (Dublin, Charles Sharpe, 13 December 1825).

[60] To be sold by auction, for non-payment of rent (Dublin, Charles Sharpe, 10 January 1826).

[61] Catalogue of the select and well chosen miscellaneous collection of books, the library of the late Martin French Lynch, Esq., barrister at law (Dublin, Charles Sharpe, 16 February 1826).

[62] ‘Cuttings and hand-bills’, p. 48.

‘Book mad’: the sale of books by auction in eighteenth-century Ireland.


In the late seventeenth century, when the Dublin book trade was in its infancy, book auctions became a popular method of sale with bookseller and purchaser alike. The auction offered variety to connoisseurs, often featuring imported continental editions, and older scarce material not easily found in the general Dublin bookshops. For the bookseller the initial investment would have been recouped over a shorter time-scale thanks to the intensity of the auction form. In the early eighteenth century book auctions became an accepted part of the Dublin book trade, they continued in popularity as a means of acquiring a library, or adding to an existing collection. Phillips has situated the Dublin book auction within the capital’s expanding book trade and shows how booksellers embraced this form of sale as a means of enlivening the market and at the same time providing an outlet for slow-moving stock.[1] Pollard has considered those book buyers who frequented the auction room, and whose libraries in turn came under the hammer.[2] By the end of the eighteenth century book auctions were commonplace in Dublin and in the provincial cities. Collectors kept book catalogues, often bound together, as bibliographical resources and price guides.  The catalogue of the library of the Hon. Denis Daly, MP for Galway, auctioned in 1792, was one such catalogue as Daly’s collection was renowned for its fine editions. It was to be found in private libraries well into the nineteenth century and is still one of the most widely available of eighteenth-century Irish catalogues. Daly’s catalogue is likely to have been printed in a larger than normal run because of the importance of the sale. The catalogues were available from booksellers in Great Britain and on the continent from March 1792 for the May sale.[3] Book sale catalogues are very much ephemeral matter and many have not survived in even a single example, this is especially true of the catalogues of undistinguished collectors, which were not kept as desiderata of a fine library.[4]

So popular had the book auction become as a means of purchasing books that some booksellers resorted to it as a way of pushing old and slow-moving stock. Many blamed the auction for artificially inflating prices. A report from London in the Dublin Chronicle in May 1787 on the sale of Dr Wright’s library noted that ‘his library, for its size, was reckoned valuable, even by the connoisseurs … the reading books sold but indifferently; ‘but all such reading as was never read’ sold, as usual, according to the rivalship of contending connoisseurs, which in the present instance was very favourable to the sale’.[5] Edmond Malone, writing to Lord Charlemont, confirmed this: ‘The newspapers have informed you of the great sale of the books of an old brother collector, Dr Wright … the price that all the rarities went at was beyond all former examples’.[6] The presence of so many uncut copies of rare books in private libraries would seem to bear this out. Writing to Malone of the Daly sale, Charlemont says ‘you judged right respecting the sale of our poor friend’s books … During the week of the auction the Dublin world was book mad. All men bought, they who could and they who could not read, and the prices were more than London would have afforded’.[7] John Archer, the Dublin bookseller, referring to the auction of the library of Rev. Dr Newcome, Archbishop of Armagh, in March and April 1800, commented ‘almost every article of value in the Primate’s Collection, as yet, has sold above the value’.[8]

In 1790 an anonymous contributor to the Freeman’s Journal bemoaned the fact that ‘there are not greater deceptions, on the public than the present kind of Book Auctions in this city, to which the people are deluded under the imagination of acquiring cheap books’ and he advised ‘no gentleman should disgrace his library with such abominable productions; which no book-seller in Dublin would dare offer for sale’.[9] Henry George Quin, who spent freely at the Crevenna sale in Amsterdam in 1790, to such an extent that he was awarded the hammer by the auctioneer when the sale was over, spent very sparingly at the sale of the Bibliotheca Parisiana in London in 1791 as the books that he intended to purchase were sold at what he thought extravagant prices.[10]

Auction venues

In the early part of the century book auctions were held in suitably large hired exhibition or public rooms. Dick’s coffee house became one of the early venues for book sales in Dublin. Situated in part of the late fifteenth- early sixteenth-century great house known as Carbery House, Dick’s became a focal point for the Dublin book trade from the late seventeenth to the middle of the eighteenth centuries. Established as a coffee house by Richard Pue on the drawing room, or first floor, the ground floor, back rooms and back offices were used by various members of the trade for printing, bookselling, newspaper publishing, and for book auctions.[11] The Anne and Grecian coffee house, at the foot of Essex Bridge, a suite of rooms where books were sold by auction in the evenings, from 1723 until at least 1728.[12] The sale of books, maps, prints and cuts which took place on 24 October 1724 was the property of Thomas Thornton, bookseller, as catalogues were available at the Anne and Grecian and at St Luke’s Head in Dame Street, the bookshop of Robert and Thomas Thornton.[13] On 30 October 1727 a ‘Choice Collection of Books, in English, Latin, Greek, French, Italian &c.’ was offered for sale at the Anne and Grecian.[14]

Carbery House, which housed Dick’s coffee house, from Masonic Female Orphan School of Ireland, ed. by Thomas Stuart (Dublin, 1892). Dublin Daily Advertiser, 13 November 1736.

Before the erection of the Music Hall in Fishamble Street, Tailor’s Hall was one of the largest rooms in Dublin and was used for auctions, Stationer’s Hall was also put to this use.[15] In 1718 the Great Hall of the King’s Inns was used for the auction of ‘a choice Collection of Pictures, mostly Originals, by the best Masters in Europe’.[16] Thomas Thornton held auctions of libraries at the Parliament House in 1737 and 1739.[17] The Coffee Room of the House of Lords was used for book auctions by William Ross in 1755 and 1764 and by Michael Duggan in 1766.[18] Geminiani’s Great Room in the Spring Gardens, Dame Street, was used for a wide variety of auctions.[19] It was so called because the Italian musician and composer Francesco Geminiani, who lived next door from 1733 to 1740, and again from 1758 until his death in 1762, used the hall occasionally for his recitals.[20] In 1749 the stock of Mrs Sarah Hyde, bookseller, was auctioned and catalogues were available at the room.[21] Mrs Hyde’s bookshop was in the immediate vicinity and she had taken in subscriptions for the publication of Geminiani’s Twelve sonatas in 1757.[22] William Gilbert used the venue for his larger sales, for instance in 1774 for the sale of the library of the Hon. Francis Andrews, Provost of Trinity College Dublin, and James Vallance used it for the auction of the library of Andrew Chaigneau in 1777.[23] From the 1730s book auctions were held at the Golden Ball on the north side of College Green and it was used by Laurence Flin for his auctions in the 1760s.[24] James Chapman was proprietor of the auction room in the Spring Gardens during the 1760s and 1770s, and he regularly held his own auctions there.[25] In December 1771 he announced an auction of prints and books of prints, ‘books of architecture, ornaments, etc.’ He claimed that this was the largest sale that ever occurred in Dublin.[26]

John Rocque, An exact survey of the city and suburbs of Dublin, 1756, showing Tailor’s Hall (marked TH) in Back Lane, near High Street, and the Parliament House, College Green.

In England auctioneers were moving away from the use of public venues and opening ‘great rooms’ in the last quarter of the seventeenth century. By the 1680s Covent Garden was the centre of the auction trade.[27] This did not become the norm in Dublin until the second half of the eighteenth century. At this period book auctions had become so widespread that most Dublin auctioneers had their own rooms and rarely hired a public venue. Robert Bell had his auction room on Cork Hill opposite Lucas’s coffee house in 1762. Later he took over Stretch’s Theatre in Capel Street as his auction room and it became known as Bell’s Great Library Room.[28] Bell was declared bankrupt in 1767 and his leasehold on ‘that Large and Valuable concern, which Mr Bell, at a very considerable expense, has fitted up’, his great room in Capel Street was auctioned by Thomas Armitage on behalf of the sheriffs of Dublin.[29] James Vallance had his auction room at the Old Post Office Court from 1781, and at 6 Eustace Street from 1792. The premises at Eustace Street was occupied by the auctioneer, Thomas Jones, who succeeded Vallance in business in the early nineteenth century. R.E. Mercier had his auction room at 31 Anglesea Street. Charles Sharpe had his extensive auctioneering business next door at 33 Anglesea Street from 1819 to 1852.

Dublin book auctioneers

John Dunton’s Dublin Scuffle, an account of his ‘ramble’ to Ireland in the summer of 1698 with his ‘venture of Books (of near Ten Tun)’ to sell at auction in Dublin,[30] is an invaluable record of the Dublin book trade at this period. Well acquainted with the leading booksellers and book buyers, he was quick to give a shrewd pen portrait of most of them. Dunton found that he was not the first to introduce the auction as a form of sale to Ireland. He mentions William Norman, Robert Thornton and Patrick Campbell, the latter a rival bookseller to whom the Dublin scuffle is addressed, as book auctioneers trading in Dublin. Richard Pue senior was the eponymous proprietor of Dick’s coffee house in Skinner Row, which was the main venue for book auctions from the late seventeenth century. Dunton held two book auctions there before he transferred to Patt’s coffee house in High Street for his third auction.[31]

Richard Wilde, bookseller in the London and Dublin trades, managed Dunton’s three auctions in Dublin. Dunton says of Wilde the he was ‘the first that brought an Auction thither [Dick’s coffee house], that had kept several there, and was the means of bringing Mr Thornton’s formerly, and mine now’.[32] He notes particularly that Wilde was the proprietor of the shelves that stood in the back room of Dick’s coffee house,[33] which suggests that Wilde may have conducted the book auctions at Dick’s on behalf of some of the booksellers, notably Robert Thornton. Wilde obviously gave satisfaction as an auctioneer as Dunton ‘engaged him in a second Auction for Scotland, and were I to make a third as far as Rome (as who knows but I may, for I design to see his Holiness) Mr Richard Wilde would be the sole Manager.’[34] Wilde, however, continued as auctioneer in Dublin, advertising as an auctioneer of lands in addition to books in 1710. He died intestate in 1715.[35]

Pollard had identified the earliest extant Dublin catalogue, a fragmentary auction catalogue of William Norman’s for 1693, where he offered for auction ‘Books in several Faculties … and several Spanish, French, Italian and Dutch Books’.[36] Norman (1676-1705) was a bookseller from 1676 and his auctioneering business seems to have been extensive by 1698 when Dunton was taken to his warehouse to view his stock ‘where he had a large Auction, preparing, as he said, for Sale’.[37] John Ware (1698-1713), described by Dunton as ‘honest Ware’, sold books by auction at Dick’s coffee house in 1698 as evidenced by a surviving copy of the catalogue of the library of Thomas Scudamore.[38] Another auction catalogue of Ware’s from November 1710, giving no consignor’s name, offered books in several faculties and languages for sale at Dick’s.[39] Ware’s bookshop was in ‘High Street over against St Michael’s church’, where he traded in ‘all sorts of Choice Books, School-Books, Histories’ as well as writing paper, pens, ink, wax, wafers &c. He died in 1714 and in 1715 his widow, Mary Ware, held book auctions at her bookshop ‘next door to the Raven in Fishamble Street’.[40] She sold the library of Rev. Dr Wettenhall, Bishop of Kilmore and Ardagh, in February and March 1714-15, possibly by fixed-priced catalogue rather than by auction. This library contained ‘many very Valuable Books, in several Languages and Faculties’.[41]

In the first two decades of the century a number of book auctioneers held regular auctions in Dublin, Robert Thornton (1681-1718), John Affleck (1696-1723), John Crawford (fl. 1718-1720), and John Chantry (1719-1742), John Affleck was journeyman to Patrick Campbell, Dunton’s rival in the Dublin scuffle, from 1696 to 1704. He became a bookseller in his own right at the Keay in St Bridget’s Street until May 1716, and at Buchanan’s Head, Dame Street until 1721.[42] He specialised in imported books, in August 1715 and again in May 1716 he advertised a ‘great parcel of curious Books’ which he had imported from Holland.[43] In 1720 he advertised his willingness to conduct diverse auctions including ‘Books, Lands, Houses, Pictures and Household Goods &c’.[44] John Crawford at ‘the Colledge Arms in Dame-Street’ in 1718, and at the Exchange, Cork Hill in 1719, advertised his auctions in October 1718 when he offered the library of a gentleman and the stock of a bookseller lately deceased, for sale at Dick’s Coffee House, catalogues gratis.[45]

In 1718 John Chantry moved to Dublin from London, where he was a bookseller from 1693. His first bookshop was next door to Ralph Dutton’s Arms in Clarendon Street.[46] An anonymous advertisement from July 1719 is certainly that of Chantry ‘within two doors of Sir Ralph Dutton’s Arms in Clarendon Street; next William Street’. He offered a ‘Curious Collection of Antient and Modern Books, about one thousand Volumes in Latin, French and English’ which he would sell at very reasonable rates. Priced catalogues were issued for his stock, and he offered good prices for a library or study of books.[47] The exact form of wording is used in another anonymous advertisement of July 1721, giving Chantry’s new address ‘opposite the Watch House on the North-side of College Green’.[48] Chantry held book sales regularly opposite the watch house from 1720 to 1727. By 1721 he was taking out large advertisements for his new book stock as well as his collection of sale books,[49] and also taking subscriptions for new books.[50] In December 1727 he moved to the corner of Sycamore Alley in Dame Street where he continued in business as a bookseller.[51] With the move to Sycamore Alley, Chantry began to give his name on advertisements. He carried on his business by issuing a priced catalogue for his sale stock rather than by conducting open auctions. Even when selling a private library, such as the ‘curious Collection of Books in Latin, French, Italian and English’, the library of the Rev. Mr Placette in January 1727/28, and when the sale was of limited duration, ‘this Day and every Day next Week’, the catalogue contained the price of each book.[52]

Luke Dowling (1697-1742), bookseller next door to the Wool Pack in High Street, proposed to auction books early in 1719, having bought the residue of stock of James Malone, a bookseller retiring from business, on 27 January 1718/19.[53] He planned to auction the remaining books from Malone’s ‘choice Collection of Books’, and Malone’s stock of chapbooks would be sold wholesale and retail to country chapmen.[54] The auction took place on 9 November 1719 at Dick’s coffee house and catalogues were issued for the sale.[55] Late in 1720 he offered a choice collection of books for auction at Dick’s.[56] Richard Norris (1719-1745), bookseller at the corner of Crane Lane, was a book auctioneer from at least 1723 when he issued a catalogue of books to be sold by auction.[57] A surviving catalogue of Norris’s containing over 1,700 lots testifies to an auction of a ‘Choice Collection of Valuable Books’ at Dick’s coffee house on 3 November 1729.[58]

Robert Thornton (1682-1723) was printer, bookseller, publisher, book auctioneer and bookbinder in Dublin from 1682. He was granted the office of King’s Stationer in Ireland in October 1692.[59] Dunton described him as King’s stationer in 1698, as well as a book auctioneer, when he treated him to a ‘Bottle of Excellent Claret’.[60] An advertisement of November 1722 is a general notice offering to auction books ‘for the Benefit of Clergymen’s, Lawyers’, or other Gentlemen’s Widows, or Executors’ at Dick’s coffee house. He also offered ready money for old books.[61] He produced a general sale catalogue of books ‘in most Faculties and Languages’ in 1723, to which he appended an advertisement: ‘Books to be sold by Auction every Term henceforward, at Dick’s Coffee House in Skinner’s Row’.[62] He continued to offer ‘ready Money for Old Books’ and also took the opportunity to advertise his stationery wares.

Thornton was succeeded by his sons Thomas (1722-1741) and Charles (1726-1728). Thomas was the most active in the auctioneering business, issuing several catalogues from at least 1726 until 1741. In addition to the surviving catalogues of Rev. Nicholas Knight (1732), John Huson (1737) and Rev. Thomas Sheridan (1739), newspaper advertisements provide evidence of other auctions of private libraries held by Thornton during the 1720s and 1730s.[63] In November 1726 he issued catalogues for the sale of the books and pictures of Sir Hovenden Walker. From Thornton’s advertisements the frequency of book sales is noticeable. On Monday 15 November 1736 the library of Dr Alex M’Naghten, M.D. was auctioned at 11 o’clock in the morning and that evening at 5 o’clock a general sale of books ‘in several Faculties’ was held at Dick’s. The following Monday, 22 November, the library of Robert Allen was to be sold at Dick’s coffee house.[64] At his death on 30 October 1741 Thornton was described as ‘the most eminent Auctioneer for Books in this Kingdom’.[65]

Sales of private libraries were conducted by a number of prominent book auctioneers at mid-century, William Heatly (1730-1742), William Ross (1746-1765), Robert Bell (1759-1767) and Thomas Armitage (1759-1786). William Heatly of the Bible and Dove on College Green advertised that he would ‘supply the place of Mr Thomas Thornton, deceas’d, in selling Books by Auction’.[66] His first sale, the auction of Rev. Mr Goodwin’s books ‘which hath been deferr’d by reason of the death of Mr Thornton’ was held at Dick’s coffee house on 30 November 1741.[67] The following February he advertised the sale of a collection of books, the property of Mr William Dobbs, surgeon, also at Dick’s.[68] Heatly was not to fill Thornton’s place, however, as he lived for less than a year after Thornton. Richard Pue the younger (1728-1758) succeeded his father as proprietor of Dick’s coffee house. His mother, Elizabeth Pue, had run the coffee house and the newspaper publishing business at the back of Dick’s since the death of Richard senior in 1722. Richard took over publication of Pue’s Occurrences in 1731. In 1742, after the death of William Heatly, Pue announced that he had undertaken the business and would begin to auction books.[69] He began with two auctions, the first on 8 November 1742, the library of Rev. Dr Debutts, the auction taking place at Dick’s at 5 o’clock. The catalogue of the second auction, the library of the late Thomas Ash, Esq., counsellor at law, was to be printed the following week on 15 November.[70]

Bacon’s coffee house on Essex Street was a venue for auctions until 1742 with Thomas Bacon (1738-1743) as auctioneer. Bacon began his career as a book auctioneer, becoming a bookseller, printer and corrector of the press.[71] Auctions were advertised in the winter of 1740 and the spring of 1741, comprising books in all languages and faculties, paintings, coins and medals.[72] Joshua Kinnier (1743-1777), on the Lower Blind Quay, auctioned libraries in loose partnerships with other booksellers. In 1743 Kinnier and Zachariah Martineau sold the library of Rev. John Copping, Dean of Clogher, and in 1745 Kinnier and Augustus Long sold that of Rev. Carew Reynell, Bishop of Derry.[73] Long also auctioned books on his own, in 1747 he advertised a sale at the Merchant’s coffee house in Essex Street.[74]

Richard Pue employed William Ross as his book auctioneer in 1746. Soon afterwards Ross went into business on his own, using Dick’s as his auction room.[75] He auctioned the libraries of a clergyman and an eminent physician at Dick’s on 18 November 1747, addressing ‘Widows, Executors and others’ with ‘Books to dispose of at Auction’, he offered ready money for libraries and parcels of books.[76] He held very many book sales up to the time of his death in 1765. His sales included the libraries of Samuel Card Esq. (1755), Rev. Dr Francis Hutchinson, Bishop of Down and Connor (1756), Dr Thomas Lloyd (1758), H. Cuningham (1760) and Rev. Robert Downes, Bishop of Raphoe (1764).[77]  His own book stock was auctioned in 1766 by James Vallance.[78]

Laurence Flin (1754-1771), with his nephew and successor Laurence Larkin Flin (1771-1787), based their bookselling business around the production of a priced annual sale catalogue, usually with a supplement. From 1758 Flin also held auctions at ‘the Golden Ball, on the North side of College Green, opposite the statue of King William’. In 1760 he sold three libraries together at the Golden Ball, that of Rev. John Lawson, D.D., Rev. John Hastings, B.D. and Rev. Mordaunt Hamilton.[79] In 1766 the library of Rev. Dr Richard Pococke, Bishop of Meath, and that of Dr John Fergus, came under his hammer.[80] Libraries were often included in the annual priced catalogue, although not segregated from the rest of the stock. This was also the practice of London booksellers such as Thomas Osborne of Gray’s Inn. The second part of Laurence Larkin Flin’s catalogue for 1780 included in its ‘several Thousand volumes’ the library of an eminent Barrister and a ‘great Variety of the best Authors in the French and Italian languages’ while his catalogue for 1781 included the collections of ‘a late Divine and two other Gentlemen deceased’ and for 1782 ‘the Libraries of two literary Gentlemen lately deceased’.[81]


Robert Bell (1759-1767) was bookseller, publisher and book auctioneer during the 1760s. His bookshop was at the Book and Bell in Dame Street. He had his own auction room on Cork Hill opposite Lucas’s coffee house from 1761 and at the corner of Stephen Street, opposite Aungier Street from 1763 to 1767.[82] Later he took over Stretch’s Theatre in Capel Street as his auction room and it became known as Bell’s Great Library Room. Bell was declared bankrupt in 1767 and his stock auctioned by Thomas Armitage on behalf of the sheriffs of Dublin on 2 December.[83] The auction included the sale of his leasehold on his great theatre in Capel Street. He emigrated to American where he became a prosperous bookseller and auctioneer in Philadelphia.[84] The following year, 1768, Stretch’s Theatre was used as an auction room by Michael Duggan.[85]

Thomas Armitage took over William Ross’s auction room at Dick’s coffee house for his own sales in 1766.[86] On 30 November 1767 he auctioned the library of Dominick Sarsfield, counsellor at law, at Dick’s.[87] Armitage used Dick’s until 1771 when he opened his bookshop and auction room in Crampton Court. He continued to hold book sales until 1786 when he retired from business. While primarily a book auctioneer, Armitage was also willing to take ‘Goods of several Kinds, which he disposes of by Auction’.[88] In October 1786, when he quit the business, part of his bound stock was sold at auction by Stephen Armitage of 15 Castle Street.[89] From 1785 Stephen Armitage auctioned libraries and gave ready money for parcels of books.[90] Doing business from the same address in Castle Street, it is probable that he was the son or relative of Thomas Armitage.

Several large and prominent libraries came on the market from the late 1730s to the late 1760s. None was spectacular in size or range, but those whose catalogues have survived display an active interest in history, voyages and travels, scientific topics, and show a noticeable increase in the number of foreign language books present in the collections, usually in French and Italian. The Latin and Greek classics, books on divinity and sermons remained prominent in most collections.

From the 1770s several big sales were held which widened public interest in the auction form, auctioneers such as William Gilbert (1761-1815), James Vallance (1764-1808) and Richard Edward Mercier (1791-1820) conducted some of the most prestigious sales of the century.

William Gilbert, bookseller and stationer, began to sell books by auction from 1772 when he moved to a new shop at 26 Great George’s Street.[91] He also had an interest in the auction room at 15 Dame Street, where he valued books and held auctions with the firm of Gilbert and Euart.[92] He used public venues, such as Geminiani’s Great Room, for his more prestigious sales. In 1774 he advertised a gentleman’s library in different languages with ‘a great variety of the best modern French authors’ as its chief selling point; the sale was to take place at Mr Chapman’s auction room in College Green.[93] On 20 November 1774 he held the sale of the notable library of the provost of Trinity College Dublin, Rt. Hon. Francis Andrews, in Geminiani’s great room.[94] But on 5 December of that year he used his own auction room at 15 Dame Street for the sale of the library of Rev. Dr John Leland.[95] Geminiani’s great room was again the venue for his auctions in June 1776 of the library of Thomas Southwell Esq., M.D., and in November for the sale of the libraries of a deceased clergyman and a ‘Gentleman who has left the Kingdom’.[96] Catalogues for the June sale were available at his bookshop in Great George’s Street. From the 1780s Gilbert turned from auctioneering to a specialisation in medical books, issuing annual priced catalogues of his stock.[97]

James Vallance was the principal name in book auctioneering at this period. From 1766 until his death in 1808 Vallance was involved in the sale of some of the most valuable libraries in the country. For his early auctions his name was associated with that of Michael Duggan, suggesting a partnership of some kind between them during the period 1766 to 1768.[98] His first known sale was the stock of William Ross, bookseller, in March 1766, catalogues were available from Duggan’s bookshop in Bride’s Alley, from Vallance’s bookshop in Grafton Street, and at the place of sale. Both names were associated with the sales of the libraries of Francis Bindon and Richard Terry on 2 May 1768, which took place at Crampton Court.[99] With William McGarry, Vallance had transacted business for William Ross, and after Ross’s death in 1767 they announced their intention to carry on the auction business.[100] In 1769 Vallance and McGarry sold the library of the Rev. Mr Burgh, at Shaw’s Court, Dame Street.[101] Vallance acted alone at this period also and in December 1767 he advertised the sale of the library of John Bull Esq., attorney at law, at his own auction room in Suffolk Street, near Grafton Street.[102] The address at 16 Suffolk Street remained Vallance’s base until about 1782, although his auctions usually took place at other locations, mainly at Crampton Court of Shaw’s Court.[103] He had an auction room at the Old Post Office Yard from about 1781 to 1791, when his bookshop was located at College Green.[104] In July 1787 he auctioned the renowned library of Archbishop John Carpenter, Catholic archbishop of Dublin, but none of the printed catalogues have survived.[105]

Bookshop and auction room were combined with his move to 6 Eustace Street in 1792, here he remained until his death in 1808. From this new premises Vallance held one of the most high-profile sales of the century, that of Hon. Denis Daly in May 1792. The following year, intending perhaps to keep the public’s interest primed he announced in his advertisement for the libraries of two gentlemen and H. Hone in April 1793 that the sale ‘for Variety and Value, by far exceeds any Collection he has the honour hitherto to offer to their Notice excepting that of the late Rt Hon. Denis Daly.[106] As well as book auctions, Vallance conducted auctions of original paintings and prints, having sold the library of Judge Robert Hellen on 10 February 1794, he issued catalogues for the collection of pictures, drawings, prints, statues, plate and china for auction on 27 February.[107] In November 1807 he sold the collection of J. Barker Esq., which included works by Van Ruysdael, Cuyp, Rembrandt and Van Dyke.[108] One of his last sales, that of Thomas Goold on 21 April 1808, was auctioned by Vallance and Jones, indicates the handing over of the reins to Thomas Jones, who occupied the premises at Eustace Street and carried on the auctioneering business until 1831.[109] Very many of Vallance’s auction catalogues have survived, but a large number of his sales are known only from advertisements.

Richard Edward Mercier began his career as James Vallance’s sale clerk, but in 1793 he set up his own business as bookseller and auctioneer. He auctioned such prestigious libraries as that of Lord Mornington (1795), Provost Richard Murray (1800) and Joseph Cooper Walker (1817). Part of his own stock was sold by ‘order of the Assignees’ on 2 December 1807 at his auction room, 31 Anglesea Street, however he continued in business until 1821.[110]

Auctions of foreign language books took place towards the end of the century. Antoine Gerna (1786-1795) was foreign language bookseller at 50 Summerhill in 1786, and from 1787, at 31 College Green. He specialised in French and Italian literature and had spent many years as a teacher and translator of both languages. His earliest recorded book sale catalogue is from 1787, though no copy seems to be extant. The catalogue consisted of ‘a capital Collection of Books in the French Language, with a Supplement, Containing Works of Reputation in the Italian and other Languages’. Catalogues cost 6½d. and were available from William Wilson’s bookshop and Mrs Chamberlaine’s as well as from the place of sale, 50 Summerhill.[111] In 1788 Gerna’s foreign language books were offered for sale by auction at his sale room, 31 College Green. He described them as ‘the greatest variety of Books, in different Languages, ever offered for sale in this Kingdom’. The catalogue of books for each day’s sale was issued ‘every previous morning’. Gerna appealed to the cultural aspirations of his clientele, never to their desire for cheap books. He advised them to purchase ‘at this Enlightened period, when the Polite languages of Europe are disseminated for the intercourse of Knowledge, Elegance of Taste, and Advantage of Science through its various kingdoms’. He encouraged ‘Ladies and Gentlemen to supply themselves with the finest Editions of the Polite Literature of the Continent’.[112]

One sale catalogue of Gerna’s survives, that of 1793, but it is a fixed price catalogue and not an auction catalogue.[113] It contains 2,133 lots in French and Italian, including an entire section devoted to the works of Voltaire. Gerna issued both fixed price and auction catalogues, though the latter were the more ephemeral, catalogues produced only the day before the sale were probably not of an enduring quality, and may not even have been printed. In 1795 he announced his retirement from business, and his stock consisting of a ‘choice Collection in French, Italian and other modern languages, the most of which have been lately imported from the Continent’ was sold by auction by James Vallance on 19 February.[114]

The private libraries put up for sale in the last quarter of the century show a deep appreciation of European trends in book collecting and library building. Some collections such as the library of the Hon. Denis Daly, Lord Mornington, Dr Arthur Browne, Provost Richard Murray and Thomas Wogan Browne are truly international in content.[115] These sales were attended by scholars and collectors and even institutional libraries were tempted to purchase. In 1792 a sum of £100 was borrowed by the Belfast Society for Promoting Knowledge to make purchases at the Daly sale in Dublin.[116]

General auctioneers also sold libraries, often as part of a property or house contents sale. After the death of Dr Charles Lucas in November 1771 his entire property was sold, with Henry Dobson, upholder, in charge of the sale.[117] Lucas’s town house in Henry Street, his country house in Penneville, Ballybough Bridge, and all his household furniture were auctioned. On 13 April 1772 his library ‘in several languages’ and his medical apparatus were for sale, followed on the 18 April by the sale of his collection of prints.[118] As the sale was so complete, comprising property and furniture as well as the library, it was clearly outside the scope of the more specialist booksellers. General auctioneers were often employed by the sheriffs of Dublin in cases of book sales following bankruptcy. In January 1784 the sheriffs of Dublin sold the household furniture of William Ruxton, late surgeon general, at his house, 4 Hoey’s Court, Werburgh Street. The sale included furniture ‘as will be more fully expressed in hand bills’, plate, choice old port, claret, white wine and mead, ‘a most valuable collection of books’ and surgical instruments. The auctioneers were Hawkins and Davis, and catalogues of the books were to be had at the place of sale.[119] In December of the same year Hawkins and Davis again did duty for the sheriffs and sold the house of the earl of Clanwilliam, together with carriages, horses, household furniture, paintings and his library of books.[120] In February 1784 the sheriffs put up for auction the house of the late Rev. Dr Thomas Carr in Kildare Street ‘by virtue of several writs of Fieri Facias’ and also ‘the household furniture, plate, china, glass and house linen, a large organ fit for a church; a small barrel ditto; a fine toned harpsichord and spinet; a carriage and horses; and a large well chosen library of books; a number of paintings of the best artists.’ Particulars would be circulated in hand bills.[121] The following week Richard Edwards, upholder at Great ship Street, was employed by the sheriffs to dispose of the library of John Tunnadine Esq. at the great room in Anglesea Street.[122]

It was common practice to sell booksellers’ bound stock by auction at their retirement, death, or bankruptcy. The unbound stock of a bookseller was not usually auctioned in this manner, but offers were taken from other booksellers. In 1732 Mrs Vizard, a pewterer at the Castle Market, Dame Street, sold the stock and library of William Binauld, foreign language bookseller, with the libraries of a clergyman and a lawyer.[123] When Sarah Hyde gave up the bookselling business in April 1749 her stock consisting of bound books and books in sheets was auctioned and catalogues were issued for the sale. Her newly-built house on the south side of Dame Street, with a back house, yard, garden and out offices were offered for letting.[124] The book stock of Richard Gunne was sold by auction by Laurence Flin after Gunne’s death in 1758.[125] Later that year George Risk, quitting the bookselling business, had his ‘large collection of Choice and Valuable Books’ auctioned by Laurence Flin in Temple Court, Castle Street.[126] John Smith’s book stock was sold by William Ross in two segments in April and December 1758 when he retired from business.[127] Robert Bell, bookseller and auctioneer, was declared bankrupt in 1767 and his stock auctioned by Thomas Armitage on behalf of the sheriffs of Dublin.[128] At the retirement of Thomas Ewing, bookseller, in 1776, the remaining portion of his bound stock was put up for sale at his shop , 29 Capel Street, with Luke White as auctioneer. After the sale of books a collection of prints and drawings was sold, followed by the letting of his house, warehouses, coach house and stable.[129] When Edward Walsh, bookseller at Bridge Street, died in 1773 his stock of books was ‘to be sold by a Valuation, wither in Whole or in Parcels’.[130] Arthur Grueber, bookseller and lottery office keeper in Dame Street was declared bankrupt in May 1793 and his choice collection of modern French books was sold by auction by James Vallance in July; catalogues were issued for the sale.[131] Part of the bound stock of Elizabeth Lynch, bookseller to the King’s Inns, was auctioned after her death by James Vallance in July 1794.[132] In May 1802, James Moore of 45 College Green, who intended to retire from business, put his stock of £20,000 worth of books and stationery, up for auction.[133]

Provincial book auctions

Because of the nature of Irish society in the eighteenth century when most country landowners had a town house in Dublin, and spent several months in the capital during the season, Dublin was the main centre for book auctions throughout the century. The book-buying public was concentrated in Dublin for all or part of every year. However, book auctions also took place in Cork, Belfast and Waterford. The sale of books by auction in the country towns differed in several respects from the practice in Dublin. Specialisation was one of the defining features of the Dublin trade, from the late seventeenth century book auctioneers operated within the book trade. They had sufficient custom to make the sale of books by auction and catalogue a viable commercial concern. Most had a bookshop for new and secondhand books, stationery and perhaps patent medicines, but few extended their auctioneering beyond the sale of pictures, drawings and prints, and occasionally plate and china. Business in the provincial towns, however, was much less specialised. Even in the cities of Cork, Belfast, Limerick, Waterford and Kilkenny the range of activities pursued by each bookseller was impressive, ranging from the sale of books, periodicals and stationery to running the local newspaper, the latter an activity also carried on by their Dublin colleagues. Country booksellers were agents for patent medicines, jobbing printers, employment registries for servants, sheet music and instrument sellers, lottery office keepers, insurance agents, duty stamp distributors, and they concentrated on the supply of schoolbooks and chapbooks.

Dublin booksellers occasionally distributed their auction catalogues in the larger cities and towns and took commissions from the booksellers. The first recorded evidence of this practice is for John Dunton’s auctions in 1698 when he distributed catalogues for his three sales to the coffee houses in Limerick, Cork, Kilkenny, Clonmel, Wexford and Galway.[134] Late in the century James Vallance distributed his catalogues in Cork and Belfast, but not to the other cities and towns. In 1788 he auctioned the books, drawings and prints of two gentlemen lately deceased, and catalogues were available at Thomas White’s bookshop in Cork and Mr Smith’s bookshop in Belfast.[135] This was a large auction, the libraries amounting to 5,000 volumes of the ‘best books’. Catalogues for the Daly auction in 1792 were for sale at Thomas White’s in Cork and William Magee’s bookshop in Belfast.[136]

Evidence to date for specialised book auctions only comes from Belfast, Cork and Waterford. In the 1780s Belfast had a number of general auction rooms where books were sold, J. Bailie’s auction rooms on Chichester Quay,[137] where a weekly auction was established in 1785 for household furniture, Lamont’s auction room in Wilson’s Court, High Street in 1789,[138] and Joshua Lomax’s room in High Street in 1789.[139] John Tisdall, bookseller and printer of the Belfast Mercury, offered a valuable and scarce collection of books for sale by auction at the corner shop of Donegall Street, opposite the coffee house in Belfast in January 1786. The sale of over 1,000 volumes, ‘a variety of Latin, French and English Books too numerous to publish’, took place every evening at 7 o’clock. Tisdall promised his buyers that ‘there are not duplicates of more than one Dozen Books’ in the sale. Two catalogues were issued for the two weeks of sales. The second was available on the morning of 31 January for the auction to begin the next evening.[140]

In Cork William Flyn (1764-1801), bookseller, printer and proprietor of the Hibernian Chronicle, was involved in book auctioneering during the 1770s. In August 1770 the sale took place of the library of Dr Joseph Fenn Sleigh at the Exchange coffee house, and catalogues were available from Flyn.[141] In October of the same year the library of Rev. Dr Marmaduke Philips was auctioned at the County Court House, and Flyn held the catalogues.[142] The catalogue of the library of Sir Richard Cox was printed by him in 1772, and the sale was held in Zachary Morris’s Great Room in Boland’s Lane.[143] It is not known if Flyn conducted the auctions himself, or what the precise nature of his involvement was. However, as he offered the highest price for libraries in 1769 it is likely that the auctions were conducted on his behalf.[144] Zachary Morris was a general auctioneer in Cork and he may have acted as auctioneer at the Cox sale.

In Waterford Hugh Ramsey (1740-1785), bookseller, proprietor of the Waterford Chronicle, and with Hans Wallace, auctioneer of lands, at least once turned his hand to the sale of a private library. On 2 September 1771 he auctioned the library of Dr Eaton Edwards, Doctor of Physick, at the Exchange in Waterford. The sale included the ‘large and valuable Collection of Books’ and his collection of plate.[145] The advertisement appeared in July for the September sale, a lead-in which suggests that interest had to be drummed up well in advance.

Dublin book auctioneers sometimes took a stock of books and conducted auctions in the provincial cities. It is not known how this was greeted by the booksellers already established there. In July 1767 Robert Bell brought his books from Dublin to sell by auction in Kilkenny and Tipperary, this coincided with his bankruptcy and the subsequent sale of his stock, so it may have been a last ditch attempt to liquidate his assets. His Kilkenny auction was held next door to the Royal Garter. His stock consisted of history, voyages, travels, biography, novels and entertainment, and catalogues were issued for the sale. He intended to stay only for a few days and then to move to Clonmel, Cashel and Carrick-on-Suir, in County Tipperary.[146] Mr Jameson of Dublin ‘opened a book Auction’ in Broughal’s Lane in Waterford in the summer of 1775, but unluckily on the morning of 22 July he was drowned ‘near the Ring Tower as he was stepping from a gabbard.’[147] Stephen Armitage, bookseller of 15 Castle Street, Dublin, auctioned books in Cork in 1783, having got 250 handbills printed in advance.[148] He spent the summer season of 1785 in Bridge Street, Belfast, conducting a book auction in the evenings. The collection consisted of ‘Books entirely Novel to any ever Exposed to sale here, all of them new and elegantly bound, including most of the late admired Publications’. As his stay would be short he guaranteed that the terms of sale would be ‘vastly more moderate than usual’. As well as the auctions he promised to attend every day from 10 until 3 to accommodate ladies and gentlemen unable to come in the evenings, he offered ‘any article in the Collection at the average auction prices’.[149] This presents an interesting mix of auction and open sale from the one collection.

Joshua Lomax, bookseller at 2 Crow Street, Dublin, from 1789 to 1795,[150] carried his book auctions to different cities around Ireland. He auctioned books in Belfast in the late 1780s and 1790s.[151] He advertised a series of book auctions in Munster in 1792-93. The first sale was to take place in Cork in September 1792 ‘at a Shop on Daunt’s Bridge, Grand Parade’ when a collection of 3,000 elegant books, from London and Dublin, ‘many of which are new Publications and the best Editions’ would be offered for sale every evening.[152] A catalogue was issued free for the sale. He also offered money for libraries and parcels of books. In June 1793 Mr Lomax ‘from Dublin’ held a sale of a ‘large and valuable Collection of Books’ at the Devonshire House in Quay Lane, near the Exchange in Waterford, from 7 until 10 in the evening. Once again he gave money for libraries and exchanged books.[153]

Most auctions of books outside Dublin would have taken place as part of a house and land sale, conducted by a general auctioneer. In June 1747 the house of William Wall Esq. of Carrick in County Tipperary was auctioned, along with his household furniture. Included in the furniture sale were book cases, a ‘great Variety of the best Italian Prints’, ‘Painted Landscapes’, a pair of globes and ‘several Books in most Faculties’.[154] In this respect the Irish situation varied considerably from that pertaining in the English provinces. A study of Yorkshire book sales has revealed that auctions were carried on by local booksellers as part of the book trade from 1691 to the end of the eighteenth century, with a marked increase from about 1738 with the spread of newspaper publishing in the area.[155] Fixed price sale catalogues were an important feature of the provincial book trade in both England and Ireland from the mid-eighteenth century.

After the passing of the Act of Union in 1801 and the consequent decline in the importance of Dublin for the nobility and gentry, and the end of the parliamentary seasons, more auctions were held in the provincial towns, and many more became the preserve of the London auctioneers, as the fortunes of Irish families shifted to London.

Book auction catalogues

Book auction catalogues and priced commercial catalogues are both of great value for the study of the distribution of books. The auction catalogue could represent a private library, a miscellaneous collection of books, or a selection of commercial stock to be sold by auction. Catalogues are particularly valuable if they represent the private library of a family or collector. The addition of prices, either printed in a commercial catalogue, or in manuscript in an auction catalogue, give an indication of the going rate of a title, its rarity and its popularity; the quality of paper, illustrations and binding will be reflected in the price.

Printed catalogues were issued for book auctions from the late seventeenth century. The earliest English catalogue is that of the library of Dr Lazarus Seaman from 1676, and the earliest extant Irish catalogue dates to 1693, and was issued by William Norman.[156] Catalogues were distributed free to potential buyers, although for the more prestigious sales they were priced. The catalogue of the Denis Daly auction was priced at 2s.8½d., catalogues for the Mornington sale cost one shilling.[157] Vallance charged 6d. or 10d. for some of his larger catalogues, but the cost was deductible if a purchaser spent a certain sum.[158] Catalogues were usually available at the auctioneer’s premises and at the place of sale, if that was different. In the early eighteenth century catalogues could be had from booksellers and coffee houses. For the auction of James Malone’s book stock in January 1718/19 catalogues were available at Dick’s, Pedro’s, Lucas’s, Patt’s and other coffee houses, as well as at the place of sale, Malone’s bookshop at the Holy Lamb in High Street.[159] Catalogues for book sales held at Dick’s coffee house in 1720 were available from most booksellers and coffee houses in Dublin.[160] In June 1726 the Anne and Grecian coffee house held priced catalogues for a sale of ‘Valuable Books in Divinity, Law, History, &c,’ to be held in Ross Lane.[161] It is difficult to ascertain if these catalogues were usually printed, or if they circulated in manuscript. Some of the more extensive catalogues were certainly printed, as examples are still extant, but it is possible that for smaller sales manuscript lists were used. For example, for the sale of the library of Rev. Mr Placette in 1727/28, John Chantry issued a ‘written catalogue’ with prices given.[162]

Printed catalogues for Dublin sales were sometimes distributed to the larger cities and towns. In 1698 John Dunton’s printed catalogues for each of his three sales were ‘delivered Gratis at Dick’s Coffee House (the Place of Sale), and at the Coffee Houses in Limerick, Cork, Kilkenny, Clonmel, Wexford, Galway, and other Places’.[163] This gave buyers in the provincial towns an opportunity to send their commissions to Dublin in time for the sale. This was an unusual practice in Ireland in the late seventeenth century, most auctions were smaller and more narrow-ranging, concentrating mainly on Dublin. For most of the eighteenth century catalogues were issued a short time in advance of the sale, and newspaper advertisements were inserted only a few days before it was due to begin. However, when Laurence Flin issued his annual sale catalogue in 1777 it was available in October 1776 from John Murray in Fleet Street, London, allowing potential customers in London to sample his sale stock.[164] Late in the century James Vallance distributed his catalogues to Cork and Belfast. In 1788 he auctioned the books, drawings and prints of two gentlemen lately deceased, and catalogues were available at Thomas White’s bookshop in Cork and Mr Smith’s bookshop in Belfast.[165] This was a large auction, the libraries amounting to 5,000 volumes of the ‘best books’.

For the Daly sale in May 1792 catalogues were printed in late March and went on sale in Cork, Belfast and from the ‘principal Booksellers in Great Britain, and on the Continent’.[166] Likewise, for the sale of the Mornington library, R.E. Mercier’s catalogue was to be had in London, Chester and from the principal booksellers of Great Britain and Ireland.[167] This practice has a precedent in the great sales of the century in England and the continent, where catalogues were available to purchasers outside the country, who could attend in person or send commissions. Catalogues of the Bibliotheca Parisiana sale were available at Mr Edwards’, Pall Mall, London, from Mr Laurent, Rue de la Harpe, Paris, and from the principal booksellers throughout Europe.[168]

Other celebrated sales were placed within the range of  the Irish book buyer in this way. The sale catalogues of Thomas Osborne of London were advertised by Peter Wilson in 1750, with the announcement that he would take in commissions.[169] George and Alexander Ewing offered the same service in 1753.[170] The Bibliotheca Smithiana, the library of Joseph Smith, his Majesty’s Consul at Venice, and one of the sights of the Grand Tour, was sold by auction in London by Baker and Leigh. The sale was advertised in the Freeman’s Journal in January 1773, and catalogues were available from William Wilson in Dame Street, where commissions were also taken from buyers.[171] In 1802 the prestigious Fagel library came up for sale at Christie’s and catalogues were issued. However, it was acquired in its entirety by Trinity College Dublin before the auction took place.[172] Joseph Cooper Walker referred to it in a letter to William Hayley on 24 June 1802: ‘Perhaps you have heard that the College of Dublin has purchased Fagel’s valuable library’, indicating that the book buying public closely followed the sales of well-known collectors.[173]

Fixed price sale catalogues were an important feature of the provincial book trade in both England and Ireland from the mid eighteenth century. These catalogues served a dispersed reading and book-buying public. Priced sale catalogues were employed for the American market to facilitate booksellers and book purchasers in their choice of reading matter. In May 1783 Luke White had 250 catalogues printed ‘for America’ to promote the sale of his publications there.[174] From the Graisberry ledgers, accounts of the printing firm from 1777 to 1785, print-runs of 250 to 500 were usual for sale catalogues, although for some fixed price catalogues this rose to 750.[175] From May 1797 strict controls were brought in to regulate auctioneering and to raise revenue by the imposition of a duty on auctioned items. The auctioneer had to pay 3d. in the £ on lands, tenements, imported merchandise, ships, plate or jewels, and 6d. in the £ on furniture, pictures, books, horses and carriages.[176] Every auctioneer was obliged to be licensed at the rate of 20s. a year in Dublin and 10s. a year in the rest of the country. They were also obliged to give notice of the sale and to provide a written or printed catalogue of the goods to be sold.[177]

Hand bills, far more ephemeral items than auction catalogues, have rarely survived for eighteenth-century auctions. The were used instead of, or as well as, the catalogue to describe the lots to be auctioned. They were delivered free, often from door to door, or posted on public notices, very shortly before the sale. Dunton refers to ‘my very Porter Bacon (who brought the Bill of every Days sale to your Doors)’.[178] General auctioneers, in particular, used hand bills to give details of the objects to be sold. In January 1784 auctioneers Hawkins and Davis, on behalf of the sheriffs of Dublin sold the household furniture of William Ruxton, late surgeon general, the sale included furniture ‘as will be more fully expressed in hand bills’.[179] One surviving example from the early nineteenth century was issued by John Davis, auctioneer, on 23 February 1804, for the sale ‘by Order of the High Court of Chancery’ of Antrim House, in Merrion Square, Dublin.[180] Itemised are details of the house, garden, offices, and household furniture, but unfortunately this hand bill does not include any books. In the first half of the nineteenth century some hand bills for Charles Sharpe’s book auctions have survived, bound in with his collection of catalogues in the library of the Royal Irish Academy. A manuscript was sometimes circulated at an auction, itemising individual books in a large lot such as ‘bundle of plays’.

Because of such activity in the book auctioneering business during the eighteenth century, the secondhand trade was lively. Library owners monitored the auctions, and catalogues of the more prestigious sales were often to be found in private collections. Catalogues of major libraries were retained by collectors, the most frequently encountered catalogues in eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century Irish private libraries were those of John Bridges (1725), the Harleian library (1743), Dr Richard Mead (1754), the Duc de la Vallière (1783), Thomas Crofts (1783), the Crevenna library (1790), Bibliotheca Parisiana (1791), Denis Daly (1792), the Fagel library (1802) and Count McCarthy-Reagh (1815). In his catalogue of 1793 John Archer was selling copies of the Bibliotheca Parisiana and Daly catalogues with prices, as part of a range of sale catalogues.[181]

Sales which comprised a single collection, judiciously assembled with certain interests in mind drew more attention from the public than miscellaneous collections, and the auctioneers were careful to point out the scholarly interests of the gentleman whose library was for sale. Annotated copies of books were regularly listed in auction catalogues, and attention is drawn to them by the auctioneer with the object of increasing interest and raising the price. For example, in Jonathan Swift’s catalogue we are told that the books marked with an asterisk have ‘Remarks or Observations on them in the Hand of Dr Swift’, thus according them a greater value.[182] Towards the end of the century the principal private libraries were known and access to rare books and manuscripts was often granted to scholars and other interested readers. R.M. Jephson tells of a visit by Lord Edward Fitzgerald and his wife, Pamela, to Lord Charlemont’s library in 1793 ‘I was fortunate enough to get a sight of the celebrated Pamela, as I happened to be sitting with Lord Charlemont when they both came to see his library. She is elegant and engaging I think in the highest degree, and showed the most judicious taste in her remarks upon the library and curiosities’.[183] The auctions of renowned collections, therefore, took on an added dimension. Auctioneers in their catalogues occasionally supplied the information that a book had come to its last owner from the sale of another well-respected collector.


Book auctions formed part of the Dublin book trade from the late seventeenth century, supplying readers with rare and curious books. The auction catered for a small number of committed book buyers in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, at a time when Dublin bookshops would have unable to provide the range and variety of material demanded by some readers. As well as the sale of private libraries and miscellaneous parcels of books, a consignment of imported stock was often offered for sale by auction, this spiced up the everyday fare available in the Dublin and provincial bookshops. The idea of selling books by auction continued to develop throughout the eighteenth century, so that by century’s end it had become a significant part of the Irish book trade, drawing large audiences and encouraging the expenditure of substantial sums of money. Throughout the century the auction was used as a means of acquiring continental editions in Latin and in the European vernacular languages. Catalogues regularly describe auctions of books in ‘most faculties and languages’ indicating a desire for variety in subject matter and language. In the last quarter of the century catalogues dedicated to French and Italian books were issued by prominent book importers, most notably Luke White, Antoine Gerna and John Archer.

The proliferation of auctions must have meant a far greater choice of reading matter and the opportunity to acquire rare and sought-after items. The dispersal of a known and highly respected collection obviously caused a ripple of interest in the scholarly community. During times of war in Europe, when the importation of books was disrupted, sales of private libraries would have made available material which, otherwise, could not be acquired. Only a relatively small percentage of auction catalogues survive, compared to the number of auctions known to have taken place through newspaper advertisements. Once catalogues for auctions and sales became regular features of the book trade, they helped develop an expertise in the book-buying public which was also advantageous to the trade. The catalogue of a private library gives evidence of the intellectual background of the collector, the thorny question of whether the books were actually read is often offset by the existence of letters, diaries and published articles and books in which the owner discusses his or her reading. From contemporary documents it is known that discussion of books and reading was a frequent topic among cultured men and women.

This paper was read to the 11th Seminar of the History of the Provincial Book Trade, Trinity College Dublin, 3 July 1993, and an extended version published as ‘Book mad: the sale of books by auction in eighteenth-century Dublin’ Dublin Historical Record,  LIV, no.1, Spring 2001, pp 48-71.

Images courtesy of Dublin City Library & Archive (www.dublincitypubliclibraries.ie )

[1] James W. Phillips, Printing and bookselling in Dublin 1670-1800: a bibliographical enquiry (Dublin, Irish Academic Press, 1998), pp 82-6.

[2] M. Pollard, Dublin’s trade in books 1550-1800 (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1989), pp 61-2, 214-7.

[3] Catalogue of the Library of the late Rt Hon. Denis Daly which will be sold by auction by James Vallance on 1 May 1792 (Dublin, printed for the proprietors John Archer and William Jones), 1792. Dublin Chronicle, 24 March 1792.

[4] Irish catalogues are listed in the following: List of catalogues of English book sales 1676-1900 now in the British Museum (London, printed by order of the Trustees, 1915). A catalogue of the Bradshaw collection of Irish books in the University Library Cambridge, 3 volumes (Cambridge: printed for the University Library, 1916). Francis O’Kelley, ‘Irish book-sale catalogues before 1801’, The Bibliographical Society of Ireland, V1, no. 3 (Dublin: at the Sign of the Three Candles, 1953). Walter Gordon Wheeler, ‘Libraries in Ireland before 1855: A Bibliographical Essay’. Submitted in part requirement for the University of London Diploma in Librarianship (May 1957), TCD copy has been revised to May 1965. A.N.L. Munby and Lenore Coral, British book sale catalogues 1676-1800 (London, Mansell, 1977). Richard Cargill Cole, ‘Private libraries in eighteenth-century Ireland’, Library Quarterly, 44, no. 3 (1974), pp 231-47.

[5] Dublin Chronicle, 22 May 1787.

[6] Edmond Malone to Lord Charlemont, 9 June 1787. The manuscripts and correspondence of James, first Earl of Charlemont, 2 volumes, II, 1784-1799 (London, Historical Manuscripts Commission, HMSO, 1894), p. 52.

[7] Charlemont to Malone, 15 June 1792. Correspondence, op. cit., II, pp 193-4.

[8] National Library of Ireland: Ms 27,293, ‘Letters and booksellers’ accounts, John Archer to C.D. Bellew, 1790-1810’; letter dated 14 April 1800.

[9] Freeman’s Journal, 9-11 December 1790.

[10] Veronica Morrow, ‘Bibliotheca Quiniana’ in Peter Fox ed., Treasures of the library: Trinity College Dublin (Dublin, printed for the Library of Trinity College Dublin by the Royal Irish Academy, 1986), pp 184-96.

[11] John T. Gilbert, A history of the city of Dublin, 3 volumes (Dublin, Gill & Macmillan, The Sackville Library, 1978), i, pp 171-5.

[12] Dublin Courant, 19 October 1723. Dublin Weekly Journal, 29 October 1726; 26 November 1726; 20 January 1727/28. Gilbert, History; ii, p. 23.

[13] Dublin Gazette, 13-17 October 1724.

[14] Dublin Weekly Journal, 7-21 October 1727.

[15] Gilbert, History, i, p. 244; ii, p. 15.

[16] Pue’s Occurrences, 18-22 November 1718.

[17] A choice collection of books the library of John Huson, Esq., counsellor at law, deceased (Dublin, Thomas Thornton, 24 November 1737). Catalogue of books, the library of Rev. Dr Thomas Sheridan, deceased (Dublin, Thomas Thornton, 12 November, 1739).

[18] Catalogue of books being the library of Samuel Card Esq., counsellor at law deceased (Dublin, William Ross, 17 November 1755). Catalogue of books being the entire library of Rt Rev. Robert Downes, Lord Bishop of Raphoe (Dublin, William Ross, 23 January 1764). Catalogue of books being the library of the late ingenious Philip Doyne Esq. (Dublin, Michael Dugan, 27 February 1766).

[19] Gilbert, History, ii, pp 280-1.

[20] ‘Francesco Geminiani’, Dublin Historical Record, IV (1941-2), pp 76-8. Brian Boydell, A Dublin musical calendar 1700-1760 (Dublin, Irish Academic Press, 1988), pp 55, 62.

[21] Dublin Courant, 4-8 April 1749.

[22] Dublin News Letter, 1-5 March 1736/37.

[23] Freeman’s Journal, 8-10 November 1774. Independent Chronicle, 13-15 May 1777.

[24] Catalogue of books being the library of the late Rev. John Lawson, D.D., S.F.T.C.D., also the collection of the late Rev. Mordaunt Hamilton, deceased (Dublin, Laurence Flin, 28 April 1760).

[25] Freeman’s Journal, 2-5 November 1771. Gilbert, History, ii, p. 281.

[26] Freeman’s Journal, 3-5 December 1771.

[27] Myers, Robin ‘Sale by auction: the rise of auctioneering exemplified’ in Robin Myers and Michael Harris eds. Sale and distribution of books from 1700 (Oxford, Oxford Polytechnic Press, 1982), pp 126-63; p. 129.

[28] Catalogue of books being the library of Howard Parry, Esq., deceased (Dublin, Robert Bell, 20 January 1762).

[29] A catalogue of books, which will begin to be sold by auction. By the sheriffs of the city of Dublin; being the bound stock in trade of Mr Robt. Bell, Bookseller (Dublin, Thomas Armitage, 2 December 1767).

[30] John Dunton, The Dublin scuffle: being a challenge sent by John Dunton, citizen of London, to Patrick Campbel, bookseller in Dublin (London, printed for the author and sold by A. Baldwin, Warwick Lane, and by the booksellers in Dublin, 1699), p. 22. A new edition, with introduction and notes by Professor Andrew Carpenter (Dublin, Four Courts Press, 2000).

[31] Dunton, Dublin scuffle, p. 19.

[32] Dunton, Dublin scuffle, pp 21, 46.

[33] Dunton, Dublin scuffle, p. 20.

[34] Dunton, Dublin scuffle, p. 110.

[35] M. Pollard, A dictionary of members of the Dublin book trade 1550-1800 (London, Bibliographical Society, 2000). Robert Munter, A dictionary of the print trade in Ireland 1550-1775 (New York, Fordham University Press, 1988). Appendix to the twenty-sixth report of the Deputy Keeper of the Public Records and Keeper of the State Papers in Ireland (Dublin, HMSO, 1895), p. 912.

[36] Pollard, Dublin’s trade in books, p. 62. Auction 23 November 1693 by William Norman.

[37] Dunton, Dublin scuffle, pp 342-3.

[38] A catalogue of books in several faculties and languages being the library of that learned and ingenious gentleman Thomas Scudamore, Esq., deceased. To be sold by John Ware, bookseller, by way of auction at Dick’s Coffee-House, 14 November 1698.

[39] A catalogue of books in several faculties and languages (Dublin, printed by John Ware, bookseller, 1710).

[40] Whalley’s News Letter, 9 February 1714/15.

[41] Whalley’s News Letter, 15 February 1714/15. Supplement to Whalley’s News Letter, 21 March 1714/15.

[42] Whalley’s News Letter, 26-30 May 1716.

[43] Whalley’s News Letter, 27-31 August 1715; 26-30 May 1716.

[44] Dublin Courant, 31 August 1720.

[45] Pue’s Occurrences, 30 September – 4 October 1718.

[46] Harding’s Dublin Impartial News Letter, 6 January 1718/19; 14 July 1719; 29 July 1721; 28 July 1722. New Dublin Mercury, 14 October 1721. Dublin Weekly Journal, 9 December 1727.

[47] Harding’s Dublin Impartial News Letter, 14 July 1719.

[48] Harding’s Dublin Impartial News Letter, 29 July 1721.

[49] New Dublin Mercury, 14 October 1721.

[50] Harding’s Dublin Impartial News Letter, 28 July 1722.

[51] Dublin Weekly Journal, 9 December 1727.

[52] Dublin Weekly Journal, 27 January 1727/28.

[53] Harding’s Dublin Impartial News Letter, 6 January 1718/19.

[54] Harding’s Dublin Impartial News Letter, 15 August 1719

[55] Dublin Courant, 2 November 1719.

[56] Dublin Courant, 12 November 1720.

[57] Dublin Weekly Journal, 12 January 1722/23.

[58] A catalogue of a choice collection of valuable books, to be sold by auction, on Monday 3 November 1729 at Dick’s Coffee House, by Richard Norris, bookseller, at the corner of Crane Lane (Dublin, 1729).

[59] Pollard, Dictionary. Liber munerum publicorum Hiberniae, 1152-1827 (London, 1824-30), II, p. 95.

[60] Dunton, Dublin scuffle, p. 343.

[61] Dublin Courant, 3 November 1722.

[62] Catalogue of books in most faculties and languages which will be sold by auction, 11 November 1723, by Robert Thornton, stationer (Dublin, 1723).

[63] Catalogue of the library of Rev. Dr Nicholas Knight (Dublin, Thomas Thornton, 24 January 1732). A choice collection of books the library of John Huson, Esq., counsellor at law, deceased (Dublin, Thomas Thornton, 24 November 1737). Catalogue of books, the library of Rev. Dr Thomas Sheridan, deceased (Dublin, Thomas Thornton, 12 November, 1739).

[64] Dublin Intelligence, 8 November 1726. Dublin Daily Advertiser, 12 November 1736.

[65] Dublin Journal, 31 October – 3 November 1741. Reilly’s Dublin News Letter, 31 October – 3 November 1741. Dublin Gazette, 31 October – 3 November 1741.

[66] Reilly’s Dublin News Letter, 31 October – 3 November 1741.

[67] Reilly’s Dublin News Letter, 24-28 November 1741.

[68] Dublin News Letter, 23-27 February 1741/42.

[69] Dublin News Letter, 2-6 November 1742.

[70] Dublin News Letter, 2-6 November 1742.

[71] Pollard, Dictionary.

[72] Reilly’s Dublin News Letter, 11-14 October 1740; 31 January – 3 February 1740/41.

[73] Catalogue of curious and valuable books, being the collection of the Rev. Dean Copping (Dublin, Kinnier and Martineau, 21 November 1743). Catalogue of curious and valuable books being the collection of the late Lord Bishop of Derry [Carew Reynell], catalogues to be had at Mr Charles Coleman’s (Dublin, Kinnier and Long, 4 March 1744/45).

[74] Dublin Journal, 14 March 1747.

[75] Pue’s Occurrences, 20 May 1746.

[76] Dublin Courant, 10-14 November 1747.

[77] Catalogue of books being the library of Samuel Card Esq., counsellor at law deceased (Dublin, William Ross, 17 November 1755). Catalogue of books, being the library of Rev. Dr Francis Hutchinson, late bishop of Down and Connor (Dublin, William Ross, 26 April 1756). Catalogue of books being the library of Dr Thomas Lloyd, deceased (Dublin, William Ross, 6 March 1758). Catalogue of books being the collection of H. Cuningham, Esq. and a Member of Parliament deceased (Dublin, William Ross, 18 February 1760). Catalogue of books being the entire  library of Rev. Robert Downes, Lord Bishop of Raphoe (Dublin, William Ross, 23 January 1764).

[78] A catalogue of books, being the shop-stock of the late William Ross, bookseller … 19 March 1766. Catalogues to be had at Michael Duggan’s shop, Bride’s Alley, James Vallance’s, Grafton Street, and the place of sale.

[79] Catalogue of books being the library of the late Rev. John Lawson, D.D., S.F.T.C.D., also the collections of the late Rev. John Hastings, B.D. J.F.T.C.D. and Rev. Mordaunt Hamilton, deceased (Dublin, Laurence Flin, 28 April 1760).

[80] Catalogue of the library of the late Rt Rev. Dr Richard Pococke, Lord Bishop of Meath (Dublin, Laurence Flin, 10 March 1766). Catalogue of the library of John Fergus M.D. and his son [Macarius Fergus] (Dublin, L. Flin, 3 February 1766).

[81] Saunder’s News Letter, 13 May 1780; 27 November 1780. Freeman’s Journal, 4-6 December 1781.

[82] Catalogue of books being the library of Howard Parry Esq., deceased (Dublin, Robert Bell, 20 January 1762). A catalogue of books, belonging to a gentleman going abroad (Dublin, Robert Bell, 18 June 1766). Freeman’s Journal, 10-13 September 1763.

[83] Freeman’s Journal, 28 July – 1 August 1767. A catalogue of books, which will begin to be sold by auction. By the sheriffs of the city of Dublin; being the bound stock in trade of Mr Robt, Bell, bookseller (Dublin, Thomas Armitage, 2 December 1767).

[84] Richard Cargill Cole, Irish booksellers and English writers 1740-1800 (London, Mansell, 1986), pp 171-7.

[85] Catalogue of the libraries of Richard Terry, Francis Bindon Esq. (Dublin, Michael Duggan, 2 May 1768).

[86] Pue’s Occurrences, 15-18 November 1766.

[87] Saunders’ News Letter, 23-25 November 1767.

[88] Pue’s Occurrences, 2-6 February 1773.

[89] Dublin Journal, 10-12 October 1786.

[90] Hibernian Journal, 23 November 1785.

[91] Freeman’s Journal, 11-13 June 1772.

[92] Freeman’s Journal, 22-24 November 1774; 6-9 May 1775; 30 May – 1 June 1775.

[93] Freeman’s Journal, 24-26 May 1774.

[94] Freeman’s Journal, 8-10 November 1774.

[95] Freeman’s Journal, 22-24 November 1774.

[96] Freeman’s Journal, 4-6 June 1776; 14-16 November 1776.

[97] Freeman’s Journal, 15-17 February 1785. Wilson’s Dublin directories 1773-1815.

[98] Catalogue of the library of the late Philip Doyne (Dublin, 27 February 1766). Catalogue of books, being the library of Francis Stoughton Sullivan LLD (Dublin, Michael Duggan, 19 May 1766. Catalogue of the libraries of Richard Terry, Francis Bindon Esq. (Dublin, Michael Duggan, 2 May 1768).

[99] Faulkner’s Dublin Journal, 1-3 December 1768. Saunders’ News Letter, 2-5 December 1768.

[100] Dublin Mercury, 10 February 1767.

[101] Catalogue of books being the libraries of the Rev. Mr Burgh and an eminent Physician deceased (Dublin, James Vallance, 16 March [1769]).

[102] Saunders’ News Letter, 30 November – 2 December 1767. Gilbert, History, iii, p. 317.

[103] Freeman’s Journal, 30 November – 2 December 1780. Wilson’s Dublin directories 1771-1782.

[104] Saunders’ News Letter, 7 July 1781.

[105] Faulkner’s Dublin Journal, 14 July 1787.

[106] Saunders’ News Letter, 23 April 1793.

[107] Catalogue of books, prints and drawings, being the collection of the late Judge Hellen (Dublin, James Vallance, 3 February 1794). Freeman’s Journal, 22 February 1794.

[108] Freeman’s Journal, 26 November 1807.

[109] Catalogue of books, being the Library of the late Thomas Goold, Esq. (Dublin, Vallance and Jones, 21 April 1808).

[110] Dengan sale, op. cit., Catalogue of the library of the late Rev. Richard Murray, D.D., Provost of T.C.D. (Dublin, Richard Edward Mercier & Co, 26 May 1800). Bibliotheca St Valeriensis. A catalogue of books, manuscripts, coins, paintings, antiquities, being the collection of the late Joseph Cooper Walker Esq., of St Valeri, near Bray, MRIA (Dublin, R.E. Mercier, 30 June 1817). Freeman’s Journal, 2 December 1807.

[111] Freeman’s Journal, 15-17 March 1787.

[112] Freeman’s Journal, 6-10 April 1788.

[113] Catalogue des livres François, Italien &c. de Antoine Gerna, libraire à Dublin             (Dublin, 1793).

[114] Freeman’s Journal, 17 February 1795. Dublin Evening Post, 17 February 1795.

[115] Daly catalogue, op. cit., Murray catalogue, op. cit., Dengan Sale. Part the first; containing the books. A catalogue of the extensive and valuable library, prints, paintings, statues, music, mathematical instruments and superb furniture of the chapel which belonged to the late Rt Hon. Earl of Mornington at Dengan Castle (Dublin, R.E. Mercier & Co, 18 May 1795). Catalogue of books, being the law part of the library of Dr Browne, Senior Fellow of Trinity College and prime sergeant, deceased (Dublin, James Vallance, 9 December 1805). Bibliotheca Browniana. Catalogue of the valuable and extensive Library of the late Wogan Browne Esq., of Castle Browne, in the County of Kildare (Dublin, Thomas Jones, 3 August 1812).

[116] Wheeler, op. cit., p. 119.

[117] Freeman’s Journal, 28-31 December 1771.

[118] Freeman’s Journal, 25-28 January 1772; 25-27 February 1772; 9-11 April 1772; 16-18 April 1772.

[119] Freeman’s Journal, 6 January 1784.

[120] Volunteer’s Journal, 29 December 1784.

[121] Freeman’s Journal, 5-7 February 1784.

[122] Freeman’s Journal, 12-14 February 1784.

[123] Dublin Evening Post, 23-26 September 1732.

[124] Dublin Courant, 4-8 April 1749.

[125] Catalogue of Richard Gunn, 1758, op. cit.

[126] Universal Advertiser, 28 November – 2 December 1758.

[127] Catalogue of books being the bound stock of John Smith, bookseller (Dublin, William Ross, 13 April 1758). Remainder of the stock of John Smith (Dublin, William Ross, 7 December 1758. Universal Advertiser, 28 November – 2 December 1758.

[128] Freeman’s Journal, 28 July – 1 August 1767. A catalogue of books, which will begin to be sold by auction. By the sheriffs of the city of Dublin; being the bound stock in trade of Mr Robt, Bell, bookseller (Dublin, Thomas Armitage, 2 December 1767).

[129] A catalogue of the remainder of the bound stock of Thomas Ewing, bookseller, (quitting business) (Dublin, Luke White, 15 April 1776. Hibernian Journal, 15-17 April 1776.

[130] Saunders’ News Letter, 11-14 June 1773.

[131] Freeman’s Journal, 30 April – 2 May 1793; 18 July 1793.

[132] A catalogue of law books, being part of the bound stock of the late Mrs Lynch (Dublin, James Vallance, 9 July 1794).

[133] Hibernian Journal, 11 May 1802.

[134] Dunton, Dublin scuffle, p. 5.

[135] Dublin Chronicle, 29 March – 1 April 1788.

[136] Dublin Chronicle, 24 March 1792.

[137] Belfast Mercury, 30 August 1785; 24 April 1786. Belfast News Letter, 4 August 1789.

[138] Belfast News Letter, 5 May 1789.

[139] Belfast News Letter, 14 July 1789.

[140] Belfast Mercury, 24 January 1786; 31 January 1786; 6 February 1786.

[141] Hibernian Chronicle, 23 August 1770. Dr Joseph Fenn Sleigh (1735-1770).

[142] Hibernian Chronicle, 18 October 1770. Rev. Dr Marmaduke Phillips (1698-c.1770).

[143] Catalogue of a valuable library collected by the late Chancellor Cox, Sir Richard Cox Bart., Rev. Sir Michael Cox Bart. (Cork, Zachary Morris’s Great Room, 1772).

[144] The works of the late Rev. George Russel, 2 volumes (Cork, Printed for the benefit of the author’s widow and Children, by William Flyn, 1769). At the end of volume I, ‘Books printed and sold by William Flyn’.

[145] Waterford Chronicle, 12-16 July 1771. Dr Eaton Edwards (1694-1769).

[146] Finn’s Leinster Journal, 27 June – 1 July 1767.

[147] Finn’s Leinster Journal, 22-26 July 1775.

[148] Trinity College Dublin: Ms 10314, Graisberry ledger 1777-85, p. 59. Pollard, Dictionary.

[149] Belfast Mercury, 22 July 1785.

[150] Wilson’s Dublin directories 1791-1795. Pollard, Dictionary.

[151] Belfast Newsletter, 10-14 July 1789; 10-14 May 1793; 25-29 August 1794; 3-7 November 1794; 12-15 December 1794; 24-27 July 1795.

[152] Cork Gazette, 22 August 1792.

[153] Waterford Herald, 18 June 1793.

[154] Dublin Courant, 20-23 June 1747.

[155] Elizabeth A. Swaim, ‘The suction as a means of book distribution in eighteenth-century Yorkshire’, Publishing History, 1 (1977), pp 49-91.

[156] Gwyn Walters, ‘Early sale catalogues: problems and perspectives’, in Myers and Harris, op. cit., pp 106-25; p.108. D.H. [Richard Gough] ‘Progress of bookselling by sale catalogues’, Gentleman’s Magazine (December 1788), pp 1065-9. Pollard, Dublin’s trade in books, p. 62.

[157] Dublin Chronicle, 24 March 1792. Dengan Sale, op. cit.

[158] Catalogue of scarce and valuable books, being the miscellaneous part of the library of the late Rt Hon. Lord Avonmore (Dublin, James Vallance, 11 February 1807). Catalogue of scarce and valuable books, being the library of the late Alexander Mangin, Esq. (Dublin, James Vallance, 6 December 1802).

[159] Harding’s Dublin Impartial News Letter, 6 January 1718/19.

[160] Dublin Courant, 9 May 1720.

[161] Dublin Weekly Journal, 16 June 1726.

[162] Dublin Weekly Journal, 27 January 1727/28.

[163] Dunton, Dublin scuffle, p.5.

[164] Hibernian Journal, 23 October 1776.

[165] Dublin Chronicle, 29 March – 1 April 1788.

[166] Dublin Chronicle, 24 March 1792.

[167] Dengen Sale, op. cit.

[168] Bibliotheca Parisiana, A catalogue of a collection of books, formed by a gentleman in france, sold by auction in London, 26 March, 1791 and 5 Days following (London, 1791).

[169] Dublin Journal, 22 May 1750.

[170] Dublin Journal, 9 January 1753.

[171] Freeman’s Journal, 31 December 1772 – 2 January 1773. Stuart Morrison, ‘Records of a bibliophile: the catalogues of Consul Joseph Smith and some aspects of his collecting’, The Book Collector, 43, no. 1 (Spring 1994), pp 27-58.

[172] Frozen in time: the Fagel collection in the library of Trinity College Dublin, ed. by Timothy R. Jackson (Dublin, Lilliput Press, 2016).

[173] Dublin City Library & Archive, Gilbert Library Ms 146, ‘Joseph Cooper Walker, Letters addressed to lWilliam Hayley, 1786-1812’.

[174] Trinity College Dublin, Ms 10314, Graisberry ledger, 1777-1785, ff 272-5, 16 May 1783.

[175] Graisberry ledger, passim.

[176] 38th. of George III, C.24. Sect.1.

[177] Freeman’s Journal, 3 June 1797; 17 February 1801.

[178] Dunton, Dublin scuffle, p. 111.

[179] Freeman’s Journal, 6 January 1784.

[180] Public Record Office of Northern Ireland: Ms D. 2977.

[181] Archer’s catalogue of books for 1793. The sale begins on Wednesday, the 3d. of April 1793 (Dublin, 80 Dame Street, 1793).

[182] A catalogue of books, the library of the late Rev. Dr Swift, Dean of St Patrick’s, Dublin (Dublin, printed for George Faulkner, 1745). Time and place for the sale of them will be inserted in the Dublin Journal. Harold Williams, Dean Swift’s library with a facsimile of the original sale catalogue and some account of two manuscript lists of his books (Cambridge, 1932).

[183] R.M. Jephson to Edmond Malone. Sir James Prior, Life of Edmond Malone (London, Smith, Elder & Co., 1860), p. 198.

Eighteenth-century newspaper publishing in Munster and South Leinster.

Very little research has been conducted into provincial newspaper publishing in eighteenth-century Ireland. Munter’s History of the Irish newspaper has a cut-off date of 1760, a period when provincial newspaper publishing was becoming widespread; his emphasis, accordingly, is on the Dublin trade.[1] Madden’s History of Irish periodical literature devotes two chapters to the identification of provincial newspapers, and a discussion of their ownership and political orientation.[2] The significance of the pioneering provincial newspaper ventures of the first decades of the eighteenth century lies in the very fact of their existence; information on their operation is often scanty, and drawn from later sources. A general rise in literacy, accompanied by an increase in inter-regional trade, and an extension of the market for luxury goods, facilitated the spread of provincial newspapers from mid-century. The major towns in the Munster/South Leinster region had stable newspaper publishing businesses from this period: Limerick from 1739 and Cork from 1753, followed by Waterford in 1765 and Kilkenny in 1766. By the last quarter of the eighteenth century many smaller towns supported a newspaper, Clonmel from 1772, Tralee from 1774, and Ennis from 1778. Wexford had a newspaper in 1776, but there was no lasting enterprise in the town until 1787.[3]

Apart from some early periodical publishing in the mid-seventeenth century, the earliest regular news-sheets were issued in Dublin in the late seventeenth century.[4] Printed and manuscript newspapers were imported from England and the continent in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries and were used as copy by the Dublin printers. News was mainly concerned with foreign wars and reports from foreign courts. Local news did not form part of the earliest newspapers. A small number of advertisements began to appear in the newspapers in the late seventeenth century, but they did not occupy a significant portion of the papers until the 1720s.

The most fruitful source of information on provincial newspaper publishing is in the newspapers themselves. They carry advertisements, announcements, apologies, complaints and pleas from the printer to his/her readers and potential readers. The volume and type of advertising and the longevity of the paper also point to its success or failure in the market. The newspaper proprietor’s network of subscription and advertising agents in the surrounding towns played a major part in the success of the venture and an identification of their contacts and business partnerships greatly adds to our knowledge of the book trade in a region. The Journals of the Irish House of Commons provide another rich source as printers, papermakers and others in the book trade petitioned Parliament for monetary aid to maintain and expand their businesses.

The economics of newspaper publishing in the Irish country towns in the mid-eighteenth century differed in several respects from practice in the capital. The main difference lay in access to raw materials and the extra costs that were often involved in transporting them. Access to current news could also be a problem for some inland towns, where newspaper printers were forced to wait for the arrival of the mail and other newspapers for fresh news. Sea-port towns had the advantage in terms of news gathering and importation of materials. Distribution of newspapers to country areas was a costly undertaking for both Dublin and provincial printers. The dispersed nature of Irish provincial readership involved substantial delivery costs and difficulty in exacting payment of debts.

After 1774 the introduction of the first Stamp Act, whereby a tax was placed on newspapers, pamphlets and advertisements, changed the economic equilibrium of many newspaper ventures. The basic elements of a newspaper business, however, remained the same in town and country: provision of one or more printing presses, skilled labour, and a supply of paper; the need to raise revenue from advertisements, and to enlist subscribers.


In many Irish country towns the first recorded imprint is a newspaper, and the first printer the producer of that newspaper. The initial outlay was relatively modest: a second-hand wooden hand-press complete with a set of type, a journeyman and an apprentice to operate it, a compositor, often the proprietor himself, perhaps with the help of his wife, and sufficient paper to produce a four-page issue. News was gathered from the Dublin and London newspapers, and from any nearby provincial newspapers. Several ventures were begun in the first half of the century which were unable to last, most likely due to inadequate support from subscribers and advertisers.

Newspaper editors published proposals for printing the newspaper, giving an outline of the contents of the paper, its expected usefulness, its frequency, cost and distribution, and inviting subscribers and advertisers. The level of initial interest determined whether the project was viable. Advertisements for a new newspaper title were placed in other provincial newspapers and in the Dublin press. It is also likely that fliers or prospectuses were distributed by hand or posted up, but such ephemeral items have not survived. A Dublin newspaper could be sustained by metropolitan sales alone, although most were also distributed to country readers. A provincial newspaper, however, needed a wide circulation in the surrounding counties in order to make up a sufficient readership.


John Senex, A new map of Ireland, 1720.

In February 1771 Francis Bray of Fethard, Co. Tipperary, published proposals to print a newspaper in Clonmel, to be called the Clonmell Journal. It would be published twice a week and it was aimed at readers in ‘the extensive and opulent County of Tipperary’. The paper would contain foreign and home news and prices from the markets in Dublin, Cork, Waterford and Limerick. Subscriptions were charged at the standard rate of 8s.8d. in town, 11s.4½d. elsewhere, or 1d. for a single paper, and were collected by agents in Tipperary, Cork, Kilkenny and Waterford.[5] Response must have been slow, as another notice published in March acknowledged the support of some subscribers, and requested new subscribers to send in their names.[6] There is no surviving copy of this paper, and the establishment of the Hibernian Gazette, printed in Clonmel by Edward Collins in 1772, indicates that it failed to raise sufficient support to become viable.[7] Busteed and Knox attempted to set up a rival newspaper to the Leinster Journal in Kilkenny in 1779. It was to be issued twice a week, on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and would cost a half guinea in town and 14 English shillings in the country. They offered a reduced rate for advertisements. It seems that nothing came of the project, however, and the Leinster Journal remained as Kilkenny’s only newspaper until the publication of the Kilkenny Chronicle in 1812.[8]


Masthead from the first issue of The Hibernian Chronicle, published in Cork by William Flyn.


Masthead from Finn’s Leinster Journal, printed by Mrs Catharine Finn from 1777.

The printing business was very much a family affair, dynasties of printing families were common, such as the Griersons, King’s printers in Dublin. Marriage alliances were frequent between those in the book trade. Wives and daughters must have taken an active role in the businesses as they were in a position to take over on the death of fathers, brothers and husbands. Often the business was kept in trust by a widow until her son came of age, or until she remarried, but there are numerous instances of printing and bookselling enterprises flourishing under the direction of a woman.[9] Catharine Finn successfully ran the printing and bookselling business in High Street, Kilkenny, after her husband, Edmund Finn, died on 7 April 1777, leaving her with seven small children.[10] She continued to publish the Leinster Journal until 1799-1800 when her son, Michael’s, name appears on the imprint. In that time she extended its circulation, through the Post Office, to all parts of Ireland and to England.

Little is known of those who worked for the provincial printers; notices advertising for apprentices or journeymen yield no follow-up information. For example, in 1792 Nicholas Byrne, near the Quay in Waterford, proprietor of the Waterford Herald, advertised for a journeyman printer, who was capable of working ‘at press and case’, who understood the business, and was sober and attentive. He was offered constant employment and a good salary.[11] Newspaper printers frequently advertised for apprentices, Edmund Finn’s advertisement for an apprentice to the printing and bookselling business in 1767 specified ‘a lad of reputable Parents, with a tolerable share of education’.[12] In 1770 William Flyn, proprietor of the Hibernian Chronicle, at the sign of the Shakespeare in Cork, advertising for an apprentice to the printing business gave no indication of what type of person was required.[13] In 1788 Christopher Taylor, printer of the Wexford Herald advertised for ‘a smart lad, who had a tolerable Education’.[14] Foster Parsons, proprietor of the Ennis Chronicle, had room for one apprentice in 1791, ‘a smart lad on reasonable terms’.[15]

Our knowledge of employees is often derived from notices of their desertion from the master printer. In 1769 Daniel Casey, aged 15, apprentice to Edmund Finn, ‘eloped from service’ with four years of his apprenticeship to serve.[16] Michael Sullivan, apprentice to William Flyn in Cork, ‘eloped’ several times in 1772, stealing some of Flyn’s stock of books and offering them for sale. In his notice printed in the Hibernian Chronicle Flyn warned masters of ships that Sullivan might ‘change his name and indent for America’.[17]

Provincial printers often started their businesses by acquiring a second-hand printing press, which could be purchased easily and relatively cheaply. Once acquired a press tended to have a long and fairly trouble-free life; its wooden parts could be easily repaired locally. Prosperous Dublin printers renewing their presses would dispose of older models, printers retiring from business or whose business had failed would sell the press and type fonts to realise capital. A good second-hand press and chases could be got for about 12 guineas in the 1780s.[18]

Wooden hand press from The cabinet of useful arts and manufactures (Dublin, 1821). Newspaper seller from The cries of Dublin (Dublin, St Sepulchre’s Press, 1971).

Type was one of the most expensive requirements for a newspaper publisher, and one that had to be replenished fairly frequently if printing standards were to be kept up. First-time provincial printers often started with used and worn type, and upgraded their stock as the venture became successful. It is estimated that type accounted for about two-thirds of the cost of the printing-house plant.[19] When George Wilson produced his Historical remarks of the city of Waterford about 1736 he pleaded indulgence for ‘the Antiquity of [his] Types’ and appealed to potential purchasers to ‘encourage the Sale of what is Printed, I shall by that means speedily have a new font of Letters to do Business to the satisfaction of those that Employs […] George Wilson’.[20] John Veacock began business in Waterford in 1791 having purchased the printing equipment of Matthew Power, who was forced to sell to meet his debts. The equipment included a large printing press, complete with printing furniture, a range of type fonts including Long Primer with Italic, Small Pica, Pica with Italic, English with Italic Great Primer, Double Pica, two-line Great Primer, four-line Pica etc. and ‘upwards of 100 well executed cuts, for Songs &c.’[21]

In the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries type was usually imported from Holland or England. From the first decade of the eighteenth century type began to be cast in Ireland by dedicated typefounders.[22] A mixture of Irish and imported type fonts was used by many printers. In making up a set of type fonts for a newspaper in 1786 Stephen Parker, typefounder in Dublin, supplied Long Primer, Roman and Italic, and Brevier, Roman, as the main fonts with lesser amounts of Pica, Roman and Italic, Script, and two-line Primer, Brevier and Pica. Four hundred pounds of Long Primer, Roman and Italic, cost £30, the whole set of letter coming to nearly £60, substantially more than the cost of the press.[23] An advertisement placed in the Waterford Herald in 1791 offered for sale a ‘font of second-hand Long Primer, sufficient for a Newspaper (has been used for that purpose) and a font of Double Pica’.[24]

Proprietors often drew their subscribers’ attention to the fact that they had invested in new fonts of type. William Flyn, bookseller, printer and proprietor of the Hibernian Chronicle in Cork, issued an apology to his subscribers in May 1770 for the poor quality of one issue of the Hibernian Chronicle due to dust getting mixed in with the printing ink. He assured his readers that in future the newspaper would be printed to their entire satisfaction as he had ‘at a great expense purchased a complete collection of quite new types, which shall appear in his paper before the 20th of the month’.[25] Foster Parsons, printer of the Ennis Chronicle, informed his subscribers in 1791 that he had ‘at considerable expense enlarged the circulation of his correspondence, and purchased an elegant fount of New Types, the arrival of which he hourly expects’.[26] In 1792 Anthony Edwards, bookseller, stationer, printer and proprietor of the Cork Courier informed the public that he had ‘lately made a large Addition to his Printing Type’ which would enable him to execute all kinds of printing work.[27] He claimed that his type came from the best foundry in Europe.[28]

Constant supplies of paper were necessary for business to expand. In Dublin paper was imported directly from abroad, mainly from France, Holland and Britain.[29] Several paper mills were situated in the suburbs, especially at Rathfarnham, Templeogue, Tallaght, Kilternan, Chapelizod, Donnybrook, Co. Dublin, Newbridge and Celbridge, Co. Kildare. Imports of printing and writing paper rose steadily from the last quarter of the seventeenth century until the 1760s. From the 1770s imports of printing paper dropped indicating that the Irish papermaking industry was beginning to have an impact on this aspect of the trade; good quality writing paper, however, continued to be imported in substantial quantities.[30] The provincial newspaper printer also imported paper from abroad, especially if the printing office was in one of the major ports: Cork, Waterford or Limerick. Evidence from the shipping notices in the newspapers reveals importation of paper and books by several booksellers, and of writing and parcel paper by general merchants through the ports of Cork and Waterford.

Writing and printing paper was purchased from Dublin paper wholesalers; local advertisements for the merchandise of importers such as William Whitestone, at the paper and stationery warehouse, the Shakespeare’s Head, 33 Skinner Row, Dublin, were carried in the Munster newspapers from the late 1760s, when the paper warehouse was newly opened.[31] Transportation costs for paper from Dublin would have been an added extra for printers in the country towns. Paper in bulk was carried in carts or truckles, or smaller parcels on horseback; transportation by sea between Irish ports is also likely, but evidence is not yet forthcoming.

In the first half of the century paper manufacture in Munster was insignificant. In 1746 Charles Smith suggested that papermaking, among other arts, could be established in Waterford and in 1750 he stated that ‘we make so very little [paper], and that so very indifferent’.[32] Local paper mills began to contribute significantly to the supply of newspaper printing paper from mid-century. Joseph Sexton, a Limerick merchant, spent £2,000 constructing two paper mills outside the city in 1747 and 1749. He petitioned the Irish Parliament for ‘encouragement’ in 1751, 1753 and 1755, and received grants of £200 in 1751, £500 in 1753, and a promise of ‘further encouragement’ in 1755-56.[33] He claimed to be the only manufacturer of writing paper in Munster at this period.[34] Sexton’s mills produced about 30,000 reams annually and he supplied the local newspapers with printing paper.[35] Sexton also had a wholesale outlet in Cork, where Robert King sold paper on his account ‘next the New Inn on Hammond’s Marsh’. King sold Post, Propatria and other writing paper, printing, lapping, candle and whited brown paper, and brown paper ‘sold as cheap as at the mill’.[36]

Competition emerged in 1763 when Phineas and George Bagnell, booksellers and proprietors of the Cork Evening Post in Castle Street, Cork, set up their own paper mill at Ballyrosheen, later Riverstown, near Lower Glanmire. It was constructed between 1762 and 1763 at a cost of £1,148.[37] In a petition put before the Irish Parliament in November 1763 they sought assistance to improve the manufacture of paper at their mill. The parliamentary committee reported that in the first year of operation the importation of foreign paper through the port of Cork decreased by one-third as a result of their industry, and that if given parliamentary assistance they would be able to provide ‘a Quantity of Paper more than sufficient to supply the demand of the said City’. The committee resolved that ‘the Petitioners need and deserve the aid of Parliament’, but there is no indication of a grant made to them.[38] The Bagnells continued to advertise imported paper in 1763, but they offered paper of their own manufacture for sale by wholesale and retail at their shop in Castle Street, and stated that they sold it at the lowest prices to prevent the importation of foreign paper. Paper could also be purchased wholesale directly from the mill.[39] The Bagnells began to use paper from their own mill for the printing of the Cork Evening Post in July 1763.[40] In 1771 James and John Knight of Cork went into partnership with Phineas Bagnell in the publication of the Cork Evening Post, and by 1781 they advertised paper manufactured at their own mill at Glintown, Ballinglanna, near Ballyrosheen.[41]

From the 1760s onwards sufficient printing paper must have been manufactured to supply the Munster region, even though foreign paper continued to be imported. A paper mill is referred to at Gurteens, Co. Kilkenny, on the river Suir near Waterford city, in the sale of the estate of Henry Snow Esq. in 1768; the paper mill and land were held by William McDonnel, at £25 per annum. It was stated that a ‘paper work’ and corn mills were on the premises.[42] In 1769 Caleb Beale and Samuel Neale erected a new paper mill within the liberties of the city of Cork and they sought parliamentary encouragement for the enterprise.[43] From the 1770s the Phair family had papermaking businesses in Cork and Waterford which continued into the nineteenth century when Pigot’s Directory lists Francis and William Phair at North Main Street, Cork, and Francis Phair & Co. at Little John Street and King Street, Waterford.[44] In 1774, on the eve of the first Stamp Act, Edmund Finn of Kilkenny stated that the paper for Finn’s Leinster Journal was manufactured in Cork and transported to Kilkenny.[45] William Flyn continued to import paper and in 1773 he received Post, Propatria, Demi, Royal and Imperial papers made by the ‘noted Sterlings of Rotterdam’.[46] Christopher Taylor, printer of the Wexford Herald, offered Irish as well as English and Dutch paper for sale at his shop in Main Street, Wexford, in 1788.[47]


The need for information and news inspired the earliest newspapers; the latest and most reliable reports were sought in order to attract and maintain readership. News was gathered from other newspapers, from in-coming packets, from personal correspondence, and any other available source. Taking copy from other papers was accepted practice, in fact to quote from a Dublin or London title was to lend authenticity to the report. The earliest Dublin newspapers consisted of a single folio sheet printed on both sides, issued twice a week and given over mainly to international news. A supplement or postscript was published if a packet arrived between issues. Dublin newspapers of the early century left a blank half sheet for ‘those Gentlemen and others who write to their friends in the country about Business’ as it was cheaper to post a single sheet to the country towns. In this manner newspaper and letter could be combined in one at the cheapest letter rate.[48]

International news was abstracted from a variety of continental news-sheets, Gazettes from Paris, Amsterdam, Harlem, Antwerp, Rotterdam and Leyden, Lettres à la main from Paris and The Hague and a range of printed and manuscript gazettes from London.[49] In the early decades of the eighteenth century there was a close connection between printing office and coffee house; many Dublin printers had their premises next door, or in the same building, as a coffee house. The foreign newspapers used by the printer as copy were made available to the coffee house clientele. In Dublin and the other cities and towns they were the gathering places for those in search of the latest news, from gossip to international correspondence. Throughout the eighteenth century they prided themselves on the number and variety of newspapers that they received. Black has noted the importance of the French language press in the provision of foreign news for the English press, especially the French language Dutch papers. He points to the incidence of newspapers established or written by Huguenots living in London, such as Abel Boyer and J. de Fonvive.[50] These French-speaking proprietors had the advantage of being capable of doing quick translations from the foreign newspapers. It is not clear if the Gazettes available in Dublin were in French, or in English translation, but it is likely that some, at least, were in French.

Official bodies ensured that they had access to the newspapers, which acted as much-needed information sources. In the late seventeenth century and throughout the eighteenth century official newspapers were imported from London for the use of administrative bodies and when they had finished the papers were passed on to the burgesses and coffee house clientele. The official papers included the London Gazette, a twice-weekly paper which was the most widely circulated official publication, the News Letter and Votes of parliament, which appeared daily during the parliamentary session and provided an outline of parliamentary proceedings. An extant ledger showing the distribution of newspapers by one London supplier, Charles Delafaye, covering the period 1710 to 1714, shows that he also supplied Irish readers. Thirty-two Irish readers are listed, the majority in the Dublin area, but some from in and around Cork, including the Mayor. John Tyrrel of the Dublin Post Office received about 120 papers a week during the parliamentary session of 1710 for six customers, and this increased the following year.[51]

The Irish parliament inserted proclamations and advertisements in the Dublin and provincial newspapers, this amount of government expenditure allowed many newspapers to survive difficult times, but at the price of supporting government in its columns. The official government newspaper, the Dublin Gazette, announced appointments to public offices, published proclamations, promulgated new legislation and listed bankruptcies; it reached a narrow readership and popular newspapers were used to reach a wider public.[52]

Corporations of towns and cities throughout the country subscribed to a range of newspapers, and used the local, and occasionally the Dublin, press to publish their own notices. In 1704 the Common Council of Derry ordered £5 to be paid to Mr Alex Coningham ‘for ye publick benefit and satisfaction of ye City’ to receive one year’s supply of the London Gazette, Postman and News-Letter ‘to be kept at his house, to be seen and us’d by all members gratis’.[53] In 1688 the Corporation of Kinsale resolved to subscribe to the News Letter and Gazette if the total cost was no more than £3 per annum, otherwise the News Letter was to be got at 30s. When the ‘Soveraign’ had read the newspapers they would be made available in the Jury Room ‘for the burgesses to view’.[54]

In 1694 the Corporation of Youghal paid 40s. per annum to Mr Reed, innkeeper, to keep the ‘Public News’ at his inn. Reed stated that he: ‘formerly kept the Public News to encourage trade to his house, discovering the charge to be more than the advantages, has declared he will discontinue unless the Corporation contribute toward the cost’. The following year it was decided that the Mayor of Youghal would ‘procure the Public News to be every Post sent to this Town’.[55] With the proliferation of newspaper titles in the last quarter of the century the Corporation of Youghal decided in 1786: ‘that in future the Corporation are not to be furnished with more than one two-day English and one two-day Irish newspaper’.[56] A ledger covering the years 1781 to 1783 and 1811 to 1813, identifies accounts for English and Irish newspapers, parliamentary votes, army and navy lists, and Lloyd’s list, supplied to a range of customers such as the Mayors of Dublin, Cork and Kilkenny; David Murphy’s Hotel, the Mercantile Committee Room, and the Commercial Coffee Room in Waterford; the Commercial Buildings, Chamber of Commerce, and Royal Coffee House in Limerick; the Coffee Room in Youghal, Co. Cork; the Post Office, and Club Room in Kinsale, Co. Cork.[57]

Cork Corporation was in regular receipt of London and Irish newspapers. In 1704 the Lord Mayor paid £4.19s.0d. to Mr De-laffa for the ‘Public News’, and in January 1713/14 Mr Charles Delafay was paid £36 for six years newspapers, with the proviso that ‘he desist sending any more’.[58] This was clearly the same Charles Delafaye who supplied the papers from London. In 1715 the Mayor sent for ‘the News from London at the cheapest rate he could agree for’ and by 1716/17 the Corporation expended 6 guineas for ‘the English news, four papers and the votes of Parliament’.[59] English and Irish newspapers and Votes of both English and Irish parliaments were supplied to the Council by Walter Pallisser in the 1740s and 1750s and by Edmond Browning in the 1760s and 1770s.[60] In 1776 William Maturin, clerk of the Munster Road at the General Post Office, began to supply Irish and English newspapers.[61] Local booksellers supplied the Cork newspapers to the Council. Cork Corporation’s own resolutions and advertisements were printed in the local newspapers, first in the Cork Intelligence and later in the Bagnell’s Cork Evening Post, Flyn’s Hibernian Chronicle, Knight’s New Cork Evening Post and the Cork Gazette.

By the middle of the eighteenth century, when the provincial press began to develop, the format of the paper had become established. Foreign news, particularly in times of war or political upheaval, was the main feature; accounts from London, especially parliamentary reports and society gossip, formed another important section. News from Dublin included ‘parliamentary intelligence’, society news, births, marriages, deaths, bankruptcies, appointments and promotions. Country news was made up of short reports from various towns around the country, often concentrating on the assizes, reports of crime and accidents. Items that featured in many newspapers included market prices, the assize of bread, shipping news and accounts of exports and imports. Occasional sections contained reports of race meetings, theatrical reviews, anecdotes of famous people, prose extracts from celebrated contemporary works, and poetry, either by amateurs or well-known poets. Articles from correspondents on topics of their choice were often included; they always used a pseudonym, usually in the form ‘A Freeman’, ‘Hibernicus’ etc. and they frequently used this space to issue tirades against new legislation, the excesses of government and so on. Advertisements took up considerable space in most newspapers.

Provincial newspapers adopted this format, providing news from abroad, from Dublin, from around the country and from the local area. Market prices, shipping and port news, exports and imports were given for the local area rather than for Dublin; articles and poems were by local contributors. Advertising was generally confined to the area of circulation of the paper, although some Dublin businesses also considered it worth their while to insert advertisements in regional newspapers.

The collection of news was the main function of the newspaper, and all other items gave way to an interesting or startling news feature. On publication days when no packets had arrived less newsworthy items were inserted to fill the space. When the Waterford Herald was launched in 1791 the editor drew readers’ attention to the fact that six packets arrived in Waterford weekly, thus supplying the paper with fresh news regularly.[62] The packets brought merchants’ correspondence, official and private mail and newspapers. In August 1793 it took 63 hours for the mail to be transported from the General Post Office in London to Waterford on the Carteret packet.[63] Adverse weather conditions could greatly extend the duration of the passage, and strong winds often forced the ships to return to port in England. A report in the Waterford Herald in February 1793 informed readers that: ‘the prevalence of contrary winds, for several days past, had prevented any of the packets from Milford arriving since Friday morning last. – Mails due – Holyhead, one – Milford, five’.[64] The mail had high priority and prompt delivery was assured when conditions permitted. A notice entitled ‘His Majesty’s Packets from Waterford to Milford’ stated this clearly:

Passengers going to Milford are requested to take notice, that from recent Regulations in the conveyance of the Mail to the Packets, they will be enabled to sail from Bolton every day, except Thursday, from one to two in the afternoons, unless prevented by the weather, and those who are not on board with or before the Mail, will lose their Passage most certainly.[65]

London newspapers arriving on the packets were abstracted as soon as they arrived. On one occasion the readers of the New Cork Evening Post were informed: ‘By the Packets arrived this day the London Gazette of Saturday last received at the Tontine Coffee House, and as no duplicates of it has been received in town, we are enabled only to give the following particulars, which contain the substance of its contents’.[66]

Major world events, such as the war of the Austrian Succession (1741-8), the seven years war (1756-63), and particularly the French revolution and revolutionary wars, gave rise to intense reporting. These reports were sometimes accompanied by maps, showing fortifications and defence plans for towns, or battle formations of rival forces at sea. The American war of independence was widely reported in the provincial newspapers. Letters arriving on ships, both private and public, which covered events in America, were reproduced in full. News from Cork came to the fore in the winter of 1796-7 when the French fleet appeared in Bantry Bay. The main drama unfolded between Friday 23 December 1796 and Wednesday 4 January 1797. Official dispatches and private letters were reproduced in the local and Dublin newspapers. Expresses from Cork, Kinsale, Cobh, Limerick and Waterford were seized on by the Dublin newspapers in an attempt to get the most up-to-date information.

Literary subject matter began to take its place in the Dublin newspapers after the 1720s, as noted by Munter.[67] This strand can also be seen in the provincial press. In the second year of its publication Edmund Finn decided to expand the literary content of the Leinster Journal. He invited his readers to submit articles and poetry:

for the utility and amusement of the Public he intends to enlarge the size of this paper, thereby to make room for such entertaining pieces as the Learned and Ingenuous shall, from time to time, think proper to furnish him with […] That part of the paper called Poet’s Corner (which for want of room has some time past been omitted) will now be revived, and kept open to such moral and ingenious pieces as shall be clear of party invectives; and those correspondents who heretofore furnished this literary table with original delicacies, are hereby invited, with all the hospitality the Leinster Journal is capable of, to renew their correspondence, and ingenious lucubrations.[68]

In 1772 William Flyn offered the pages of the Hibernian Chronicle as ‘a rendezvous for volunteer authors of both sexes’, a first, he claimed, for a Cork newspaper.[69] Occasionally literary pieces in prose or poetry were inserted to tie in with the publication of a book, or the performance of a play. In 1792 Dr James Saint-John’s Memoirs were published by subscription; in the same year poems and extracts from his works appeared in the Waterford Herald.[70] Also at this time his Antiquities of Waterford: The Historical Entertainment of the Stage of Waterford was published by subscription and was running at the theatre in Waterford.[71]


A newspaper was chiefly sustained in two ways: by attracting a strong base of subscribers and by revenue from advertisements. The more successful provincial newspapers had a wide circulation in neighbouring counties, with advertisers assured of a substantial readership. Before the 1774 Stamp Act it cost one British shilling (or 1s.1d. Irish) for the first insertion of an advertisement of not more than eight lines, and 6d. for each continuation in Finn’s Leinster Journal.[72] The advertiser was entitled to a better rate for advertisements inserted for a quarter or a year. These rates were modified slightly from time to time, costing 3d. per line for a first insertion and 1d. per line thereafter, or a special rate of 2d. and 1d. per line for advertisements exceeding eight lines.[73] Advertisements had to be paid in advance ‘for ready money only’.[74]

Advertisements were usually inserted by prosperous businesses, especially those dealing in luxury commodities: wine and spirits, drapery and millinery, books and periodicals, patent medicines, garden plants and seeds, teas and other luxury foods. Notices of auctions, sale or letting of lands, stallions, election notices, theatre performances, government announcements, schools, and individuals offering services, together with the luxury trade, made up the bulk of advertisements. The printer of the paper was often the contact for individuals and services; in 1768 Edmund Finn of Kilkenny was forced to issue a directive: ‘those referring to the Printer for particulars of advertisements must send letters post paid’.[75] Prominent among the advertisements were those of the printer of the newspaper, offering a wide range of goods and services. This free, or almost free, advertising was one of the main advantages of publishing a newspaper.

The Stamp Act of 1774 and following acts placed an enormous burden on advertising; ½d. duty was placed on every single-sheet newspaper and pamphlet, 2d. was charged on every advertisement, this was raised to 6d. in 1780.[76] The cost to advertisers in Finn’s Leinster Journal was raised to a British half-crown (2s.8½d. Irish) for the first insertion of an advertisement of eight lines or less, and 8d. for later insertions; advertisements exceeding eight lines were charged 3d. per line for a first insertion and 1d. per line for later ones.[77] Under the act the printer was obliged to account to the Stamp Commissioners every 40 days ‘under penalty of paying treble Duty’.[78] The financial strain imposed by this proviso, in addition to the loss of revenue as advertisers fell away, proved the ruin of many newspapers. In Dublin newspapers came to rely on government advertising as the duty on advertisements rose with successive acts, and discouraged advertising by businesses and individuals. This reliance on government advertising brought a newspaper’s political views into line with official expectations. Pollard has noted that of ten Dublin newspapers in operation in the 1780s, by the late 1790s three were supporters of government, two were neutral, and there were none in opposition.[79]

In spite of this rising cost provincial newspaper publishing continued to flourish. Of the fourteen enterprises begun in Cork between 1753 and 1799, eight lasted five years or more and four of these lasted over 20 years; the Cork Chronicle had the longest run, 89 years, from 1765 to 1854. In each of the major towns in Munster and South Leinster at least one newspaper had a substantial run; the Limerick Chronicle, founded in 1766, is still issued; Finn’s Leinster Journal, the Kerry Evening Post and the Clare Journal lasted into the twentieth century; the Waterford Chronicle, Wexford Herald, Ennis Chronicle and Chute’s Western Herald continued to the middle of the nineteenth century.[80]

The number of potential subscribers depended on the literate population of a region. The cost of a regular subscription at 6s.6d. to 8s.8d. per annum in town, and ½ guinea per annum in the country further reduced the pool of subscribers. Estimates of literacy figures for the eighteenth century are unreliable due to the lack of statistical data in contemporary sources. In Ireland the spread of literacy was connected to the struggle for cultural dominance between the Gaelic and English intellectual systems. In the eighteenth century literacy in the official language, English, was necessary for those who aspired to careers in the professions, the army, trade or commerce. The report of the census of 1841 gives a figure of 52% of the population who could read English.[81] This figure shows the effects of increased access to education among the lower middle classes in the last quarter of the eighteenth century, and may already reflect the increase brought about by the provision of national education in 1831. Literacy figures for the whole population in the second half of the eighteenth century were well under this percentage, but those in a position to subscribe to a newspaper would have been among the highly literate. Newspapers were read aloud informally, and sometimes formally, to groups of listeners, thus the content of the newspaper became available to the less literate. The sharing of newspapers must also have occurred on a substantial scale.

It is difficult to quantify the readership for any particular newspaper title. When the copyright for the Belfast Newsletter was for sale in December 1794, two print runs for that year were published: for 3 January 1794, 2,975 copies and 4 July 1794, 3,225 copies. The readership was calculated as follows:

Calculating as others have done, that each Paper is read by six Persons, the Number Printed in one Day, 4th July last, being Three Thousand Two Hundred and Twenty Five, may have been purchased by Nineteen Thousand Three Hundred individuals, in the most populous and opulent portion of the kingdom.[82]

These figures cannot be taken as representative for other regions and other time periods. When extending the circulation of Finn’s Leinster Journal to Waterford in 1767 Edmund Finn was prepared to employ a courier to deliver the newspaper on the day of publication as soon as 60 subscribers were received; for a lesser number of subscribers it would be delivered the following day.[83] By January 1768 this condition must have been fulfilled and a regular messenger was employed to deliver the Journal to the city and county of Waterford on Wednesdays and Saturdays, the days of publication.[84]

Subscribers had to be attracted before a new title was launched. A commitment to support the newspaper did not involve paying in advance for the publication, a policy which caused problems for all newspaper suppliers as time went on. Subscribers were expected to pay their debts quarterly, half-yearly, or yearly; in practice subscriptions were often several years in arrears. Subscription rates for the provincial newspapers remained fairly constant in the second half of the century. The lowest rate was six British shillings (6s.6d. Irish) to town subscribers and ½ guinea to country subscribers charged for two issues per week of the Hibernian Chronicle; for this sum William Flyn gave gratis a title and index at the end of the year.[85] The more regular rate was eight British shillings (8s.8d. Irish) in town and ½ guinea in the country, rising to twelve British shillings in town and three British crowns in the country after the Stamp Act, for twice-weekly newspapers.

Dublin newspapers for country readers were circulated through the Post Office and Dublin newspaper proprietors requested intending subscribers to apply to the clerks of the four roads: the North (Ulster), South (Munster), East (Leinster), and West (Connaught) roads.[86] On the death of Edward Martin, secretary to the postmaster general at the General Post Office Dublin, in 1767, his daughter and executrix Mrs Sarah Martin was forced to appeal for payment from ‘all such Noblemen, Gentlemen and Ladies, as were indebted to said Edward Martin for newspapers supplied by him, that they will order the amount of their several accounts to be paid to her’.[87]

Similarly in 1793 Henry Harrison, the clerk of the Connaught road, issued complaints in the Connaught Journal ‘finding it Exceedingly Inconvenient to collect his News Paper Money in the Country, has determined him (from the very great Losses he has sustained) not to send a News Paper to any one, unless Paid for in Advance, which will be a saving of 6s.6d. per Ann. to the subscriber: – the price being only £1.16s.0d. in place of £2.2s.6d.’.[88] An advertisement inserted in the press by Alexander Boswell, who had recently taken over responsibility for the Ulster Road in 1791, advised gentlemen that he would supply them with the Dublin newspapers, reviews and magazines. Charges for the Dublin newspapers three times a week were on a sliding scale: £2.2s.6d. per annum on credit and paid for in the country, £2 on credit and paid in Dublin, £1.18s. paid in advance in the country and £1.16s. paid in advance in Dublin. He also supplied the Monthly Review (£1.8s.), Walker’s Hibernian Magazine (16s.3d.), Exshaw’s London Magazine (10s.10d.) and Byrne’s Universal Repository (16s.3d.).[89]

Provincial printers issued constant reminders to their subscribers to discharge their debts. They were requested to pay the printer’s agents who would furnish them with receipts.[90] Regular events that brought country gentlemen to town were particularly targeted as payment opportunities: the assizes, race meetings, and public meetings for elections. The assizes were chosen by most provincial newspaper printers as the best time to collect debts. Held regularly in spring and summer in the county towns and assured of a good attendance by neighbouring gentlemen, payment at these times kept accounts from falling into arrears. In addition to their legal function as courts administering civil and criminal justice, the assizes fulfilled a social function in provincial Ireland. Assemblies and balls were held at these times, curiosities were shown, business was transacted and political causes were furthered.[91] When William Bingley came to Ireland in 1773 to seek subscriptions for the London-printed Independent Chronicle and Weekly Journal he chose to attend the assizes at Cork, Kilkenny and Clonmel for this purpose. On his return to London subscriptions and advertisements for his two publications were taken by his Irish agents, Edmund Finn in Kilkenny and Mr Shaw, postmaster at Clonmel.[92]

William Flyn encouraged customers to settle their accounts at the assizes in Cork.[93] Edmund Finn or his clerk attended the assizes in Kilkenny and neighbouring counties to collect debts. In 1772 Finn’s representative could be contacted at Nixon’s coffee house during the Waterford assizes, while he attended the Clonmel assizes in person.[94] In 1773 they attended the assizes of Kilkenny, Carlow, Athy, Maryborough and Wexford for this purpose.[95] In 1774 Finn could be contacted at the Post Office in Clonmel, the Printing Office, or at Mr James White’s during the Clonmel assizes; he or his clerk would then attend the assizes of Maryborough and Carlow.[96]

Foster Parsons entreated those who were indebted to him for over two years for the Ennis Chronicle to settle their accounts at the assizes.[97] The proprietor of the Cork Gazette also hoped that gentlemen would pay their subscriptions at the assizes.[98] After the first year of publication subscribers to the Waterford Herald were requested to pay a half year in advance; agents in Waterford, Cork, Kerry, Tipperary and Limerick were authorised to accept payments.[99] However, subscriptions were also collected privately; in the winter of 1792-3 Mr Heron made a tour of Munster meeting readers and collecting subscriptions.[100]

Subscribers who were in arrears with their payments for over 12 months were threatened with cancellation of their newspapers. In 1768 Edmund Finn issued a warning to those in arrears for newspapers, advertisements and magazines: their supply of newspapers would be discontinued if their accounts were not discharged at the assizes. Readers who were over 12 months in debt to Finn at this period must have been receiving the newspaper from the beginning of its publication without ever having paid for it. At this point also Finn resolved to demand payment in ready money only for advertisements.[101] By 1773, however, Finn appealed to those who were in arrears for four or five years for newspapers and advertisements, indicating that their subscriptions had not been discontinued, as previously warned.[102] In 1790 and 1791 Foster Parsons requested payment from subscribers whose accounts were over 12 months in arrears; those who were in arrears for years faced being sued if their accounts were not settled.[103]

Ideally, subscriptions were paid quarterly or annually to the proprietor or his agents. Subscribers to Finn’s Leinster Journal were warned that no money was to be paid to the post boys.[104] Printed receipts were issued for payments. In March 1773, while collecting debts in Co. Tipperary, Finn’s clerk lost a small book of printed receipts for the Leinster Journal between Clonmel and Loughloher. This book, covered in marble paper, had several receipts made out for different subscribers in Co. Tipperary and signed by Finn, and also some blank receipts. It was feared that the finder of the book might use it to fraudulently receive subscription money and Finn urged his customers not to pay any part of their subscriptions to ‘any person not qualified to receive them’.[105]

The financial strain placed on newspaper proprietors by the Stamp Acts forced them to more rigorous methods of subscription collection. Not only did the cost of newspapers rise, but new subscribers were requested to pay for their papers in advance. The cost of Finn’s Leinster Journal rose from eight to twelve British shillings for town subscribers, and from a half guinea to three British crowns for country subscribers. New subscribers were to pay a half year in advance and renew their subscriptions at every assizes.[106] These conditions were to take effect from 25 March 1774.


Newspapers were delivered to agents in the surrounding towns through the Post Office or by special couriers. These agents occasionally had bookshops, but more often they kept inns, apothecary and grocer’s shops; by the 1790s a substantial number of delivery centres were Post Offices. At these centres newspapers were dropped and advertisements and subscriptions were taken in. Books, periodicals and stationery were delivered in the same way to the same delivery points.

Finn announced the distribution of monthly periodicals such as Exshaw’s Gentleman’s and London Magazine, Walker’s Hibernian Magazine, Town and Country Magazine and Lady’s Magazine to ‘any part of the Country where this newspaper is usually sent’, at the rate of 8s.8d. per annum in the country and 6s.6d. in town to subscribers of the newspaper.[107] The annual publications, Watson’s Almanack and The English Registry, could be supplied to his country customers by the ‘different Post-boys who deliver the News-paper in the remote parts of the Country’.[108] Books also followed the newspaper routes; in March 1768 An abridgement of Dr Newton’s dissertation on the prophecies was distributed by Finn to Bernard Donovan, one of the agents for the Leinster Journal, at the Slip, and at the Angel Inn in Waterford.[109] William Flyn’s publication The modern monitor; or Flyn’s speculations, a compendium of articles from the Hibernian Chronicle, was sent to bookshops in Dublin, Waterford and Limerick and to all country places where the Chronicle was circulated in 1770.[110] John Ferrar, printer of the Limerick Chronicle, distributed his annual catalogue of books to ‘all the Places in the Country where his News-paper is delivered’ and orders were taken by his subscription agents.[111] He also distributed Walker’s Hibernian Magazine, Exshaw’s Gentleman’s and London Magazine and the Monthly Review using the newspaper routes.

Special couriers were employed by provincial newspaper printers to supplement distribution by the Post Office and to offer a more effective service to readers by delivering newspapers on the day of publication. The Post Office made collections and deliveries two, three or six times a week depending on the routes, but this did not always coincide with times or days of publication.[112] In England distribution of newspapers and periodicals was through the Post Office and also by local carriers. Feather points out, however, that the Post Office was never involved in the distribution of books, as the cost would have been too high.[113] Similarly there is no evidence for large-scale book distribution through the Post Office network in Ireland. Lord Orrery, writing to Dr Richard Pococke in 1748 advises: ‘Any books in parcells too heavy for the post will come safe if you will be so kind to send them to Mr William Marlow, Merchant in Mary’s Abbey’.[114]

A courier or post-boy was assigned a particular route covering a number of towns to which he delivered newspapers, magazines and books. They could take letters from country customers for the printer, but customers were advised to give no subscription money to the post-boys and they were not entrusted with printed receipt books.[115] The courier needed to be a sober, honest man, well recommended, who could give security for his honesty, and punctual performance; he was also obliged to provide ‘a good hack Horse’.[116] The couriers acted independently, contracting themselves and their horses to the printer and they were paid quarterly.[117] The distribution of books in this manner was clearly limited to what could be carried on horseback by a single rider. It is likely that small parcels of books were carried frequently, as the rider covered the route two or three times a week with the newspapers, and magazines were circulated monthly. Darby Connor, who delivered the Cork Gazette to Youghal twice a week in 1792, was willing to execute commands left for him at James Johnson’s stationery shop in Youghal, and at the Post Offices of Castlemartyr and Midleton.[118] A newspaper with a geographically extensive circulation needed numerous couriers, Finn’s Leinster Journal employed at least six or seven couriers to distribute the newspaper in the late 1760s and 1770s. In 1772 the Hibernian Chronicle was circulated by couriers to 26 towns in Cork, Limerick, Waterford and Kerry, ‘besides a great number to the different post-offices in the kingdom’.[119]

Not all couriers were as reliable as the printer wished. In 1768 Edmund Finn received complaints about his messengers who delivered the newspapers ‘in and about Waterford’. The precise nature of the complaints is not clear, but they seem to have concerned late delivery. Finn informed his subscribers that in future the newspapers would be delivered on the evening of publication, every Wednesday and Saturday, to the house of William Minchin, opposite the Ferry-slip.[120] In 1770 William Flyn’s courier was accused of stealing clothing in Youghal; he was proved innocent when the real thief was charged and committed to gaol.[121]

In 1772 Flyn was forced to apologise to subscribers of the Hibernian Chronicle for the delay in publishing the newspaper: ‘it was occasioned by the King’s Post not arriving til after 6 o’clock Friday morning, which should come in on Thursday night’.[122] Late delivery of the papers was also the issue in 1774 when Finn sought two or three new post-boys for the routes to Ballinakill, Durrow, Rathdowney, Mountrath, Maryborough, Mountmellick, Borris-in-Ossory and Roscrea. His existing messengers broke their contracts by not setting out from Kilkenny for six to eight hours after the papers were printed. The Journal was usually ready by 6 or 7 o’clock on the morning of publication and the riders did not set out until 12 or 1 o’clock, thus delaying delivery by half a day.[123] W.G. Moffat, printer of the Waterford Herald, received complaints from his subscribers on the Cork Road of being ‘irregularly served’ with the paper, a situation he determined to remedy immediately.[124]

The prompt delivery of newspapers to subscribers was of particular importance to all provincial printers; it was here that the competition lay, as well as in the amount of news printed. If a rival paper could reach its readers with fresher news, then subscribers would turn to that paper. In 1791 the Waterford Herald sought to maintain its readership in Cork by appointing James Daltera of the Mail Coach Office as its agent. In this way the delay of three hours at the Post Office before the paper was delivered could be avoided, and the paper circulated ‘immediately on the arrival of the mail coach’.[125]

In addition to individual subscriptions newspapers were made available in the coffee houses, a practice which dated in Ireland to the late seventeenth century. Dublin coffee houses were renowned for the range of newspapers which they carried. Coffee houses in the provincial towns followed suit in the second half of the eighteenth century, making a range of London, Dublin and local papers available to their customers. When D. Manly reopened the Merchant’s coffee house at the corner of Castle Street and North Main Street in Cork in 1795, he offered 20 newspapers and information sheets from London, Dublin, Cork, Waterford, Limerick, Kilkenny, Belfast and Derry.[126] From the 1770s Finn’s Leinster Journal was circulated to the London, Chapter, Peele’s and Chancery coffee houses in London, the Grove and Parade coffee houses in Bath, the Merchant’s coffee house in Cork and Nixon’s coffee house in Waterford.[127] In 1793 the Waterford Herald was available ‘at the principal coffee houses in Ireland, England and Scotland’.[128]


To understand the operation of the provincial newspaper business is to gain an insight into local trading and communication patterns, and thereby to an understanding of the national picture. The importance of the newspaper in shaping local opinions, and in mirroring local and national preoccupations is only beginning to be appreciated by historians. From the point of view of history of the book trade the newspaper is the key to understanding the wider trade. In the absence of printers’ ledgers and other contemporary data for the provincial book trade the newspaper, which represented the printer’s interests, is of inestimable value. The lines of communication established by the Post Office, and intensified by the newspaper carriers, helped to open up rural Ireland to broader ideas and an awareness of the world outside the community. As the newspaper press was exclusively in the English language it undoubtedly also played its part in the erosion of the Irish language.

This article was first published in Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society, 103, (1998), pp 67-88.

Images courtesy of Dublin City Library & Archive (www.dublincitypubliclibraries.ie )

[1] Robert Munter, The history of the Irish newspaper 1685-1760 (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1967).

[2] R. R. Madden, The history of Irish periodical literature, 2 volumes (London, T.C. Newby, 1867), 2, pp164-252.

[3] Surviving issues of Irish newspapers have been located and listed in James O’Toole, Newsplan: report of the Newsplan project in Ireland (Dublin, The British Library / National Library of Ireland, 1992). Newspapers are also listed in the Eighteenth-Century Short Title Catalogue (ESTC).

[4] Published by Robert Thornton and printed by Joseph Ray in 1685, the News-Letter is considered the first Irish newspaper. It was followed, after a break, by the Dublin Intelligence in 1690, also owned and published by Robert Thornton.

[5] Finn’s Leinster Journal, 30 January-2 February 1771. Agents took subscriptions in         Mitchelstown, Clogheen, Carrick, Callen, Kilkenny, Waterford, Dungarvan, Mullinahone, Thurles, Slevardagh, Killenaule, Cashel, Fethard and Clonmel.

[6] Finn’s Leinster Journal, 9-13 March 1771.

[7] A newspaper entitled the Clonmel Journal survives for 2 dates in 1800, 24 September and 1 October, but this was a different enterprise.

[8] Finn’s Leinster Journal, 8-12 May 1779. Busteed is likely to be John Busteed, printer in Cork, Ennis and Tralee, who was associated with the Cork Chronicle, Hibernian Morning Post (Cork), Clare Journal and Kerry Evening Post. Knox is likely to be Thomas Saunders Knox, printer in Cork and later in Ennis, proprietor of the Cork General Advertiser, 1776-78, and the Clare Journal until his death in 1802. Clare Journal 1 April 1802.

[9] Vincent Kinane, ‘A galley of pie: women in the Irish book trades’, Linen Hall Review (December 1991), pp 10-13.

[10] The Hibernian Magazine: or, compendium of entertaining knowledge (April, 1777), p. 296.

[11] Waterford Herald, 25 February 1792.

[12] Finn’s Leinster Journal, 31 January – 4 February 1767.

[13] Hibernian Chronicle, 27 August 1770.

[14] Wexford Herald, 4 August 1788.

[15] Ennis Chronicle, 14 February 1791.

[16] Finn’s Leinster Journal, 12-15 July 1769.

[17] Hibernian Chronicle, 18 June 1772.

[18] Robert Herbert, ‘An Eighteenth Century Limerick Printing Venture’, Irish Book Lover, 28 (1942), pp 104-12, letter to Sir Vere Hunt in Limerick from Stephen Parker, 30 December 1786, p.107.

[19] M. Pollard, Dublin’s trade in books 1550-1800 (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1989), p. 120.

[20] Historical remarks of the city of Waterford from 853 to 1270 (Waterford, printed and sold by G. Wilson, [1736]).

[21] Waterford Herald, 6 September 1791; 27 September 1791.

[22] W.G. Strickland, ‘Type-founding in Dublin’, The Bibliographical Society of Ireland, II, no. 2 (1922), pp 23-32. Pollard, op. cit., pp 120-3.

[23] Herbert, loc. cit.

[24] Waterford Herald, 22 October 1791.

[25] Hibernian Chronicle, 31 May 1770.

[26] Ennis Chronicle, 30 June 1791.

[27] Cork Gazette, 8 September 1792. New Cork Evening Post, 7 October 1793.

[28] New Cork Evening Post, 16 December 1793.

[29] The Journals of the House of Commons of the Kingdom of Ireland, XIV (Dublin, printed by Abraham Bradley and Abraham Bradley King, 1782), p. 73, Table of imports of writing and printing paper into Ireland for 16 years from 1750 to 1765.

[30] Pollard has examined imports of paper from the Custom House ledgers. Pollard, op. cit., pp 145-6; for paper costs see pp 111-15.

[31] Limerick Chronicle, 13 October 1768; Finn’s Leinster Journal, 29 October-2 November 1768; Waterford Chronicle, 28 December 1770-1 January 1771.

[32] Charles Smith, The antient and present state of the county and city of Waterford (Dublin, printed by A. Reilly for the author, 1746), p. 284. Charles Smith, The antient and present state of the county and city of Cork, 2 volumes (Dublin, printed by A. Reilly for the author, 1750), II, p. 239.

[33] The Journals of the House of Commons of the Kingdom of Ireland, VIII (Dublin, printed by Abraham Bradley and Abraham Bradley King, 1782), pp 205; 215-6; IX (Dublin, printed by Abraham Bradley and Abraham Bradley King, 1782), pp 364, 370, 389, 514, 615.

[34] H. Ewen, ‘Paper making in Ireland’ in F.R. Higgins, ed., Progress in Irish printing (Dublin, Alex. Thom & Co., 1936), pp 51-64, p.56.

[35] Maurice Lenihan, Limerick; its history and antiquities (Dublin, Hodges, Smith & Co., 1866), p. 358.

[36] Cork Evening Post, 28 February 1763.

[37] The Journals of the House of Commons of the Kingdom of Ireland, XIII (Dublin, printed by Abraham Bradley and Abraham Bradley King, 1782), p. 411. Alf MacLochlainn, ‘Bagnells and Knights: publishers and papermakers in Cork’, The Irish Book, I, no. 3 (Autumn 1960), pp 70-4.

[38] The Journals of the House of Commons, op. cit., XIII, pp 517-8.

[39] Cork Evening Post, 24 February 1763; 26 May 1763; 11 July 1763.

[40] Cork Evening Post, 11 July 1763.

[41] Cork Evening Post, 30 July 1781.

[42] Finn’s Leinster Journal, 17-20 August 1768.

[43] The Journals of the House of Commons of the Kingdom of Ireland, XIV (Dublin, printed by Abraham Bradley and Abraham Bradley King, 1782), pp 684, 702. James W. Phillips, ‘A trial list of Irish papermakers 1690-1800’, The Library, fifth ser., XIII, no. 1 (March 1958), pp 59-62.

[44] John Phair (d.1774) of Brooklodge, near Riverstown, Cork, was succeeded in the papermaking business by Francis Phair (d.1781), Robert Phair (fl.1775) and Francis Phair (d.1823). William Phair (d.1812) of Millview, near Glanmire, was succeeded by William Phair (fl.1815-1826), who was in partnership with Francis Phair at North Main Street. Thomas Phair (d.1777) and Edward Phair (d.1786) were papermakers in Waterford. Francis Phair continued that business until at least 1824. The commercial directory of Ireland … for 1820-21, 1822 (Manchester, J. Pigot & Co., 1820), pp 176, 239. Pigot & Co.’s city of Dublin and Hibernia provincial directory (Manchester, J. Pigot & Co. 1824), pp 253, 322.

[45] Finn’s Leinster Journal, 23-26 March 1774.

[46] Hibernian Chronicle, 11 February 1773.

[47] Wexford Herald, 4 August 1788.

[48] Dublin Intelligence, 18 July 1702; 26 February 1708-09.

[49] Francis Dickson extracted news from the Paris, Harlem and Antwerp Gazettes in 1702, and from the Paris and London Gazettes, Leyden Gazette and Slip, the Paris and Hague Lettres à la main, Daily Courants, Post-Man, Flying Post and Post-Script and Manuscripts in 1706. Dublin Intelligence, 25 August-1 September 1702; 4 May 1706.

[50] Jeremy Black, The English press in the eighteenth century (Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1987), pp 88-9.

[51] Michael Harris, ‘Newspaper distribution during Queen Anne’s reign’ in Studies in the Book Trade in honour of Graham Pollard (Oxford, Oxford Bibliographical Society, 1975), pp 139-51.

[52] The Dublin Gazette was established in 1706 and continued until 1921. Its title then changed to Iris Oifigiúil which continues to be published

[53] Public Record Office Northern Ireland: LA79/2A/3A, ‘Corporation of Londonderry, minute book, 1704 to 1720’, May 1704, p. 9.

[54] Richard Caulfield, The council book of the corporation of Kinsale (Guildford, Surrey, J. Billing and Sons, 1879), p.182, 4 October 1688.

[55] Richard Caulfield, The council book of the corporation of Youghal (Guildford, Surrey, J. Billing and Sons, 1878), p.391, 23 February 1693/4; p.393, 16 January 1694/5.

[56] Ibid. p. 513, 11 December 1786.

[57] National Library of Ireland: Ms 42,103, ‘Ledger of accounts furnished by an agent supplying members of the British army, civilian and ecclesiastical establishment in Ireland, as well as private individuals … 1781 -1813.’ Newspaper titles supplied included London Chronicle, St James’s Chronicle, Courier, Statesman, Times, Globe, Observer, General Evening Post, Morning Chronicle, Public Advertiser, and Edinburgh Review. The Kildare Street Club in Dublin received the Paris and Amsterdam Gazettes in 1781.

[58] Richard Caulfield, The council book of the corporation of the city of Cork (Guildford, Surrey, J. Billing and Sons, 1876), p. 306, 24 June 1704; p. 363, 4 January 1713/4.

[59] Ibid., p. 379, 27 October 1715; p. 388, 21 January 1716/7.

[60] Ibid., Walter Pallisser 1746-1760: pp 640, 648, 650, 666, 680, 684, 690, 697, 704, 719, 724, 740. Edmond Browning 1761-1774: pp 747, 764, 772, 791, 810, 819, 831, 839, 849, 860, 870, 885, 896.

[61] Ibid., William Maturin 1776-1799: pp 911, 922, 933, 944, 949, 952, 956, 1000-1, 1091, 1132

[62] Waterford Herald, 5 July 1791.

[63] Waterford Herald, 10 August 1793.

[64] Waterford Herald, 7 February 1793.

[65] Waterford Herald, 3 October 1793.

[66] New Cork Evening Post, 28 November 1793.

[67] Munter, op. cit., pp 157-68.

[68] Finn’s Leinster Journal, 23-26 December 1767.

[69] Hibernian Chronicle, 2 January 1772.

[70] Memoirs of James Saint-John M.D., author of Letters from France … also of Coronet and plumage – a poem and other productions, 2 volumes (Dublin, P. Byrne, 1792). Waterford Herald, 1 March 1792; 25 October 1792; 27 October 1792; 6 December 1792.

[71] Waterford Herald, 30 October 1792.

[72] Finn’s Leinster Journal, 15-18 July 1767.

[73] Finn’s Leinster Journal, 23-26 December 1767; 2-6 January 1773.

[74] Finn’s Leinster Journal, 19-21 March 1768.

[75] Finn’s Leinster Journal, 3-6 August 1768.

[76] Pollard, op. cit., pp 21-4.

[77] Finn’s Leinster Journal, 19-23 February 1774; 18-22 June 1774.

[78] Finn’s Leinster Journal, 19-23 February 1774.

[79] Pollard, op. cit., p. 29.

[80] Finn’s Leinster Journal (Kilkenny) 1766-1965; Kerry Evening Post (Tralee) 1774-1917; Clare Journal (Ennis) 1778-1917; Waterford Chronicle 1765-1849; Wexford Herald 1787-1865; Ennis Chronicle 1784-1831; Chute’s Western Herald (Tralee) 1791-1835.

[81] Caoimhín Ó Danachair, ‘Oral tradition and the printed word’, Irish University Review, 9, no. 1 (1979), pp 31-41; p.36. Report of the Commissioners appointed to take the Census of Ireland for the year 1841 (Dublin, Thom, 1843), pp xxxii-xl; pp 438-9.

[82] Freeman’s Journal, 20 December 1794.

[83] Finn’s Leinster Journal, 15-18 July 1767.

[84] Finn’s Leinster Journal, 27-30 January 1768.

[85] Hibernian Chronicle, 31 December 1770; 2 January 1772.

[86] John Lee was clerk of the Munster road from at least 1764 to 1766. He is not to be        identified with John Lees, secretary of the Irish Post Office from 1774, who came to Ireland with Lord Townshend in 1767. Thomas Jones was clerk of the Munster Road from 1768 to 1776. William Maturin Esq. held the position from 1776 to 1809 and he supplied Cork Corporation with newspapers in this period. He was succeeded in office by P. Thomson Esq. in 1810. Watson’s Almanack 1764-1810. F.E. Dixon, ‘Irish postal history’, Dublin Historical Record, XXIII (July 1970), pp 127-36

[87] Dublin Mercury, 25-28 July 1767.

[88] Connaught Journal, 25 July 1793.

[89] Dublin Chronicle, 2 August 1791.

[90] Finn’s Leinster Journal, 15-19 August 1767.

[91] In 1762 a ‘young and lofty camel, lately brought from Grand Cairo in Egypt’ arrived in Waterford and was to be shown at the ensuing assizes in Cork. Public Gazetteer, 24 August 1762. I am indebted to Kieran Sheedy for the information that prospective political candidates were introduced into local society and their political ambitions were promoted at the assizes.

[92] Finn’s Leinster Journal, 31 July-4 August 1773; 28 August-1 September 1773; 30 July-3 August 1774.

[93] Hibernian Chronicle, 30 March 1772.

[94] Finn’s Leinster Journal, 11-14 March 1772.

[95] Finn’s Leinster Journal, 3-6 March 1773; 1-4 September 1773.

[96] Finn’s Leinster Journal, 5-9 March 1774; 16-19 March 1774.

[97] Ennis Chronicle, 27 July 1789.

[98] Cork Gazette, 10 September 1791.

[99] Waterford Herald, 4 February 1792.

[100] Waterford Herald, 15 January 1793.

[101] Finn’s Leinster Journal, 19-21 March 1768.

[102] Finn’s Leinster Journal, 2-6 January 1773.

[103] Ennis Chronicle, 29 April 1790; 14 February 1791.

[104] Finn’s Leinster Journal, 13-16 July 1768.

[105] Finn’s Leinster Journal, 13-17 March 1773.

[106] Finn’s Leinster Journal, 19-23 February 1774.

[107] Finn’s Leinster Journal, 10-14 September 1768; 28 August-1 September 1773; 23-27 April 1774.

[108] Finn’s Leinster Journal, 21-25 January 1769.

[109] Finn’s Leinster Journal, 21-23 March 1768.

[110] Hibernian Chronicle, 30 July 1770.

[111] Limerick Chronicle, 13 March 1769; 15 February 1779.

[112] Watson’s Almanack lists post towns, rates of postage and frequency of service on an annual basis.

[113] John Feather, The provincial book trade in eighteenth-century England (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1985).

[114] The Orrery papers, ed. by the Countess of Cork and Orrery, 2 volumes (London, Duckworth and Co., 1903), 2, pp 31-2.

[115] Finn’s Leinster Journal, 13-16 July 1768; 19-13 February 1774.

[116] Finn’s Leinster Journal, 21-25 February 1767; 10-13 August 1768; 2-5 June 1773.

[117] Hibernian Chronicle, 16 July 1772.

[118] Cork Gazette, 18 April 1792.

[119] Kinsale, Bandon, Bantry, Skibereen, Clonakilty, Rosscarbery, Berehaven, Skull, Mallow, Buttevant, Charleville, Limerick, Youghal, Midleton, Cloyne, Castlemartyr, Lismore, Tallow, Cobh, Passage, Macroom, Killarney, Shanagh, Castleisland, Tralee and Dingle. Hibernian Chronicle, 2 January 1772.

[120] Finn’s Leinster Journal, 13-17 August 1768.

[121] Hibernian Chronicle, 23 July 1770.

[122] Hibernian Chronicle, 17 December 1772.

[123] Finn’s Leinster Journal, 2-5 March 1774.

[124] Waterford Herald, 19 September 1793.

[125] Waterford Herald, 5 July 1791; 14 July 1791.

[126] The Star, Courier, London Gazette, London Prices Current, Lloyd’s List, Imports and Exports, Dublin Evening Post, Dublin Journal, Hibernian Journal, Knight’s Cork Evening Post, Flin’s Hibernian Chronicle, Cork Gazette, Waterford Herald, Ramsey’s Waterford Chronicle, Limerick Herald, Limerick Chronicle, Northern Star, Leinster Journal, Londonderry Chronicle, and Cove List. Cork Gazette, 31 October 1795.

[127] Finn’s Leinster Journal, 31 December-3 January 1778; 24-28 October 1778.

[128] Waterford Herald, 28 May 1793.

Antoine D’Esca: first professor of French and German at Trinity College Dublin (1775-1784).

Two professorships of modern languages were established at Trinity College Dublin during the provostship of John Hely-Hutchinson (1774-1794), one to teach French and German, and the other Spanish and Italian, although a degree course was not instituted until 1873. Attendance at the lectures was optional and students paid an extra fee for them. In 1775 Antoine D’Esca was appointed to teach French and German, and R. Antonio Vieyra Transtagano, a Portuguese emigré from London and author of a Portuguese English dictionary, was appointed to teach Italian and Spanish.[1] The two professors were granted honorary degrees of LL.B. by the college on their appointment.[2]

Antoine D’Esca’s background is obscure: born c.1732, his burial record at the French non-conformist church of Peter Street states that he was from Berlin.[3] This suggests that D’Esca was descended from an exiled Huguenot family, as Berlin was the centre of Huguenot life in Prussia with the number of French exiles there put at c.6,600 in 1750.[4] It also suggests a reason for his having been chosen to teach the combination of French and German languages.

John Rocque, An exact survey of the city and suburbs of Dublin (London, 1756), Peter Street French Church is marked FC. Robert Pool and John Cash, Views of the most remarkable public buildings, monuments and other edifices in the city of Dublin (Dublin, 1780).

D’Esca’s main interest, however, seems to have been in French, to the neglect of his German studies. Monies were granted to him from time to time to purchase stock for the college library, which were mainly spent on French books. In 1781 he was awarded £11.7s.6d. to cover a subscription to an edition of Voltaire’s works.[5] This corresponds exactly to the price of the twelve volume quarto set of Voltaire’s Oeuvres with plates, advertised by Luke White, the Dublin bookseller, in November 1777.[6]

It has been claimed that D’Esca left no academic impression on the college. This might well have been the case, especially given the nature of the appointment, to teach French and German as an additional accomplishment to what were held to be the essentials of a solid education. McDowell and Webb considered the early professors of modern languages as no more  than ‘licensed grinders’ who had to ‘supplement their slender salary and the small income they derived from undergraduates’ fees by taking in other pupils from outside the college’; they saw them as ‘language teachers of no literary pretensions’.[7]


Hibernian Journal, 1-4 June 1781.

However, a copy of Voltaire’s Letters curieuses et intéressantes in the British Library shows D’Esca to have been the compiler and editor.[8] The titlepage gives the editor as the cryptic ‘M.A.D.’ The volume was printed in Dublin by William Hallhead and advertised as a new book in June 1781 at 5s.5d. bound or 4s.10½d. sewed, rising by July 1781 to 5s.11½d. bound or 5s.5d. sewed.[9] The Avertissement in the book is dated ‘Trin.Col. 26me Mars’. The copy in the British Library was the property of Henry George Quin, presented to him ‘by the Editor Monsieur D’Esca’ and dated 1781 in manuscript on the flyleaf. It was Quin’s practice to sign all his books ‘Hen: Geo: Quin’ with the date of purchase, or in this case of presentation.[10]

Quin entered Trinity in 1776, graduating in 1781; he may well have attended D’Esca’s lectures while at college. He was a keen book collector and bequeathed his core collection of 110 treasures to the college.[11] The copy of Lettres curieuses et intéressantes was part of his larger library and therefore not part of the bequest. In 1891 the sale catalogues of the book auctions which he attended were presented to Trinity College Library and Veronica Morrow notes that Quin books turn up on the market from time to time.

In spite of his modest salary D’Esca himself was an avid collector of books, especially in French. After his death on 26 December 1784 they were sold at auction by James Vallance, the sale continuing from the 13 until at least the 25 February 1786. The sale consisted of the libraries of ‘Anthony Desca late professor of French and German in Trinity College Dublin, and another gentleman’. More than 5,000 volumes were involved, ‘being the best collection in that line ever offered to sale by auction in this kingdom.’[12] Unfortunately no copy of the auction catalogue seems to have survived.

D’Esca’s commitment to the French language is clear and his purchase of Voltaire’s works for the library in 1781 is testimony to his interest in Voltaire in the year of the publication of his own edition of the Lettres. He was also aware of forthcoming editions of Voltaire as he states in the Avertissement that he hopes ‘que l’on inserera celles [letters] de M. de Voltaire dans l’édition de ses Oeuvres que Mr Panckoucke fait imprimer.’ It is not known what his lectures were like nor how he influenced or encouraged his students in the learning of the French language and the appreciation of its literature.

This note was first published in Long Room, 38 (1993), pp 18-19.

Images courtesy of Dublin City Library & Archive (www.dublincitypubliclibraries.ie )

[1] Anthony Vieyra Transtagano, A dictionary of the Portuguese and English languages (London, printed for J. Nourse, 1773), ESTC T82137. R. Antonio Vieyra Transtagano (1712-1797) was teacher of Latin and Arabic in London before his appointment to Trinity College.

[2] G. D. Burtchaell and T. U. Sadleir eds, Alumni Dublinenses (Dublin, 1935); M M. Raraty, ‘The chair of German at Trinity College, Dublin, 1755-1866, Hermathena, 102-105 (1966-7), p. 54.

[3] T. P. Lefanu ed., Registers of the French non-conformist churches of Lucy Lane and Peter Street, Dublin (Aberdeen, Publications of the Huguenot Society of London, XIV, 1901), p.125.

[4] Stefi Jersch-Wenzel, ‘De l’importance des Huguenots dans l’économie: l’example de Magdebourg’ in M. Magdelaine et R. von Thadden, Le refuge Huguenot (Paris, 1985), p.186.

[5] Raraty, p. 54.

[6] Hibernian Journal, 3-5 November 1777.

[7] R. B. McDowell and D. A. Webb, Trinity College Dublin 1592-1952: an academic history (Cambridge, 1982), pp 57-8.

[8] Letters curieuses et intéressantes de Monsieur de Voltaire, et de plusieurs autres personnes, distinguées par leur rang & par leur mérite. Avec des reflexions & des notes par M.A.D. (à Dublin, chez W. Hallhead, 1781), ESTC T154631.

[9] Hibernian Journal, 1-4 June 1781. Saunder’s News Letter, 7 July 1781.

[10] Veronica Morrow, ‘Bibliotheca Quiniana: a description of the books and bindings in the Quin Collection in the library of Trinity College Dublin’, University of London thesis for Diploma in Librarianship 1970.

[11] Veronica Morrow, ‘Bibliotheca Quiniana’, in Peter Fox ed., Treasures of the library, Trinity College Dublin (Dublin, 1986), pp 184-96.

[12] Dublin Journal, 4-7 February 1786; 23-25 February 1786.

‘At the exchange’: the eighteenth-century book trade in Cork.



From its construction in the first decade of the eighteenth century the new exchange in Castle Street became the focal point of the Cork book trade. The concentration of public buildings housing the legal and civil administration in the Main Street/Castle Street area created a demand for stationery, books and newspapers. Over thirty booksellers can be identified trading here during the eighteenth century, some succeeding others in the same premises. The exchange acted as a central point for dissemination of information in the legal and commercial world. Bills, proclamations and printed addresses were ‘put on the Post within the new exchange for public view’.[2] Throughout the eighteenth century all city council orders were ‘posted up on the exchange’.[3] Sales by public cant were held at the exchange, or in the taverns and coffee houses nearby. In February 1754 a pleasure boat was sold at the exchange for the benefit of the infirmary, and in October of the same year the ship Lucy of Cork was sold there.[4] The exchange accommodated the town clock, where previously the clock on the steeple of Christchurch acted in this capacity.[5] The exchange was the hub of commercial and civic life until the establishment of the commercial buildings on the South Mall in 1813. Having outlived its use, and being considered an obstruction to traffic jutting out into Main Street, it was demolished in 1837.

Situation and commercial importance:

The medieval core of Cork city was contained within the divided channels of the river Lee. Main Street followed the central ridge from north to south, ending with the towers of the city walls at North Gate and South Gate bridges. Castle Street was situated in the centre of the walled city, running east-west from Queen’s castle to Roche’s castle. In the medieval period it fronted onto a water channel, the medieval ‘key’ of Cork, the street occupying the northern quay. This waterway was able to accommodate ships, as shown on the Pecata Hibernia map of 1595. By the eighteenth century the channel was arched over and the water culverted beneath the street.[6] In 1760 the corporation ordered that the exchange slip, which had lately been covered in, be converted into a shop, allowing access to the water by a trap door, in case of accidental fire.[7] Castle Street joined Main Street to the west, splitting it into North Main and South Main Streets. At its eastern end it met Tuckey’s Quay (later Grand Parade) to the south, and Cornmarket/Coal Quay to the north, and from the early eighteenth century had its continuation eastwards into Paul Street. This situation gave Castle Street its commercial importance, forming as it did the cross-axis of the old city.

Castle Street retained its economic ascendancy throughout the eighteenth century. The fine new exchange, begun in 1708 and opened in May 1710, celebrated the dominance of trade in the capital of the south. Located at the south-western corner of Castle Street at Main Street, it was built on the foundation of the medieval Paradise tower, later Roche’s castle. In 1732 Edward Lloyd considered the exchange more beautiful than the Dublin one and ‘exceeding that in Bristol, or the changes in any city or port in England excepting the magnificent building of the Royal Exchange in London’.[8] In 1750 Smith described it as:

an handsome regular structure of hewn stone. The front consists of five arches, with three others next the passage to the street. The middle arch or principal entrance is adorned with columns of the Doric order, over which are fluted ones of the Ionic order; … On the top is an elegant cupola covered with lead; a gilt ball, cross and dragon.[9]


Engraving of The Exchange, Cork, from Charles Smith, The antient and present state of the county and city of Cork, 1750.

The city court house was located south of the exchange, and the county court house south of King’s castle at the eastern end of Castle Street. Court Lane, running parallel to Castle Street, linked the two court houses. The exchange itself accommodated the council chamber on its upper floor and also provided space for the grand jury at the assizes and sessions, the mayor’s office, and an office for keeping the council records.[10] The grouping of offices dealing with city and county administration created demand for the services of bookseller, bookbinder, stationer and printer. Legal and administrative stationery and printed forms were staples of the trade. Information in book, pamphlet and newspaper form, was increasingly necessary for officials at all levels. Proclamations and notices were issued regularly, and local printers carried out these tasks for the corporation and the courts.

The concentrated central area continued to hold its commercial superiority until the last quarter of the eighteenth century, when the city was beginning to expand as the marshes to the east and west were drained and reclaimed, and the suburbs began to be developed.[11] Work continued in arching over the water channels, in the early 1780s the waterway at the Long Quay was covered and the new thoroughfare became St Patrick Street. At the same period the navigable channel at Tuckey’s Quay was covered in and Grand Parade formed. Newspaper advertising shows that the luxury trades were mainly located in the central areas of the city, first in the old core, and later in the eastern areas at George’s Street and Patrick Street: booksellers, stationers, confectioners, florists, perfumers, peruke makers, silversmiths, drapers, seed merchants, cabinet makers, cutlers and coach builders. In 1739 the mayor suggested that the post office be ‘kept near the exchange, being the centre of this city.’[12] William Flyn, printer and bookseller at the Shakespeare, ‘near the exchange’, pointed to the commercial advantages of the area when advertising his shop and apartments ‘under the exchange coffee house’ in 1775: ‘the situation for any kind of business is superior to most in the city’.[13] In the last two decades of the century bookselling businesses spread out from Castle Street, Main Street and Paul Street, into the newly formed Patrick Street, Grand Parade and Grattan Street.

From the early years of the century booksellers set up business in the vicinity of the exchange. From about 1715 Thomas Cotton, Andrew Welsh and John Redwood had bookshops in Castle Street, Welsh’s and Redwood’s located ‘near the exchange’. Thomas Pilkington was in Castle Street from 1729, succeeded by his widow, Martha, at the same address early in the 1740s. Cornelius Sullivan was ‘at the exchange coffee house’ in Castle Street in 1736. From the 1750s Castle Street was the address of Phineas and George Bagnell, ‘opposite the exchange coffee house’; Timothy Cronin ‘under the English coffee house’;[14] George and James Knight, and later Henry and John Knight. Eugene Swiney was on Main Street ‘near the exchange’ from 1754, having moved from Paul Street. John Bardin was at the Bible, Castle Street, in 1763, advertising imported paper and merchants’ account books, moving to Paul Street, where he died in 1773. William Flyn was at the Shakespeare, ‘near the exchange’, from 1764 to 1775, when he moved to ‘south-side of the exchange’. George Busteed, printer of the Cork Chronicle, was in Castle Street in the 1760s, moving to Paul Street in 1766. John Busteed, printer of the Hibernian Morning Post, was in Castle Street ‘near the exchange’ in the early 1770s, having moved from Paul Street. Thomas Lord had his bookshop and circulating library in Castle Street ‘under the exchange coffee house’ in 1770.[15]

Mary Edwards opened her new bookshop at 3 Castle Street, ‘next door to the exchange coffee house’ in June 1770, where she proposed to stock the ‘greatest variety of modern books’ from London and Dublin, as well as paper and stationery. She particularly targeted country dealers, offering to supply them ‘on the lowest terms’.[16] Her son and successor, Anthony Edwards, was at the same address from 1781, ‘opposite the new merchant’s coffee house’, until he moved to 6 Castle Street, where he remained until 1815, trading as Edwards and Savage from about 1806. Thomas Saunders Knox spent two years in Castle Street from 1776 to 1778, publishing the Cork General Advertiser, before moving to Ennis. In 1773 Michael Matthews had his bookshop in Castle Street, ‘opposite the exchange coffee house’, where he stocked books, pictures, stationery, ‘rare and curious pieces out of print and very scarce’.[17] From his bookshop and circulating library ‘under the exchange’ he offered the best prices for libraries and parcels of books in 1777.[18] In 1781 the bookshop in the ‘small house under part of the exchange’ was to be set by public cant.[19] Matthews continued to occupy the premises, paying an annual rent of £4.19s. until 1791, when his ‘shop and bulk’ was assigned to the trustees of the new coffee house, and he moved to North Main Street.[20]

Jeremiah Sullivan was ‘opposite the exchange’ from 1777. Thomas White carried on business at 55 the exchange, ‘opposite the west gate of the exchange’ on Main Street from 1770, occupying Eugene’s Swiney’s former bookshop, and moving to 4 Castle Street in 1793. Robert Dobbyn, printer of the Cork Weekly Journal, was at 9 Castle Street from 1779, moving to Bachelor’s Quay about 1787. The 1790s saw John Connor’s bookshop and circulating library established at 17 Castle Street, at the corner of Cornmarket, James Haly, son-in-law of William Flyn, at the King’s Arms, exchange, and Michael Harris at 6 Castle Street. In 1794 Thomas Boate’s ‘Stationary, music, map and print ware-house’ removed to 3 new buildings, Castle Street, under the Tontine coffee house. He advertised maps, prints, music and merchants’ account books, as well as children’s and school books, magazines and plays, and undertook ‘all manner of book-binding and printing work executed with neatness and dispatch’.[21] In 1797 Hugh Massey, bookbinder and stationer, conducted his business on Main Street ‘under the old mercantile coffee-house.’[22] In the first decade of the new century Castle Street accommodated the bookshops of William West, compiler of West’s Cork directory 1810, John Harris, at the Southern Reporter office, Jeremiah Geary at the Stanhope Press printing office, occupying Haly’s old premises at the King’s Arms, exchange, John Stephenson, printer of The Patriot, at 10 Castle Street, White and Shelborne, paper manufacturers, and Joseph and Robert McMullen, ‘at the exchange’.

Cork West

Castle Street, the bookshop of William West, printer, bookseller and stationer, and the shop of White and Company, paper manufacturers, near the exchange, c.1810.

Coffee houses and taverns clustered here also, frequented by the better-off citizens in search of news and gossip. At mid-century Cork had two coffee houses, the Exchange and English coffee houses, situated opposite each other on Castle Street, and a number of prominent taverns: the Cork Arms and Turk Head taverns in Castle Street, and the Raven opposite Christchurch. In 1750 Smith noted: ‘Here are only two coffee-houses, both near the exchange; they are much frequented, and besides the English news-papers, have most of the Dublin ones: the better sort are fond of news and politics, and are well versed in public affairs.’[23] By 1777 Thomas Campbell reported: ‘One of the coffee-houses is conducted somewhat like those in London. The taverns are pretty good, and very cheap…’[24] The merchant’s coffee house, situated at the corner of Castle Street and North Main Street, subscribed to Finn’s Leinster Journal from at least 1778.[25] In 1795 it was reopened by D. Manly, supplying newspapers from London and Dublin, three Cork papers, two each from Waterford and Limerick, Finn’s Leinster Journal, the Northern Star and Londonderry Chronicle.[26] The Tontine coffee house was opened in Castle Street in 1793, the charter to raise the fund for its establishment had among its shareholders two booksellers, Thomas White and Jeremiah Sullivan.[27]

Coffee houses traditionally occupied the first floor or parlour apartments, with shops or other commercial concerns at street level. In Cork, as in Dublin, there was a close relationship between coffee house and book trade, as both concerned themselves with the dissemination of information. A proposal to publish The mercantile assistant or, exchange pocket companion by subscription was advertised in 1781. This periodical was aimed at merchants and traders, giving lists of the imports and exports of the port of Cork, financial information from abroad, up-to-date prices of commodities, and accounts of trade hazards, such as seizure of ships by ‘the belligerent powers’ during the American war. The subscription cost of one-and-a-half guineas per annum was taken at the bar of both coffee houses. Likewise for subscribers to a new twice-weekly newspaper, the Cork Mercury, in March 1781, subscription books were available at the coffee houses.[28] When the Cork Herald, a loyalist newspaper, was established in 1798, subscriptions were taken by Thomas White, Michael Harris, Anthony Edwards, James Haly and John Connor, all booksellers in Castle Street, and the bar of each coffee house.[29] A notice in the New Cork Evening Post from November 1793 informed its readers that the only copy of the Saturday issue of the London Gazette had been received at the Tontine coffee house, forcing the paper to give an abstract, instead of a full account, of the news.[30]

The book trade and the administration of the city:

In the early decades of the eighteenth century the legal and civil administration of the city accounted for the bulk of booksellers’ business. Printed forms, parchment for official records, printed proclamations and hand bills, advertising in newspapers, the supply of a range of newspaper titles for official information, stationery, copies of Statutes, Acts of parliament, law books and other relevant works, were the mainstay of the city’s book trade. Scriveners and copyists, as well as printers, were employed by official bodies. Loyal addresses from the corporation to the king, queen or lord lieutenant were engrossed on parchment.[31] Bookbinders found work binding and repairing official ledgers and manuscript record books for the courts and corporation, as well as binding for the retail book trade. For example, the corporation ordered payment in 1776 for veal skins to cover the Tholsel office books.[32] In 1732 Thomas Pilkington advertised books, merchants’ account books, shop books, paper and stationery by wholesale and retail. ‘He writes every month to London for the newest books to accommodate gentlemen with’.[33] William Flyn, at the Shakespeare, sold promissory notes, processes and parchment.[34] In the 1790s ‘processes, with printed copies’, ‘presentments for roads, bridges &c.’, hearth money certificates, magistrates’ warrants and summonses, and police certificates were advertised by Anthony Edwards.[35] Processes were also offered by Thomas White, with a range of paper, account books, message cards and stationery.[36]

In the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries official newspapers and parliamentary votes were ordered from London for the mayor and common council, while the coffee houses provided a more varied fare. Official papers included the London Gazette, a twice-weekly paper which was the most widely circulated official publication, the News Letter and Votes of parliament, which appeared daily during the parliamentary session and provided an outline of parliamentary proceedings. An extant ledger showing the distribution of newspapers by one London supplier, Charles Delafaye, covering the period 1710 to 1714, shows that he supplied newspapers to the mayor of Cork.[37] In 1704 the mayor paid £4.19s. to Mr De-laffa for the ‘public news’, and in January 1713/14 Delafay was paid £36 for six years newspapers, with the proviso that ‘he desist sending any more’.[38] In 1714 the corporation received the Postman, Flying Post, Evening Post and votes of parliament from London.[39] In 1715 the mayor sent for ‘the news from London at the cheapest rate he could agree for’ and by 1716/17 the corporation expended six guineas for ‘the English news, four papers and the votes of parliament’.[40] English and Irish newspapers and Votes of both English and Irish parliaments were supplied to the corporation by Walter Pallisser in the 1740s and 1750s and by Edmond Browning in the 1760s and 1770s.[41] In 1776 William Maturin, clerk of the Munster road at the General Post Office, Dublin, began to supply Irish and English newspapers.[42] Local booksellers supplied the Cork newspapers to the corporation.

The corporation’s own resolutions, proclamations, orders, public notices, advertisements and the ‘assize of bread’ were printed in the local newspapers, first in the Cork Intelligence and later in Bagnell’s Cork Evening Post, Flyn’s Hibernian Chronicle, Knight’s New Cork Evening Post and the Cork Gazette. Extra printed copies were used as hand bills, to be posted on the exchange and around the city. Corporation lands and buildings for sale or lease, the publication of the city accounts, proposals for lighting, cleansing, repairing and paving the city streets, contracts for public works, notices offering rewards for the conviction of criminals, and notices of public meetings were regularly inserted in the papers. An advertisement for setting leases of stalls in the meat market was inserted in ‘Bagnall’s paper’ in 1772, and in addition 100 copies were printed to be posted up in the city.[43] The weekly assize of bread was published in the local papers and also posted up around the city. By giving the current price of wheat and the official weight and price of loaves, consumers were assured of the quality of this staple commodity; bread which did not meet the requirements was seized and the bakers fined. In 1738 the mayor issued a proclamation that the acts of parliament for weighing corn, potatoes and salt be put in force, George Bennett, alderman and one-time mayor of the city, got the contract to ‘print five quires of paper, in order said proclamation be duly published’.[44]

During a period of crisis in the spring of 1762, when the army regiments were withdrawn from the city, due to the continuing conflict of the seven years war, the corporation ordered arms to be distributed to the protestant inhabitants of the city. One thousand copies of the orders were printed, to be posted on the exchange, the north and south gates, the custom house, and distributed among the citizens.[45] The oath taken by citizens when becoming freemen was printed: in 1748 the council ordered ‘six quires’ of the oath to be printed for distribution, and in 1758 one thousand copies were printed.[46] The corporation ordered the printing of lists of the freemen at large from time to time.[47] An act of parliament concerning the city of Cork, passed in 1772, was ordered to be printed and thirty copies sent to the mayor.[48] William Flyn printed The by-laws of the city of Cork in 1776 by order of the council. In this way the regular business of the mayor and corporation required the expertise of local printers. This jobbing work was not complicated, nor large enough to tie up type for extended periods, probably just the kind of work that a printer found profitable.

In addition to its paper, stationery and binding requirements in the day-to-day administration of the city, books, pamphlets and acts of parliament were purchased by the corporation on a regular basis. In the 1720s and 1730s George Bennett supplied acts of parliament, abridgements of the statutes and prayer books from his bookshop on Main Street, opposite Broad Lane.[49] In 1754 Timothy Cronin was paid £3.18s.7d. for law books.[50] The current statutes affecting the administration of the city were essential reference works for the mayor and council. Cornelius Sullivan, opposite the Main Guard, supplied Bolingbroke’s Abridgement of the statutes, and five appendices in 1766.[51] The nine volumes of Vesey’s Acts of parliament and the statutes passed from 1769 to 1771 were purchased in 1772, and two years later Bolingbroke’s Abridgement, Vesey’s Appendix and Blackstone’s Commentaries were bought for the mayor’s office. Bolingbroke’s Abridgement and Vesey’s Appendix were again required in 1784.[52] Mary Edwards supplied two sets of acts from the previous session, bound, in 1780/81, one for the mayor’s office and the other for the corporation.[53] Thomas White provided the statutes at large for the Mansion House in 1791, and Anthony Edwards Vesey’s Appendices for the town clerk’s office.[54]

In the first half of the century Bibles and prayer books were purchased in quantity by the corporation for institutions within its authority. In 1708/9 ‘four dozen Bibles, unbound’ were ordered for the use of St Stephen’s (or Blue Coat) Hospital.[55] In 1718 the corporation ordered 300 Bibles, published in Dublin, again for the Blue Coat Hospital.[56] It is not clear which printing of the Bible was purchased, most likely the folio edition of The Holy Bible printed in Dublin in 1714.[57] In 1723, 243 Bibles in sheets were received from Dublin, and the contract for binding was awarded to George Bennett.[58] The following year each member of the council was given discretion to distribute the Bibles ‘to such charitable uses as they think fit.’[59] In 1738 and again twenty years later, in 1758, the city gaol was supplied with a Common prayer book and a Bible ‘for the use of the poor prisoners’, at the corporation’s expense.[60] Prayer books were purchased for the use of council members at official church ceremonies. In 1727 George Bennett was contracted to supply ‘seven folio prayer-books for the use of the corporation in the churches, three whereof to be gilt for the mayor’s cushion and the others for the other seats’.[61] Again in 1741 Bennett was ordered to ‘furnish the mayor’s gallery with four large prayer books’.[62]

Not all relations between the book trade and the administration were amicable. In 1732 the ballad sheet ‘Cork association, or the clothiers garland’ was ordered to be suppressed and the printer bound over to appear at the quarter sessions.[63] Tensions came to the fore in the lead-up to the 1798 rebellion as printers in Cork, as elsewhere in Ireland, printed hand bills, ballads, newspapers and pamphlets not approved of by government. The Cork Gazette was suppressed in 1797 and its printer, Denis Driscol, charged with publishing seditious matter.[64] The Harp of Erin, a radical newspaper advocating reform, founded in March 1798 ‘on the principles of freedom’, was printed by John Daly in Patrick Street. Its opponents, considering that ‘for treason and rebellion [it] will far surpass the Press itself’, had it suppressed after a few issues.[65] The Hibernian Chronicle records the paper’s demise: ‘Last Saturday some magistrates, with a party of the army, searched several houses to discover where the Harp of Erin was printing; at last they found out the place to be Carey’s Lane, where they seized on all the papers, part of which were printed, threw out the forms, and carried the entire to the Mansion House.’[66] John Daly was sentenced to stand one hour on the pillory, to six months imprisonment and to give securities for his good behaviour for seven years.[67] In April 1798 Cork corporation offered 100 guineas reward for the conviction of the author of an inflammatory hand bill, addressed ‘To militia men’, and twenty guineas for the prosecution of the printer.[68]

The printing and stationery requirements of the military were substantial, several regiments being stationed in Cork at any one time. Anthony Edwards styled himself ‘military stationer’ from the 1790s, catering for the requirements of the army and militia. He carried a variety of army stationery, such as muster rolls, review returns, orderly and memorandum books.[69] In an advertisement of 1793 he offered to ‘gentlemen of the militia … all kinds of books and stationery, made use of by the army’.[70] He reprinted Instructions for the yeomanry of England ‘for the use of the county corps of Ireland’ in 1796. His military printing work included rules, regulations, standing orders, manuals of exercises, relevant acts of parliament, and printed forms.[71] In the early 1800s he printed certificates for families of militiamen to apply for financial allowances, with the blank date 180-.[72] In 1801 Edwards’ daughter, Elizabeth, married Osborne Savage, stationer.[73] From about 1806 Edwards and his son-in-law went into business as Edwards and Savage at 6 Castle Street. Trading as military stationers, printers and booksellers, they advertised their stock of ‘brigade, regimental, hospital, barrack and recruiting returns’.[74]

The governors of the several charitable institutions in the city needed the services of the book trade in the administration of their societies. Advertising, printing of hand bills, stationery, and the publication of reports and accounts provided regular work for printers. An account of the dispensary was printed by William Flyn in 1788. The Cork Society for the relief and discharge of persons confined for small debts produced proceedings of its annual meetings.[75] Accounts of the Society for bettering the condition and increasing the comforts of the poor were printed by Anthony Edwards in 1799 and John Connor in 1800. The annual report of the House of Recovery for 1802/3 was printed by James Haly, at the King’s Arms, exchange. Among the annual expenses of the institution were substantial amounts for printing, stationery, and advertising: £26.4s.5½d. in 1801/2 and £10.4s.0½d. in 1802/3.[76]

The general book trade:

The general book trade in Cork was wide-ranging and varied, catering for an extensive market made up of country gentry, city professionals and the rising urban middle classes.[77] In the first half of the century Cork’s patrician families, persons associated with the civil and legal administration, and those involved in the commercial life of the city, continued to live in the mansion houses on Main Street, in the lanes running east and west from it, and in the newly constructed houses on the quays. Smith notes the newly built brick houses, with balcony windows in Spanish fashion, to be seen along Main Street in 1750.[78] It was not until the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries that professionals and merchants moved to the fine terraced houses being built east and west of the old walled city, and out to the suburbs at Sunday’s Well to the north and towards Blackrock to the south. The concentration of well-educated families within the city centre created a demand for information, professional and leisure reading. The country gentry came to town for the assizes, to do estate business, shopping, and to partake of the city’s assemblies, theatres and other entertainments. In 1781 William Flyn appealed to country gentlemen indebted to him for the Hibernian Chronicle, books and stationery, to settle their accounts at the assizes.[79]

Readers in the surrounding towns and villages, whose access to reading matter was likely to be more limited than city dwellers, nevertheless had remote access to the city bookshops through newspaper advertising and bookseller’s catalogues. From the second half of the century newspapers were distributed to the main towns in the county: Youghal, Cloyne, Midleton, Castlemartyr, Cobh, Passage, Rathcormack, Kilworth, Kinsale, Mallow, Buttevant, Charleville, and westwards to Macroom, Bandon, Clonakilty, Rosscarbery, Skibereen, Bantry, Berehaven and Skull.[80] Readers in these towns could keep up-to-date with the latest publications from newspaper advertising and could place orders for books and periodicals through the newspaper agents. When William Flyn published The modern monitor in 1770 he informed readers of the Hibernian Chronicle that it would be on sale ‘at all the country places where this paper is left.’[81] Catalogues, lists of books published in newspapers, and advertising leaves in local publications, helped inform a dispersed readership, some of whom may have been unable to visit the city bookshops.

Anthony Edwards issued a priced catalogue of his stock in 1785, and a supplementary short catalogue at the back of Edwards’s Cork remembrancer in 1792.[82] As well as books and periodicals in English and French, he stocked religious works, school books, plays, almanacs, directories, pocket ledgers, memorandum books, and ‘all public acts of parliament, as soon as printed’. School books included grammars and dictionaries in Greek, Latin, French, English, Irish, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese, and for the young ‘Newbery and Burton books, for the amusement of children’. He carried a range of devotional works and prayer books, many intended for the wholesale market. He printed editions of The new week’s preparation from 1793.[83] His own publication, a new edition of Mann’s Catechism, sold at 4d. each, or £1.4s. per hundred. Prayer books in various sizes and bindings ranged in price from 1s.6d. to £2.5s.6d. His wide-ranging stock included musical instruments and ruled music books, maps, stationery, paper and patent medicines. His printing work, encompassing books, pamphlets, and a newspaper, The Cork Courier (1793-94), was probably largely taken up with jobbing work for businesses and the administration. He lists such items as ‘shop-bills, hand-bills, leases, brewers permits, landlords receipts, tithe notes, manor-court processes and decrees; Free-Masons summonses, magistrates informations, warrants, recognizances, commitals and supercedeses, promissory notes, freeman’s passes &c.’, almost certainly the bread-and-butter trade of a bookseller outside the metropolis.

Because of the diversity of the market specialisation within the trade was not economically viable, most booksellers carried on an extensive range of activities. In addition to the sale of new and secondhand books, periodicals and pamphlets, a bookseller could be printer, stationer, bookbinder, newspaper proprietor, papermaker or importer, circulating library proprietor, patent medicine dealer, lottery office keeper, musical instrument seller, purveyor of fancy goods, and agent for loans or the sale of lands. Subscription editions of Dublin-printed books had Cork booksellers as agents from the first decades of the century, and lasting partnerships were established between members of the Dublin and Cork trades. The book trade in Cork did not wholly depend on Dublin printers and wholesalers. Books, periodicals and newspapers were imported directly from London. An inter-regional trade was in operation between the towns and cities in Munster and South Leinster, especially with Waterford, Limerick and Kilkenny, and to a lesser extent Clonmel, Ennis and Tralee. From the last quarter of the century some continental trading also occurred. In 1773 William Flyn imported foreign language books from Holland, where he had established a correspondence with ‘a principal bookseller’. Bookbuyers were offered ‘elegant and cheap editions’ in any language, which could be chosen from a catalogue.[84]

A cultured and sophisticated audience supported the summer theatre at Dunscomb’s Marsh, later George’s Street. The earliest theatrical performances took place in Cork from 1713, when players from the Smock Alley theatre in Dublin, and later from the Theatre Royal in Aungier Street, came south for a period in the summer to perform the season’s hit plays from London and Dublin.[85] Advertisements for performances and benefits were inserted in the local newspapers, and hand bills were printed and placed strategically around the city. A mild storm blew up in the summer of 1761 when the theatrical company posted its printed hand bills without asking the consent of the mayor, who then refused them permission to perform. The matter was resolved, though not without a certain rancour and the threat of legal proceedings on the part of the players.[86] Newspaper advertising was required to carry the unequivocal formula ‘by permission of the Right Worshipful …, mayor of Cork’.[87]

Plays were often locally printed to coincide with popular productions. Reprints of Dublin and London editions could be rushed out cheaply to satisfy demand. In 1741 George Harrison, at the corner of Meetinghouse Lane, printed a ballad opera which was in performance at the Theatre Royal, Dunscomb’s Marsh: A wonder, or, an honest Yorkshireman.[88] In the 1760s Eugene Swiney, and Phineas and George Bagnell, were prominent in reprinting popular plays, issuing such staples of the Cork theatre as The beggar’s opera (Gay), King Lear, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, Venice preserv’d (Otway) and Conscious lovers (Steele) in 1761, Douglas (Home) and All in the wrong (Murphy) in 1762, and Othello in 1763. Jeremiah Sullivan was active in reprinting plays in the 1780s and 1790s, while Anthony Edwards, John Connor and Michael Harris printed them in the 1790s. William Preston’s controversial Democratic rage; or, Louis the unfortunate, was printed by Anthony Edwards in 1793, the same year it was performed in Cork.[89] A large selection of plays, printed in Dublin and London, formed part of any good bookshop’s regular stock. In July 1775 John Busteed advertised a list of forty-four plays and twelve farces to coincide with the summer season at the Theatre Royal in George’s Street.[90] These plays corresponded with performances during the 1775 season, but also included perennial favourites at the Cork theatre.[91]

The reading public had varying budgets for the purchase of books and other print media. Instead of the wealthy patrons of literature encountered in the metropolis, or more especially in London and other European capitals, Cork booksellers were supported by the professional and middle classes, country gentry, and persons of lesser means. Thus, stocks reflected the differing means of potential purchasers. Subscription editions of the works of local authors, or reprints of more celebrated authors, were regularly offered by Cork booksellers. Books published in parts, where the cost could be spread out, allowing buyers to invest in an expensive work, popular reprints of plays, political pamphlets and trials which could be produced and sold cheaply, monthly magazines, children’s and school books, formed an important segment of the market. Small format religious works, often sold in bulk, were intended for distribution to the poor. Ballad sheets, cheaply printed, and celebrating or satirising local persons and events, were within the price range of all but the very poor. The secondhand market was also buoyant, as booksellers offered ready money for libraries and parcels of books. The more renowned libraries, such as that of Dr Joseph Fenn Sleigh, were put up for sale and priced catalogues issued.[92] Expensive editions from Dublin, London and the continent, were offered for sale side by side with the cheaper material.

Monthly periodicals, such as Walker’s Hibernian Magazine, Exshaw’s Gentleman and London Magazine, Ladies’ Magazine, Town and Country Magazine, and Monthly Review, were advertised regularly and could be sent with their newspapers to subscribers in the nearby towns and in the countryside. At a cost of 6d. to one shilling per month the magazines provided a varied diet of literary, social and political content. Accompanied by engravings of prominent contemporary or historical figures, places of interest, military or naval actions, sentimental prints, needlework patterns, music, etc., and carrying advertising on their blue paper wrappers, these productions were good value for money for the less wealthy reader. In 1777 and 1778 a French-language periodical, the Magazin à la mode, was published in Dublin by William Whitestone. Compiled by Charles Praval, writer and teacher of French, it aimed to replicate the Anglophone periodicals, while promoting French language and literature. It circulated in Cork through the bookshops of Mary Edwards, Daniel Hood, Jeremiah Sullivan and Thomas White.[93] Throughout the century locally-produced literary and general periodicals were a feature of the market, with a flowering in the last decade. The Medley and the Serio-Jocular Medley were rival publications, printed in the 1730s. The Weekly Repository, begun in 1779, covered a broad range of topics: history, philosophy, mathematics, poetry, ‘with several curious and entertaining originals’. Lord’s Cork Weekly Magazine from 1790, the Quiz (1794), the Medler (1795), the Tickler (1795), the Rover (1795-96), the Museum (1796), the Monthly Miscellany (1796), and the Casket (1797-98) were all short-lived literary periodicals in the closing years of the eighteenth century.[94]

Books published in parts, and selling for the price of a monthly magazine, were frequently advertised. The Corke Journal carried advertisements for A new and complete dictionary of arts and sciences in 1754. Published in London by W. Owen in seventy-four weekly numbers, priced at a British 6d. each, and stitched in blue paper, the whole work was to contain 300 copper plates. A four-page prospectus was issued in 1754 and subscriptions were taken by Richard James in Dublin and Eugene Swiney in Paul Street, Cork. The finished work came to four volumes octavo, with over 3,500 pages and 302 plates, and the cost of £1.17s. was spread over a year and a half.[95] In 1770 A new description of England and Wales was sold in sixty numbers at 6½d. each, complete with 240 copper plates.[96] In 1775 The exemplary life of the pious Lady Guion, translated from the French by Henry Brooke, was printed by subscription in ten numbers at 6½d. each, with John Busteed as Cork agent. The work was to come to one volume octavo of about 500 pages, costing 5s.5d. The only surviving edition was printed in Dublin by William Kidd in 1775, and contains a list of subscribers, and therefore is likely to have been the edition advertised.[97] A ‘new and improved edition’ of the Complete dictionary of arts and sciences was proposed in 1778. This would be a folio edition published in seventy-five weekly parts, costing one British shilling each. Subscribers could purchase the weekly parts, receive four numbers monthly to be delivered with their monthly magazines, receive each volume as published, or wait for the completed work in three volumes, ‘elegantly bound and lettered’. Booksellers in the main cities and towns around Ireland were agents for the publication, in Cork subscriptions were taken by Thomas White, Mary Edwards and William Flyn.[98]

Local publications consisted of books, newspapers, periodicals, pamphlets, and ephemera such as song sheets. Book production was mainly made up of reprints, concentrating especially on social and political tracts, religious works including sermons and works of controversy, plays, novels, poetry, school books, history, travels and literary miscellanies. Original works by local authors were also published, consisting mainly of tracts relating to political issues of the day, school books, poetry and novels. James Solas Dodd, naval surgeon turned schoolmaster, contributed to the literary life of the city in the 1770s on a number of levels. He published his Essay on education in 1770, setting out in detail his plan for a new academy on Hammond’s Marsh. The venture was supported by some of Cork’s leading cultural figures: Henry Sheares, Dr Joseph Fenn Sleigh, Dr John Longfield and others. An advertisement was placed in the Hibernian Chronicle for the Essay, which could be purchased from booksellers in Cork, Waterford and Limerick.[99] Dodd’s Essays and poems were published by Eugene Swiney in the same year, the work attracting 255 subscribers. The last leaf carried proposals for printing by subscription Dodd’s Satyrical and moral lecture upon hearts.[100] When the theatre came to town in the summer of 1770 Dodd performed his Satirical and moral lecture in the Theatre Royal, George’s Street, on 7 August. It was accompanied by his Comical dissertation on noses, and his recitation of Garrick’s Ode in honour of Shakespeare, written for the Shakespeare jubilee in 1769. The night’s performance was ordered by the deputy grand master of masons of Munster. The Hibernian Chronicle carried the advertisement, which also announced that Essays and poems would be ready for subscribers by 4 August.[101]

The last decade of the century saw a much increased level of literary activity in the city, and the publication of several original works. The locally-produced literary magazines, although short-lived, testify to this upsurge in literary interest. John Connor, James Haly and Michael Harris were to the fore in publishing original works of fiction and poetry, usually by subscription. Conor’s literary output was especially significant, publishing at least twenty-seven literary titles in the twenty year period from 1794, more than half of which were original works.[102] Women authors were prominent from the 1770s, when literary contributors of both sexes were encouraged by William Flyn and the Hibernian Chronicle.[103] A selection of pieces from the newspaper were published in a volume entitled The modern monitor, or Flyn’s speculations in 1770.[104] The contributors included Henry Sheares, Dr John Longfield, Dr Joseph Fenn Sleigh, Mrs Sheares, Mrs Elizabeth Gray, Mrs Stack, Miss Waterhouse and Mrs Therry. Flyn’s daughter, Eliza, who married James Haly in 1788, was a frequent contributor to the Hibernian Chronicle.[105] Anna Millikin’s novels and other writings began to be published in Cork from the 1790s. She and her brother Richard, lawyer and poet, founded the Casket, or Hesperian magazine, a literary periodical, in 1797, which lasted until the rebellion in 1798. Her first novel, Corfe castle, was published by James Haly in 1793, and later novels, Eva (1795), Plantagenet (1802), and The rival chiefs (1804) were published by John Connor. Her works attracted a popular audience as can be seen from the subscription lists, and in particular the number of copies taken by booksellers for resale.[106] As a teacher in the English academy for females in Cork, she also wrote textbooks ‘for the use of her pupils’.[107]

Circulating libraries catered for those wishing to read, rather than purchase or collect. In 1770 Thomas Lord’s new circulating library, ‘under the exchange coffee house’, was open to the public from six in the morning until nine at night, where he offered to lend ‘the most extensive variety of books’, including newly published books.[108] Michael Matthews ran his circulating library in conjunction with a secondhand and rare book trade. It is most likely, however, that only new and popular books were lent from the library.[109] Anthony Edwards announced his new circulating library in 1787, comprising 6,000 volumes from London and Dublin, with a promise to lend every new publication.[110] Not much is known about the actual operation of circulating libraries, it seems likely that books were chosen from catalogues or written lists, but readers may have taken pot luck, hoping to borrow whatever popular titles were available. A certain insight is forthcoming from a proposal to establish a circulating library ‘on a new and elegant plan’, carried in the Cork Gazette in February 1794. At a subscription fee of 11s.4½d. per year, the female proprietors targeted women and young persons, with the objective of blending amusement with instruction.[111] They intended to fit up the library in a neat manner for the reception of ladies, thus giving them an opportunity of ‘looking over the books’ instead of sending servants. This implies that it was the norm for library books to be chosen from catalogues, with readers not actually visiting the premises. It is not clear if the same conventions applied to male readers. John Connor’s circulating library at 17 Castle Street contained ‘upwards of 4,000 volumes’ in 1794 and he offered to hire out every new publication.[112] He imported new novels from London, ensuring that he carried the most up-to-date stock.[113] His own printing output was strong on novels, plays and poetry, as well as political pamphlets and trials. Dominick Jacotin, a teacher of French and Italian, embarked on a new venture at the end of the century, establishing a bookshop and circulating library for English, French and Italian books, in Patrick Street. The only remaining fragment of his 1803 catalogue lists a portion of his English novels, and gives no indication of his foreign language stock.[114]


Because of its situation and topography Cork retained its medieval contours until the eighteenth century, resulting in the dominance of the intra-mural core until well into the century. The expense and difficulty of draining the marshes and arching over the water channels ensured that expansion was slow. Thus prime sites were reserved for public buildings, mansion houses for affluent citizens, and up-market businesses. The exchange, arguably Cork’s finest public building, exerted a major influence in the city. The custom house, situated by the river, east of the walled city, while the hub of the port, accommodating the collector of Cork and the customs and excise, did not dominate the administration of the city to the same extent. The book trade established itself where it was most needed: in the heart of the commercial and administrative centre, and close to the homes of the wealthy.

Bookselling enterprises in the city were long-lived, many staying in business for some decades, with succession by family members or other booksellers a feature of the trade. This stability resulted from a guaranteed market for the goods and services offered. The range of business activities engaged in by booksellers was impressive, covering every aspect of production, distribution and marketing, and extending to ancillary profit-making concerns: conducting circulating libraries, acting as agents for the sale of patent medicines and lottery tickets, leasing lands and hiring servants. Expansion is evident from about mid-century when towns in the county were brought within the distribution network of the city booksellers, thanks to the contacts set up for newspaper sales and the supply of stationery. Booksellers catered for the luxury trade, creating an audience for their works among the population through extensive advertising. Their products and services had become essential in the practice of local government, legal and commercial affairs. Throughout the century the newspaper had become indispensable to corporate bodies for information, advertising and the publication of notices. The reading public, too, came to depend on the newspaper for news, advertising, and contact with the outside world.

Images courtesy of Dublin City Library & Archive (www.dublincitypubliclibraries.ie )

[1] This article was published in Charles Benson and Siobhán Fitzpatrick eds, That woman! studies in Irish bibliography. A festschrift for Mary ‘Paul’ Pollard (Dublin, The Lilliput Press for the Library Association of Ireland, Rare Books Group, 2005), pp 139-61.

[2] Richard Caulfield, The council book of the corporation of the city of Cork (Guildford, Surrey, J. Billing and Sons, 1876), p. 343.

[3] Council book, pp 617, 644.

[4] Corke Journal, 14 January 1754; 21 October 1754.

[5] Council book, p. 296.

[6] Maurice Hurley, ‘Below sea-level in the city of Cork’, Howard B. Clarke ed., Irish cities (Cork, Mercier Press, 1995), p. 47.

[7] Council book, p. 734.

[8] Edward Lloyd, A description of the flourishing city of Corke (Cork, printed by Andrew Welsh, 1732), pp 5-6.

[9] Charles Smith, The antient and present state of the county and city of Cork (Dublin, printed by A. Reilly for the author, 1750), pp 401-2.

[10] Lloyd, Description of Corke, p. 6. Council book, pp 340, 497, 907.

[11] Maura Cronin, ‘From the “flat o’ the city” to the top of the hill: Cork since 1700’, Clarke, Irish Cities, pp 55-68. W. O’Sullivan, The economic history of Cork city, from the earliest times to the act of union (Cork, Cork University Press, 1937). For the county context in the 1790s see David Dickson, ‘The South Munster region in the 1790s’, John A. Murphy ed., The French are in the bay: the expedition to Bantry Bay 1796 (Cork, Mercier Press, 1997), pp 85-94.

[12] Council book, p. 588.

[13] Hibernian Chronicle, 31 August – 4 September 1775.

[14] Corke Journal, 22 August 1754.

[15] James de la Cour, A prospect of poetry (Cork, T. Lord, 1770), last leaf.

[16] Hibernian Chronicle, 28 June 1770, 30 August 1770.

[17] Hibernian Chronicle, 15 March 1773.

[18] Cork Evening Post, 24 April 1777.

[19] Council book, pp .968, 1066.

[20] Council book, pp 1066-7. The new Cork directory for the year 1795 (Cork, printed and sold by James Haly, 1795).

[21] Cork Gazette, 7 June 1794.

[22] Cork Gazette, 23 August 1797.

[23] Smith, Antient and present state of Cork, p. 407.

[24] Thomas Campbell, A philosophical survey of the south of Ireland (London, printed for W. Strahan and T. Cadell, 1777), p.184.

[25] Finn’s Leinster Journal, 31 December 1777-3 January 1778. Richard Lucas, The Cork directory for the year 1787 (Cork, printed for the author by J. Cronin, 1787).

[26] Cork Gazette, 31 October 1795.

[27] Copy of the deed or charter entered into by the associated society to raise a fund for erecting a coffee-house … in the city of Cork (Cork, printed by Anthony Edwards, 1794).

[28] Hibernian Chronicle, 1 March 1781, 5 March 1781.

[29] National Archives of Ireland: Rebellion Papers 620/35/85, no. 5, single sheet flyer.

[30] New Cork Evening Post, 28 November 1793.

[31] Council book, pp 287-8.

[32] Council book, p. 905.

[33] Lloyd, Description  of Corke, p. 12.

[34] Hibernian Chronicle, 8 March 1770; 2 August 1770.

[35] New Cork Evening Post, 28 February 1793. Hibernian Chronicle, 8 August 1793.

[36] New Cork Evening Post, 28 February 1793.

[37] Michael Harris, ‘Newspaper distribution during Queen Anne’s reign’ in Studies in the book trade in honour of Graham Pollard (Oxford, Oxford Bibliographical Society, 1975), pp 139-51.

[38] Council book, pp 306, 363.

[39] Council book, p  368.

[40] Council book, pp 379, 388.

[41] Council book, Walter Pallisser 1746-1760: pp 640, 648, 650, 666, 680, 684, 690, 697, 704, 719, 724, 740. Edmond Browning 1761-1774: pp 747, 764, 772, 791, 810, 819, 831, 839, 849, 860, 870, 885, 896.

[42] Council book, William Maturin 1776-1799: pp 911, 922, 933, 944, 949, 952, 956, 1000-1, 1091, 1132.

[43] Council book, p. 867.

[44] Council book, p. 579.

[45] Council book, p. 757.

[46] Council book, pp 649, 715.

[47] An exact list of the freemen, Cork, 1783, advertised in Volunteer Journal, 1 September 1783. List of the freemen at large, of the city of Cork (Cork, printed by James Haly, [1789]). A ‘correct list of the freemen at large’ was appended to The new Cork directory 1795.

[48] Council book, pp 869, 876.

[49] Council book, pp 477, 521, 581, 612, 616.

[50] Council book, p. 682.

[51] Council book, p. 812.

[52] Council book, pp 875, 893, 988.

[53] Council book, p. 962.

[54] Council book, pp 1071, 1080.

[55] Council book, p. 334.

[56] Council book, p. 404.

[57] The Holy Bible (Dublin, printed by A. Rhames for Eliphal Dobson and William Binauld, 1714).

[58] Council book, p. 433.

[59] Council book, p. 449.

[60] Council book, pp 575, 713.

[61] Council book, p. 474.

[62] Council book, p. 612.

[63] Council book, p. 520.

[64] National Archives of Ireland: Rebellion Papers 620/32/136, three letters. Michael Durie, ‘Irish deism and Jefferson’s republic: Denis Driscol in Ireland and America 1793-1810, Éire-Ireland, xv, 4 (Winter 1990), pp 58-61.

[65] The Harp of Erin, 10 March 1798. National Archives of Ireland: Rebellion Papers 620/35/85 (1) Letter from Nathaniel Massey to the Rt. Hon. Thomas Pelham, 30 January 1798.

[66] Hibernian Chronicle, 17 March 1798.

[67] National Library of Ireland: Seamus Ó Casaide, A history of the periodical literature of Cork from the beginning up to A.D. 1900, typescript, p.58, quoting from The Crown Book of Cork 1798 (Royal Irish Academy, Ms 12.I.4, pp 146-58.)

[68] Council book, p.1123.

[69] Edwards’s Cork remembrancer, by Anthony Edwards, printer, bookseller and stationer, Castle Street (Cork, 1792), final 5 leaves of bookseller’s advertising.

[70] New Cork Evening Post, 14 October 1793.

[71] Rules and regulations for the discipline of His Majesty’s forces (Cork, A. Edwards, 1797). Standing orders for His Majesty’s 30th regiment of foot (Cork, printed by A. Edwards, 1797). The manual and platoon exercises (Cork, printed and sold by A. Edwards, military stationer, 1805).

[72] Certificate to apply for financial allowances for families of militiamen (Cork, A. Edwards, n.d.)

[73] Representative Church Body Library: 331/1/1 Parish register of Douglas, p. 74.

[74] Booksellers’ label pasted inside front cover of General regulations and orders (Cork, printed and sold by Edwards and Savage, military stationers, 1811).

[75] Surviving examples printed by William Flyn in 1774, 1777, 1784, 1787, 1797.

[76] Annual report of the House of Recovery of the city of Cork from November 8th 1802, to November 8th 1803 (Cork, James Haly, 1803), second appendix.

[77] For a discussion of book collecting in the Cork region see J.P. McCarthy, ‘In search of Cork’s collecting traditions: from Kilcrea’s library to the Boole library of today’, Journal of Cork Historical and Archaeological Society, 100 (1995), pp 29-46.

[78] Smith, Antient and present state of Cork, pp 407-8.

[79] Hibernian Chronicle, 9 April 1781.

[80] Máire Kennedy, ‘Eighteenth-century newspaper publishing in Munster and South Leinster’, Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society, 103 (1998), pp 67-88. Corke Journal, 8 April 1754. Hibernian Chronicle, 30 April 1770, 14 May 1770, 26 June 1770, 2 January 1772.

[81] Hibernian Chronicle, 20 August 1770.

[82] A catalogue of books in most branches of literature and music, now selling by Anthony Edwards, 3 Castle Street (Cork, 1785). Edwards’s Cork remembrancer, 1792, final 5 leaves.

[83] New Cork Evening Post, 7 October 1793. The new week’s preparation, 17th ed. (Cork, printed and sold by A. Edwards, 1793); 18th ed. (Cork, printed by A. Edwards, 1801).

[84] Hibernian Chronicle, 25 October 1773.

[85] William Smith Clark, The Irish stage in the country towns 1720-1800 (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1965), pp 69-145.

[86] Council book, pp 747, 752.

[87] Hibernian Chronicle, 2 August 1770.

[88] Clark, Irish stage, p. 73.

[89] Hibernian Chronicle, 12 August 1793.

[90] Hibernian Morning Post, 24-27 July 1775; 21-24 August 1775.

[91] Clark, Irish stage, pp 293-347.

[92] Hibernian Chronicle, 23 August 1770.

[93] Máire Kennedy, ‘The distribution of a locally produced French periodical in provincial Ireland: the Magazin à la mode, 1777-1778’, Eighteenth-Century Ireland, 9 (1994), pp 83-98.

[94] Ó Casaide, Periodical literature, pp 50-1.

[95] Corke Journal, 6 May 1754. English short title catalogue (ESTC) N32424; T138158. A British 6d. was equal to 6½d. Irish, and one British shilling to 1s.1d. Irish.

[96] Hibernian Chronicle, 12 July 1770.

[97] Hibernian Morning Post, 23-26 October 1775. ESTC T105810.

[98] Freeman’s Journal, 15-17 January 1778.

[99] J. S. Dodd, An essay on education. With a new plan of an academy (Cork, printed for the author by Eugene Swiney, [1770]). Hibernian Chronicle, 17 May 1770.

[100] J. S. Dodd, Essays and poems, satirical, moral, political and entertaining (Cork, printed by Eugene Swiney for the author, 1770).

[101] Hibernian Chronicle, 26 July 1770, 2 August 1770.

[102] Rolf Loeber and Magda Stouthamer-Loeber, ‘John Connor: a maverick Cork publisher of literature’, 18th and 19th century Irish fiction newsletter, no. 5 (May 1998), pp 1-4.

[103] Hibernian Chronicle, 2 January 1772.

[104] Hibernian Chronicle 30 July 1770.

[105] Ó Casaide, Periodical literature, p.33.

[106] Máire Kennedy, ‘Women and reading in eighteenth-century Ireland’, in Bernadette Cunningham and Máire Kennedy eds The experience of reading: Irish historical perspectives (Dublin, Economic and Social History Society / Rare Books Group (LAI), 1999, pp 78-98).

[107] Anna Millikin, An epitome of ancient history, designed for the use of her pupils (Cork, printed by Edwards and Savage, 1808).

[108] De la Cour, Prospect of poetry, last leaf.

[109] Hibernian Chronicle, 15 March 1773. Cork Evening Post, 24 April 1777.

[110] Hibernian Chronicle, 26 March 1787.

[111] Cork Gazette, 8 February 1794

[112] Edward Holland, Poetical miscellany (Cork, John Connor, 1794).

[113] Cork Gazette, 5 September 1795. Cork Advertiser, 3 May 1800.

[114] Catalogue of the English, French and Italian circulating library, St Patrick Street, Cork, where books are lent by D. Jacotin (Cork, 1803).

Disaster at the Music Hall, Fishamble Street, Dublin, 6 February 1782.

On Wednesday 6 February 1782 a meeting was organised by the Guild of St Luke the Evangelist, the corporation of cutlers, painters, paper-stainers and stationers, to nominate a candidate to represent the city of Dublin in parliament. The seat became vacant on the death of Dr William Clement, Vice-Provost of Trinity College Dublin, on 15 January.[2] The meeting, held in the grove room of the Music Hall in Fishamble Street at 1.30 pm, was well attended. The assembled company, amounting to between three and four hundred people, depending on the report, came to support their choice of three candidates: Travers Hartley Esq., Alderman Nathaniel Warren and Councillor Joseph Pemberton.[3] The guild was well represented and many others also came to hear the addresses.

The guild held their meetings in the Music Hall from at least 1765. Stationers’ Hall on Cork Hill, where they assembled from 1732, had been purchased by the Wide Streets Commission in 1761 and demolished.[4] Other venues were used by the guild for election meetings, for example in March 1764 the meeting to elect the parliamentary representative, to replace William Carr, was held in The White Hart in Charles Street.[5]

John Rocque, An exact survey of the city and suburbs of Dublin (London, 1756), the Music Hall is in the elbow of Fishamble Street, marked MH. Image of the Music Hall in Lady of the House (Christmas 1915).

The Music Hall was a multi-functional space, built under the supervision of Richard Castells, architect of Leinster House, and opened in October 1741.[6] Here George Frederick Handel had performed his oratorios in the early 1740s, most famously Messiah in April 1742. The grove rooms were situated to the left of the music hall stage. They did not form part of the music hall, theatre, and supper-room complex, but an ‘appartment fitted up in an old house adjoining, on account of the late Masquerades’.[7] The upper grove room was used as a wardrobe or dressing-room when the building became a theatre. The main grove room was large, and was used for balls and masquerades. A ball had been held there the night before when signs of trouble were already apparent. Many of the company and some of the musicians left the ball early due to the ‘frequent cracking and giving way of the flooring’.[8] Even after these warning signs it appears that no inspection was made prior to the meeting held the following afternoon.

The speeches began, with Travers Hartley opening the meeting. His speech, followed by that of Alderman Warren, were greeted with applause and the stamping of feet, which shook the room. Ten minutes into Councillor Pemberton’s speech the main beam, which was rotten, gave way, crashing the assembled crowd more than 20 feet into the ‘proper hall’ of the guild. The ensuing scene of blood, broken limbs and fractured skulls, and the sound of cries and groans, was terrible; the report, based on an eye-witness account in the Hibernian Magazine, makes for chilling reading. The Hibernian Chronicle tells us that no language could give an idea of the horror of the scene, with more than fifty people having received fractures in their limbs and in the head.[9]

Nobody seems to have been killed outright, but at least eleven people died shortly afterwards of their injuries. Many were carried to their homes stretched on doors, or taken in sedan chairs. Dublin’s medical personnel must have been under severe strain that afternoon and evening with so many casualties. Faulkner’s Dublin Journal reports that the sight of the maimed being carried through the streets caused the greatest consternation in the city.[10] Finn’s Leinster Journal informs us that few escaped without severe injury and many were in a ‘situation that made death desirable’.[11] The Hibernian Magazine predicted that many of the injured ‘will exhibit melancholy monuments, to perpetuate the memory of this dreadful event, by the loss of their legs and arms’.[12]

The reports carried in the newspapers were primarily concerned with naming the injured: all well-known businessmen in the city, whose condition was of public interest. The Transactions of the Guild of St Luke, however, make no reference to the disaster, nor offer any condolences to the families of the casualties.[13] The disaster was widely reported by the Dublin newspapers and taken up very quickly by the provincial press. Finn’s Leinster Journal of 6-9 February and 9-13 February listed 58 prominent figures injured in the accident. The Belfast News Letter carried the story, as well as the Cork newspapers, the Hibernian Chronicle and the Cork Evening Post, all giving lists of the injured.

The candidates themselves put advertisements in the newspapers, sympathizing with their fellow citizens on their injuries, and assuring the public that they would soon be able to continue the election campaign. Alderman Warren expressed the wish that ‘had he been the only sufferer it would afford him very great consolation’.[14]

The collapse of the floor of the grove room led to the cancellation or postponement of forthcoming events. The ball for Mr Carrolan’s benefit, due to be held in the grove room on the evening of the disaster, was postponed until Friday 15 February. The ball would then take place in the great room, which Mr Carrolan assured his public: ‘is entirely separate from the other part of the house, and perfectly secure’.[15]

The popularity of the entertainments held at the Rotunda had begun to rival those of the Music Hall. This factor, in addition to the accident, led to the rapid decline in the use of the Music Hall for public assemblies. It was taken over by the Society of the King’s Inns and in 1793 it became a private theatre.[16] Following the accident at Fishamble Street the Guild of St Luke the Evangelist held their meetings in Capel Street. From July 1782 the guild began the preparation of their new hall, installing a chimney piece of Kilkenny marble and a Bath stove grate fixed with Scotch stone.[17] On 1 October 1782 the Transactions of the guild extended the thanks of the corporation to Joseph Pemberton ‘one of our worthy representatives on the Common Council’ for his ‘great care and attention in building our Hall’.[18] The guild continued to meet at their hall in Capel Street, the entrance to which was at no. 154, until 1841.[19]

What do these reports convey to the modern reader? At a most superficial level it is a news story, albeit over 200 years old. The shock of the event remains vivid and the reader gets taken up with the horror of the scene as the story unfolds and the death toll rises. We are given a detailed description of the layout of the Music Hall, one of Dublin’s most interesting buildings, where Handel’s Messiah had first been performed forty years earlier in 1742. By 1782 it was largely given over to balls and masquerades, providing a meeting hall for the Guild of St Luke the Evangelist, and had extended into the house next door to provide extra space for public gatherings. It is also clear that the fabric of the building had very much decayed.

We get a certain insight into the way in which elections meetings were held in the city of Dublin, and the necessity for candidates of winning the support of each of the guilds in turn. The press coverage of the event is interesting, with similar reports, often word for word, appearing in several newspapers, indicating the usual practice of the period of copying news from other newspapers. Thus the provincial newspapers carry reports which were very close to each other, and also to the Freeman’s Journal accounts. However, differences in the lists of injured were apparent, with some different names appearing, and different numbers of names listed from one report to another.

Most important of all, perhaps, is the list of 71 names of prominent Dublin businessmen with their addresses. As it was a meeting of the guild the majority of those who attended represented cutlers, painters, booksellers, printers and associated trades. Many of these individuals do not appear in Wilson’s Dublin Directories of 1780 to 1784, and many do not feature in the Transactions of the guild. We are, therefore, afforded a glimpse of a section of the Dublin business world about its ordinary business as citizens, when this ‘melancholy accident’ took place.

The appended list is compiled from reports in the Freeman’s Journal [FJ], Faulkner’s Dublin Journal [FDJ], Finn’s Leinster Journal [FLJ], Belfast News Letter [BNL], Hibernian Chronicle [HC], Cork Evening Post [CEP] and the monthly publication, the Hibernian Magazine [HM]. All reports carry the core list of about 53 names; the remainder of the injured are mentioned in one or more reports, while some are only named in death notices afterwards. The Common Council members, whose names appear on the list, were elected for three years from 24 December 1780,[20] except for William Sleater, who was elected on 10 January 1782 to succeed William Hallhead, who had died in office.[21] The members of the Council of the House for 1782 are extracted from the Transactions.

Additional information (such as exact street number, variations on surname spelling, guild office held, etc.) is taken from Watson’s Gentleman’s and Citizen’s Almanacks, Wilson’s Dublin Directories, and the Transactions of the Guild of St Luke. Dates of business activity are taken from M. Pollard, A dictionary of members of the Dublin book trade 1550-1800 (London, Bibliographical Society, 2000).

Images courtesy of Dublin City Library & Archive (www.dublincitypubliclibraries.ie )

List of casualties.

Aiken [or Atken], Mr, Hoey’s Court. Both legs broken.

The Beadle of the Corporation. Arm broken.

Booker, George, painter, 56 North King Street. Arm broken.

Bracken, Mr, attorney, Abbey Street. Severely bruised.

Burnet, George, bookseller, 197 Abbey Street. Slightly hurt.

Byrn, Mr T., Crow Street. Dangerously bruised.

Byrne, Richard, cutler. Both legs broken. Died [FLJ 9-13 Feb.].

Byron, Christopher, card-maker, 13 Eustace Street. Council of the House 1782. Badly bruised [FLJ]. Collar bone broken [FJ].

Byron, Edward, son of Christopher, 13 Eustace Street. Skull fractured and leg broken.

Byron, Samuel, son of Christopher, land surveyor, 13 Eustace Street. Thigh broken.

Clare, Ben, Green Street. Broken thigh.

Clare [or Clear], John, painter, 14 Dorset Street. Skull dangerously fractured.

Deey, Mr Robert, attorney, Chancery Lane. Broken leg. Died [BNL 12-15 Feb.; HC 14 Feb.].

Dobson, Richard, tea merchant and grocer, 38 Capel Street. Leg broken. Died [FLJ 27 Feb.-2 Mar.].

Dugdale, Bennett, bookseller and printer, 150 Capel Street. Dangerously bruised.

Dunn, Mr, Crane Lane, Essex Street. Arm broken.

Fisher, John [or Edward (FDJ)], attorney. Terribly hurt.

Fletcher, Edward, merchant, 39 Strand Street. Severely bruised.

Gilbert, William, bookseller, 26 South Great George’s Street. One rib broken.

Graisberry, Daniel, printer, Back Lane. Very ill bruised.

Gunston, Mr T., coach maker. Dangerously bruised.

Hamilton, Mr, attorney.

Hamilton, his son.

Hamilton, Joseph, bookseller and bookbinder, Kennedy’s Lane. Clerk of the guild. Severely bruised.

Hartley, Travers, 89 Bride Street. One of the 3 candidates for election to parliament. Later elected as member for Dublin city. Severely bruised.

Haughton, John, cutler, 31 Charles Street. Warden of the cutlers. Arm broken.

Husband, John Abbott, printer, 28 Abbey Street. Arm broken.

Jackson, Mr, Townshend Street. Severely bruised.

Jackson, Luke, engraver and copper-plate printer, 19 Abbey Street. Arm broken.

Jenkin, Caleb, bookseller, 58 Dame Street. Much bruised.

Johnston, John, sadler, 9 Abbey Street. Skull fractured.

Johnstone, David, shoe maker, Cut-Purse Row. Thigh broken. Died [FJ 12-14 Feb.; FLJ 13-16 Feb.].

Jones, Robert, attorney, William Street [or Big Ship Street (FDJ)]. Broken leg.

Joyce, Mr, printer, Clarendon Street. Dangerously bruised.

Keene [Keen], Arthur, goldsmith, 67 Dame Street. Slightly hurt.

Keightley, Benjamin, bookbinder, Dame Street. Leg broken.

Kelly, Mr, Hosier, Corn Market.

Leathley, Samuel, printer, Ormond Market. Very much bruised.

M’Kenzie, William, bookseller, at Mrs Hallhead’s, 63 Dame Street. Dangerous bruise on the back.

M’Mahon, Alexander, wine merchant, 180 Abbey Street. Life in danger. Died [BNL 12-15 Feb.; HC 14 Feb.].

Marchbank, Robert, printer, bookseller and bookbinder, 22 Cole Alley, Castle Street. Much bruised.

Marsh, John, cutler, 3 Capel Street. Council of the House 1782. Severely bruised.

Mathew, Mr, Hosier, Corn Market.

May, Frederick, watchmaker, 138 Capel Street. Two ribs broken.

Mills, Michael, bookseller, printer and bookbinder, 135 Capel Street. Council of the House 1782. A good deal hurt.

Moncrieffe, Richard Esq., Sheriffs-peer and bookseller, 16 Capel Street. Bruised in body and limbs.

Moore, Andrew, merchant, 46 Dorset Street. Much bruised.

Moreton [Morton], William, gun-maker, 31 Skinner Row. Arm broken [FLJ]. Thigh broken [FJ; BNL].

Myler, Thomas, glass seller, 1 College Green. Member of the Common Council 1780-83. Several contusions in the head.

Napper, Robert, printer, George’s Lane. Dangerously bruised.

Neil [Neill], Joseph, linen draper, 134 Capel Street. Severely bruised.

Newenham, Sir Edward, Belcamp, Co. Dublin. MP for Co. Dublin. Collar bone broken.

Patterson, Thomas, tailor, 16 Fishamble Street. Broken leg.

Pemberton, Benjamin, bricklayer, 9 Park Place. Slightly hurt.

Pemberton, Mr (junior). Severely bruised.

Pemberton, Joseph, cutler, 145 Capel Street. Council of the House 1782. Member of the Common Council 1780-83. One of the three candidates for election to parliament, not successful. Very much bruised.

Pemberton, Joseph (senior), 67 Fleet Street. Died of his injuries [BNL 12-15 Feb.; HC 14 Feb.].

Redmond, Mr Charles, woollen draper, Dame Street. Thigh broken.

Ross, Alexander, peruke maker, 8 Exchange Street. Member of the Common Council 1780-83. Two ribs broken.

Ruxton, John, cutler, Back Lane. Council of the House 1782. Much bruised.

Scot, Mr, Joseph’s Lane. Died [HM].

Shaw, Mr Richard, sword cutler, 7 Essex Bridge. Member of the Common Council 1780-83. Leg broken. Died [FLJ 13-16 Feb.].

Sleater, William, bookseller and printer, 51 Castle Street. Council of the House 1782. Master of the guild (elected on 21 Dec. 1781, in place of William Hallhead, deceased). Member of the Common Council 1782-83. Slightly hurt.

Stockdale, John, printer, 63 Abbey Street. Very much bruised.

Taylor, Mr, Custom House. Much bruised.

Taylor, Peter, shoemaker, 65 High Street. Member of the Common Council 1780-83. Mortally wounded, since dead [FJ 7-9 Feb.].

Thomas, Edwin, printer, Capel Street. Died in June [FLJ 5-8 June].

Tinkler, Mr, paper-stainer, George’s Street. Badly bruised.

Wallace, John, bookseller and stationer, 2 Bridge Street. Back broken. Died [FLJ 16-19 Feb.].

Warren, Alderman Nathaniel, brewer, 6 Mill Street. One of the 3 candidates for election to parliament, not successful. One of the Chief Magistrates 1782. Lord Mayor of Dublin 1782-83. Severely bruised.

White, John Esq., Stephen’s Green, late High Sheriff of Co. Dublin. Bruised, his life in danger. On the way to recovery [FJ 9-12 Feb.].

Book Trade members.

Burnet, George (1759-99), bookbinder, bookseller and stationer, Abbey Street. Slightly hurt. d.1803.

Clare, Benjamin (1773-1787), book auctioneer, Green Street. Broken thigh. d. 1787.

Dugdale, Bennett (1781-1826), printer, 150 Capel Street. Dangerously bruised.

Gilbert, William (1760-1815), bookbinder and bookseller, 26 South Great George’s Street. One rib broken.

Graisberry, Daniel (1765-85), printer, Back Lane. Very ill bruised. d. Dec. 1785.

Hamilton, Joseph (1749 -97), bookseller and bookbinder, Kennedy’s Lane. Severely bruised.

Husband, John Abbot (1765-85), printer, 28 Abbey Street. Arm broken. d.1794.

Jackson, Luke (1775-83), engraver and copper-plate printer, 19 Abbey Street. Arm broken.

Jenkin, Caleb (1771-92), bookseller, 58 Dame Street. Much bruised. d. Mar. 1792.

Joyce, Mr, printer, Clarendon Street. Dangerously bruised.

Keightley, Benjamin (1770-94), bookbinder, Dame Street. Leg broken. d. 1796.

Leathley, Samuel (1772-89), printer, Ormond Market. Very much bruised. Printed the Freeman’s Journal 1776-82.

M’Kenzie, William (1783-1810), printer, bookseller and bookbinder, at Mrs Sarah Hallhead’s in Dame Street. Dangerous bruise on the back.

Marchbank, Robert (1769-1801), printer and bookseller, Cole Alley, Castle Street. Much bruised. d.1803.

Mills, Michael (1768-95), printer and bookseller, Capel Street. A good deal hurt. d.1808.

Moncrieffe, Richard Esq. (1762-90), bookseller, Capel Street. Bruised in body and limbs. d.1798.

Napper, Robert (1791-1832), printer. Dangerously bruised.

Sleater, William (1754-89), bookseller and printer, 51 Castle Street. Slightly hurt.

Stockdale, John (1772-1812), printer and bookseller, 63 Abbey Street. Very much bruised. d.1813.

Wallace, John (1771-1782), bookseller and bookbinder, Bridge Street. Back broken. Reported dead [16-19 Feb.], but John Wallace, bookbinder, seems to be active until 1816.

[1] This paper was first published in Dublin Historical Record, L, no. 2 (Autumn 1997), pp 130-6.

[2] Freeman’s Journal, 15-17 January 1782.

[3] The Hibernian Magazine (February 1782), p.109; Freeman’s Journal (7-9 February 1782) and Hibernian Chronicle (11 February 1782) estimated 300 people, while Finn’s Leinster Journal (6-9 February 1782) and Belfast News Letter (7-12 February 1782) put the figure at 400.

[4] Freeman’s Journal, 24-28 December 1765. Mary Clark and Raymond Refaussé eds., Directory of historic Dublin guilds (Dublin, Dublin Public Libraries, 1993).

[5] Freeman’s Journal, 24-27 March 1764.

[6] John T. Gilbert, A history of the city of Dublin, 3 volumes (Dublin, reprint The Sackville Library Gill & Macmillan, 1978), i, pp 71-90.

[7] Belfast News Letter, 7-12 February 1782.

[8] Hibernian Magazine, February 1782, p.110.

[9] Hibernian Chronicle, 11 February 1782.

[10] Faulkner’s Dublin Journal, 5-7 February 1782.

[11] Finn’s Leinster Journal, 6-9 February 1782.

[12] Hibernian Magazine, February 1782, p.109.

[13] National Library of Ireland: Ms 12,125 ‘Transactions of the Guild of St Luke the Evangelist’ 1766-1785.

[14] Faulkner’s Dublin Journal, 5-7 February 1782.

[15] Freeman’s Journal, 5-7 February 1782.

[16] Gilbert, History, i, pp 85-6.

[17] ‘Transactions of the Guild’, 2 July 1782, 8 July 1782, 24 August 1782, 7 September 1782.

[18] Ibid., 1 October 1782.

[19] Charles T. Keatinge, ‘The Guild of Cutlers, Painter-Stainers and Stationers, better known as the Guild of St Luke the Evangelist, Dublin’, Journal of the Royal Societyof Antiquaries of Ireland, XXX (1900), pp 136-47. Henry S. Guinness, ‘Dublin Trade Gilds’, Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, 6th ser., XII (1922), p.158. Pettigrew and Oulton’s The Dublin almanac 1841.

[20] Watson’s Gentleman’s and Citizen’s Almanack 1782, pp 120-2.

[21] ‘Transactions of the Guild’., f.283, 10 January 1782.


The Encyclopédie in Eighteenth-Century Ireland.

The eighteenth century was a period of considerable contact between Ireland and continental Europe. Well-to-do Catholic families sent their children to the continent to be educated. Catholics remained in Europe to join the church, or the continental armies, or returned to Ireland as doctors, or to take up a career in trade. Both Protestant and Catholic merchants had trade links with the continent, especially the Atlantic ports of France and Spain. Younger sons often joined an Irish trading house in one of these ports and daughters frequently went to the continent to be educated and to marry Irishmen there. Young men of fortune visited the continent on their Grand Tour, especially in the second half of the century. Intellectual currents were not slow to reach Ireland either as scholars throughout Europe corresponded with each other and shared news and information in their fields of interest.

Because of this contact with Europe Ireland became quite cosmopolitan in outlook, particularly from mid-century. French was the language of culture and scholarship in eighteenth-century Europe, replacing Latin as the lingua franca of educated people. The Mentor Universel of 1785 claimed that French was spoken: ‘de Volga à Dublin et des campagnes d’Enna aux glaces d’Islande’.[2] French was taught in schools in Ireland throughout the eighteenth century, and in 1776 Trinity College Dublin introduced university courses in French, German, Italian and Spanish. French books were imported into Ireland from the late seventeenth century, and those imports increased during the eighteenth century. Some titles in French were even printed in Ireland, mostly in Dublin, but also in Cork and Belfast, to cater for local demand.

In the early years of the century the main French language imports were literary works of French Classicism, scholarly works in literature and the sciences, Protestant religious works, French language periodical works, and newspapers. As authors of the French Enlightenment began to publish, their works found a market in Ireland, as elsewhere in Europe. The most widely owned authors of the French Enlightenment among Irish readers were Voltaire, Montesquieu, Rousseau, Crébillon fils, Marmontel, Raynal and Mercier.[3] To cater for this growing demand Irish booksellers increased their stocks of foreign language works. Several Dublin booksellers specialized in continental imports, establishing contacts in France, Switzerland, and the Netherlands, and even going abroad in person to fulfill orders.[4] By the 1780s an extensive entrepreneurial wholesale trade was carried on by Dublin booksellers with publishing centres in Europe, and their imports were distributed to booksellers in Cork, Belfast, Limerick, Waterford, Kilkenny, and other major towns.

Among the most notable importations of French books to Ireland from the 1750s were the various editions of the Encyclopédie, the quintessential work of the French Enlightenment, an expensive multi-volume set which could only be acquired by the prosperous reader. The first Encyclopédie was inspired by Chambers’ Cyclopaedia, published in London in 1728. Initially the Encyclopédie was intended to be a translation of Chambers, but under the editorship of Denis Diderot and Jean d’Alembert it became a forum for the leading intellectuals of the French Enlightenment to rethink their world rationally. The original plan was for a shorter, and less expensive work, amounting to 10 volumes folio, including plates. The plates published in Chambers’ Cyclopaedia were considered too few, and their quality too poor, by the French editors, who decided to include up to 600 copper-plate engravings to illustrate the techniques and processes described in the text.[5] The resulting volumes of plates contained engravings derived from Chambers and from published technical works, which were verified and corrected before publication.

Volume one of the Encyclopédie appeared on 1 July 1751, preceded by a Discours préliminaire by d’Alembert. An Irish literary journal, The Compendious Library or Literary Journal Revived, carried news of its publication in the issue of January-February 1752, noting that it: ‘is now in the press and is to consist of 10 volumes folio’.[6] Irish readers were thus aware of the publication from its earliest days. The folio editions were luxurious works aimed at the wealthy reader, and were well outside the range of most book buyers of the period. In the 1770s and 1780s, however, cut-price editions were published outside the borders of France. Folio editions were issued from Geneva in Switzerland (1771-1776), Lucca (1758-1776) and Leghorn (1770-1779) in Italy. Smaller format quarto editions were published in Geneva (1777-1779), Neuchâtel (1778-1779), and Yverdon (1770-1780) in Switzerland, and octavo editions were published by the Sociétés typographiques of Lausanne and Berne in partnership (1778-1782).[7] The sets produced outside the frontiers of France were not only cheaper editions, but the texts were substantially changed. The Italian editions needed to appease the Vatican, while the Swiss editions sought to give an orthodox Protestant view, both eschewing the heretical tendencies of the original. The Yverdon quarto edition, in particular, is significantly different in content and tone to be considered less a reprint, and more an independent reworking based on the original Paris edition.[8]

Plates from the Encyclopédie showing the processes of composing type and printing.

When the first volume of the Encyclopédie appeared in 1751 it inspired a group of London booksellers to publish a pirated reprint in London in quarto format, which could be sold for half the price of the Paris edition. It was reprinted verbatim from the Paris edition and was offered for sale at 18 shillings in half binding. Their reprinting of the remaining projected nine volumes was dependent on the reception of the first, and no subsequent volumes appear to have been issued.[9]  As there is no surviving copy of the London reprint its existence has often been doubted, however, contemporary notices appeared for it in the Gentleman’s Magazine of January 1752 and the London Magazine of April 1752 .[10] The London Magazine names ‘Innys &c.’ as the source of the volume. William Innys, of St Paul’s Churchyard, was in business until at least 1756; he had been master of the Stationers’ Company in 1747-8.[11] He may have been one of a group of London booksellers responsible for the reprinting; Lough suggests that Nourse and Vaillant were also possibly associated with the project.[12]

To date there is evidence for the importation of different editions of the Encyclopédie by five separate Dublin booksellers, John Smith prior to 1758; William Watson from 1769-1780; Laurence Flin in 1770; William Wilson in March 1779 and Luke White in 1779/80. John Smith (1719-1758), printer and bookseller on the Blind Quay, Dublin, with his cousin William Bruce, had been an importer of French books since 1726, when he established contacts in Amsterdam through his uncle, William Smith. Smith and Bruce issued catalogues of their imported material in 1726 and 1728.[13] The 1726 Catalogue comprises 78 pages, of these 28 list books in Latin,  and 17 list books in French. The range of books listed in the 1728 catalogue is very similar; the French books occupying 20 of the 86 pages. 1728 also saw the publication by Smith and Bruce of a French language book, Gaspar Caillard’s Sermons sur divers textes.[14] John Smith, whose ‘Shop and Warehouse are furnished with an excellent Collection of Foreign Books, in most Languages and Faculties’,[15] continued in business until 1758 when he retired and his stock was auctioned. Two copies of the first volume of the Diderot and d’Alembert Encyclopédie were auctioned as part of his bookstock.[16] They were copies of the 1752 London pirated edition in quarto, showing that volume one was published, as indicated by contemporary accounts, and for sale in bookshops.

William Watson (1768-1801) was bookseller and printer at the Poet’s Head in Capel Street, Dublin, and printer to Trinity College. There is little evidence to show that he had a particular specialization in imported foreign literature, but like many other Dublin booksellers he reprinted translations of French works. In November 1769, however, he advertised in French for the forthcoming Encyclopédie of Yverdon.[17] The Encyclopédie: ou dictionnaire universel raisonné des connoissances humaines was published by Fortuné-Barthélemy de Félice at Yverdon in Switzerland between 1770 and 1780. This was a quarto edition of the Encyclopédie, completely rewritten to conform with Protestant views, with contributions from savants all over Europe. It had a good reputation in the eighteenth century, especially in Protestant states, and even among the intellectual community it was considered a superior text to the original. The projected set was to amount to 34 volumes of text and 6 volumes of plates. Irish subscribers to the work would receive the volumes as they were printed. Watson held the prospectus which was available free to intending purchasers. The set finally came to 48 volumes of text and 10 volumes of plates, in all 58 volumes against the 40 volumes originally advertised. One subscriber to the set was the Hon. Thomas Conolly of Castletown House, County Kildare, whose household accounts show that Watson was paid £2.14s.2d. in March 1779 for volumes 6 and 7 of the plates and £4.1s.3d. in July 1780 for volumes 8, 9 and 10.[18] The cost amounted to £1.7s.1d. per volume of plates, although the volumes of text would have been cheaper. The cost to the original subscribers was 12 French livres per letterpress volume, and 24 livres per volume of plates.[19]

Laurence Flin (1754-1771) was bookbinder, bookseller and publisher at the Bible in Castle Street, Dublin. From 1758 he held auctions at the Golden Ball on College Green. In 1759 he published an edition of The new testament in Irish, using roman letter. During the 1760s he issued annual catalogues of his imported stock; this method of sale by yearly or twice yearly priced catalogue was employed by many booksellers, especially those who wished to appeal to a dispersed clientele. Flin issued his main catalogue in October or November of the year with a supplementary volume in January; the sale of stock from the catalogue covered the period November to May. The titles were in English, Latin and Greek, French, Italian and a small number in Dutch; the works in English included translations of continental works. His catalogue of 1770 offered L’Encyclopédie, ou dictionnaire universel des arts et des sciences in 2 volumes quarto (London 1761) for £1.2s.9d.[20] This was almost certainly the Encyclopédie françoise, a down-market imitation of the Encyclopédie, which was printed at Lyons in a 2 volume quarto edition in 1761, using London as a false imprint.[21]

William Wilson (1768-1801), of Dame Street, Dublin, was the son of Peter Wilson, whose wide-ranging activities in the book trade included the publication of Wilson’s Dublin directory from 1751. Peter Wilson retired in 1771, handing the entire business over to his son. William, however, went bankrupt in 1781, but was rescued by his father who declared that William ‘was possessed of a spirit beyond his income, and of abilities superior to the common ranks of tradesmen’.[22] Peter Wilson had published editions of Les aventures de Télémaque c.1747 and in 1756,[23] as well as translations of French authors. William published another edition of Les avantures de Télémaque in 1775, followed by Raynal’s Révolutions de l’Amérique in 1781.[24] He was one of four publishers undertaking Madame de Genlis’ Théâtre de société in 1783. In March 1779 he advertised 44 French titles ‘importé et vendue par Guill. Wilson’.[25] From this list he offered 55 volumes of de Félice’s Encyclopédie of Yverdon, in quarto including plates at £34.2s.6d. sewed, noting that: ‘Toutes les Livres sont bien relié, excepte l’Encyclopédie qui n’est que broché’.

Luke White (1776-1803), bookseller, printer and importer of foreign language books at 86 Dame Street, Dublin, was listed in the Dublin directories as a wholesale bookseller from 1793 to 1803, when he appears to have given up retail bookselling.[26] He printed many popular French language books, especially those of Madame de Genlis. His earliest title printed in French is from 1777, Les lettres de Mademoiselle Ninon de l’Enclos au Marquis de Sévigné, in two volumes duodecimo. He imported foreign language literature from at least 1777, when he informed the nobility and gentry that: ‘he will be regularly supplied with the new publications from France, Italy and London’.[27] By 1784 he could claim to be: ‘constantly supplied with every Book of Merit in the English, French and Italian Languages’.[28] He issued an annual sale catalogue, concentrating on French and Italian literature. White began trading with the Société Typographique de Neuchâtel (STN) late in 1779.[29] That year he was supplied with the 39 volume quarto edition of the Encyclopédie by the STN, availing himself of the Société’s offer of a 25% price reduction on the set. He subscribed to 12 copies which entitled him to a 13th copy free. The STN reprinted the Encyclopédie in quarto format from 1777 to 1779, the set consisting of 36 volumes of text, and 3 volumes of plates. The Encyclopédies were shipped from Ostend in 1779/80 with works by Rousseau, Voltaire, and Buffon, and copies of La vie privée de Louis XV.[30] They took eight months to arrive as the shippers were forced to wait for a safe neutral ship to transport them, due to French involvement in the American War of Independence. White may have had subscribers for some of the sets, but he seems to have ordered at least some for stock, as a set was advertised in his sale catalogue of 1784, priced at £30.[31]

Several editions of the Encyclopédie were present in Irish libraries, but it is not known if they were purchased from Irish booksellers or imported especially for the library. To date thirty-one sets of the Encyclopédie have been traced to contemporary purchasers, twenty-nine in private libraries, one in the Dublin Library Society and one in Trinity College Dublin. This figure must be regarded as a minimum level. Fourteen sets of the Yverdon quarto edition have been traced, making it the most popular edition in Irish libraries. Seven sets of the first Paris folio edition, five sets of the Encyclopédie méthodique, three sets of the Geneva quarto edition in 39 volumes, and two unidentified sets have also been traced. None of the thirteen sets of the Neuchâtel quarto edition imported by Luke White has been located in contemporary collections.[32]

Sets of the quarto editions of the Encyclopédie cost from £30 to £35, making it available only to a minority of readers. In the 1770s, when the Encyclopédie was offered for sale, the penny loaf weighed six or seven ounces; butter was selling at 32s. to 40s. per hundredweight and beef at 17s. to 20s. per hundredweight.[33] Book prices can be best compared with other luxury items where the scales are comparable; tea was priced from 2s.2d. to 12s. per pound, brandy from 5s.to 6s.6d. per gallon and claret from 14s. to 22s.9d. per dozen.[34] In the late 1770s and early 1780s when the Conollys of Castletown House paid £2.14s.2d. for two volumes of plates for the Encyclopédie, they expended £2.5s.6d. for eight dancing lessons, and £2.5s.6d. to the tutor for writing, accounts and geography for one month.[35] For the thirtieth anniversary performance of Handel’s Messiah held in the Smock Alley theatre in April 1772 places in the boxes and lattices were 5s.5d., in the pit 3s.3d., in the middle gallery 2s.2d. and the upper gallery 1s.1d.; corresponding to a small format book in plain binding priced at 2s.2d. to 3s.3d., or to one issue of a monthly periodical at 1s.1d.[36] In 1784 when Luke White was charging £30 for the Neuchâtel quarto edition of the Encyclopédie the yearly rent on a house in Grafton Street was £27.6s.[37] These comparable prices show the luxury nature of the books acquired for some of the country’s finest libraries. It is not surprising that the market was limited for such works.

The Irish purchasers of the Encyclopédie correspond to their continental counterparts, as identified by Darnton. The folio editions appealed to the luxury market in Paris and Versailles, while the quarto editions fell more within the range of provincial book buyers. In France it was the administrators, lawyers and professionals who subscribed to the Encyclopédie, with clergy and businessmen also significant.[38] In Ireland the higher level Anglican clergy [8 examples], represented by such figures as Dr William Newcome (1729-1800), Archbishop of Armagh; Dr William Knox (1762-1831), Bishop of Derry; Dr William Hales (1747-1831) and Dr Richard Murray (1727-1799), both of Trinity College Dublin; and those in the administrative and parliamentary professions [8], such as William Burton Conyngham (1733-1796), antiquarian and officer of the Treasury Department; Judge Robert Hellen (1725-1792); and Andrew Caldwell (1733-1808), barrister and one of the Wide Streets Commissioners, formed the main categories of buyer for the Encyclopédie.[39] They were followed by aristocracy and landowners [6], represented by Lord Charlemont (1728-1799); the Marquess of Downshire (1718-1793), Benjamin Franklin’s host in Ireland; and Thomas Wogan Browne (d.1812); intellectuals and scholars [5], such as Horace Hone (1756-1825), the portrait painter, who moved to London after the Union; and Richard Kirwan (1733-1812), the chemist.[40] A preference for the Yverdon quarto edition was shown by the clergy, and for the Paris folio by the landowners. Three individuals each possessed two sets of the Encyclopédie. Rev. Dr Thomas Wilson (1727-1799), Fellow of Trinity College and professor of Natural Philosophy, owned 7 volumes of the first Paris folio edition and the 39 volume Geneva quarto edition.[41] John Claudius Beresford (1766->1832), banker, M.P., alderman and Lord Mayor of Dublin (1814), held the 58 volume Yverdon quarto edition and 20 volumes of the Encyclopédie méthodique.[42] Horace Hone held the 39 volumes Geneva quarto edition, and 178 volumes of the Encyclopédie méthodique.[43]

In 1759 the Encyclopédie was placed on the Index librorum prohibitorum and Catholics were warned to have it burned by a priest, or face excommunication. Nevertheless Catholics purchased the various editions of the Encyclopédie in France and elsewhere. In Ireland evidence for book ownership among Catholics is slight before the end of the eighteenth century due to the low profile adopted by well-off Catholics because of the Penal laws. Two of the Encyclopédie owners were practising Catholics, and a number of others had Catholic backgrounds, but they or their families had conformed to the established church during the eighteenth century in order to retain their status and lands, or to advance in their careers. Richard Kirwan, the renowned chemist, exemplifies this situation. He was born a Catholic and educated for the priesthood at the Jesuit novitiate at St Omer. When his brother was killed in a duel he succeeded to the family estates, and converted in order to retain them. Kirwan held 94 volumes of the Encyclopédie méthodique.[44] The two Catholic purchasers were Dr John Fergus (1700-1761) and Christopher Dillon Bellew (fl.1790-1815). Dr John Fergus was considered ‘the most eminent Roman Catholic Physician in Dublin in his time and a great collector of books and manuscripts’. He was a patron of Gaelic scribal work and possessed a celebrated collection of Irish language manuscripts. His library and that of his only son, Dr Macarius Fergus (d.1763), were sold by auction in 1766; the catalogue lists the first seven volumes of the Paris folio Encyclopédie.[45] The Bellews were one of the few Catholic gentry families to retain their lands during the eighteenth century. Christopher and his brothers were educated in France, and the family fortunes were maintained through trade, especially flour milling. From about 1790 Bellew began to build up the library at Mount Bellew in Galway. In an inventory of 1813 the ten volumes of plates to the Yverdon Encyclopédie were present in the library, but there is no mention of the volumes of text.[46]

Two of Ireland’s most celebrated book collectors held sets of the first Paris folio edition, Lord Charlemont and the Hon. Denis Daly. Charlemont’s library at Charlemont House in Dublin was one of the sights to be seen by visitors to Dublin; it was also frequented by scholars and other interested readers.[47] The Hon. Denis Daly was M.P. for Galway; he lived at Athenry, County Galway and in Dublin. His library was famous throughout Ireland and Britain; when it was put up for auction in 1792 catalogues were available from booksellers in Ireland, Britain and the continent.[48]

At the highest social level there was no distinction between metropolitan and provincial in Ireland; those who could afford to do so had a house in Dublin and an estate in the country. At least part of each year was spent in Dublin, for the parliamentary season and the social life connected with it, for the sessions of court, university terms etc. Travel abroad to London, Bath and the continent was also a feature of life at this level. Several of those in the parliamentary and other professions divided their time between Ireland and London. Most of the Encyclopédie owners belonged to this privileged group, with a townhouse and a country estate, or in the case of the clergy a townhouse and a residence in their diocese. The counties in which they had their seats include Kildare, Meath, Wicklow and Longford in Leinster; Armagh, Down, Tyrone, Derry, Donegal and Cavan in Ulster; Cork and Waterford in Munster; and Galway in Connacht. The spread of ownership was countrywide, but all purchases of the Encyclopédie would have been made in Dublin, if not imported personally from London. The audience for the Encyclopédie in Ireland was a conservative one, limited to the wealthy book buyer with an interest in current, fashionable works of the Enlightenment. These readers formed part of the mainstream cosmopolitan European elite of the eighteenth century.

Considering the diffusion of the Encyclopédie outside France, Darnton has shown that the European market was supplied mainly by the first two folio editions and the octavo edition from Paris, while the other editions had a more concentrated market in certain areas. The Encyclopédie d’Yverdon, which current evidence indicates was the most widely owned edition in Ireland, sold mainly in the Low Countries; the bookseller Pierre Gosse of The Hague purchased most of the edition from de Félice in the 1770s.[49] This distributive pattern is significant, as the Irish book trade was supplied with a large percentage of its continental works from Amsterdam, The Hague and other centres in the Netherlands. It is very likely that these Encyclopédies were imported by Dublin booksellers from their suppliers in the Netherlands. Given the nature of Irish ownership for the Encyclopédie, wealthy, largely Anglican, and upholders of the status quo, the more conservative approach of the Encyclopédie of Yverdon, compared with the original Paris folio, was of greater appeal, and it was perhaps a more toned-down Enlightenment with a distinctly Protestant viewpoint, which was supported by this readership.

[1] An earlier version of this article was published in The Book Collector, 45, no. 2 (Summer 1996), pp 201-13.

[2] Le Mentor Universel, 4 (1785), p.61.

[3] Máire Kennedy, ‘The Top 20 French authors in eighteenth-century Irish private libraries’, Linen Hall Review, 12, no. 1 (Spring 1995), pp 4-8.

[4] Gough, Hugh ‘Book imports from continental Europe in late eighteenth-century Ireland: Luke White and the Société Typographique de Neuchâtel’, Long Room, 38 (1993), pp 35-48. Máire Kennedy, ‘The domestic and international trade of an eighteenth-century Dublin bookseller: John Archer (1782-1810)’, Dublin Historical Record, XLIX, no. 2 (Autumn 1996), pp 94-105.

[5] Lael Ely Bradshaw, ‘Ephraim Chambers’ Cyclopaedia’ in Frank A. Kafker, ed. Notable encyclopedias of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries: nine predecessors of the Encyclopédie (Oxford, The Voltaire Foundation, 1981), pp 123-40.

[6] The Compendious Library or Literary Journal Revived (Dublin: printed by S. Powell and sold by J. Leathley, G. and A. Ewing, W. Smith, J. Smith, G. Faulkner and H. Bradley, Booksellers, Jan.-Feb. 1752), pp 178-9.

[7] Robert Darnton, The business of Enlightenment: a publishing history of the Encyclopédie 1775-1800 (Cambridge, Mass., The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1797). Kathleen Hardesty Doig, ‘The Yverdon Encyclopédie’ in Frank A. Kafker, Notable encyclopedias of the late eighteenth century: eleven successors of the Encyclopédie (Oxford, The Voltaire Foundation, 1994), pp 85-116; Kathleen Hardesty Doig, ‘The quarto and octavo editions of the Encyclopédie’ in Kafker (1994), op. cit., pp 117-42.

[8] John Lough, Essays on the Encyclopédie of Diderot and d’Alembert (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1968), pp 48-51.

[9] Monthly Review, VII (July 1752), pp 69-70. Eighteenth-Century Short Title Catalogue (ESTC).

[10] John Lough, The Encyclopédie in eighteenth-century England and other studies (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Oriel Press, 1970), pp 3-6; Gentleman’s Magazine, XXII (Jan. 1752), pp 46-7; London Magazine, 48 (Apr. 1752), p.194.

[11] H.R. Plomer et al. A dictionary of the printers and booksellers who were at work in England Scotland and Ireland from 1726 to 1775 (Oxford, Printed for the Bibliographical Society at the Oxford University Press, 1932 (for 1930)). D.F. McKenzie, ed., Stationers’ Company apprentices 1701-1800 (Oxford, Oxford Bibliographical Society, 1978).

[12] Lough (1970), op. cit., pp 4-5.

[13] A catalogue of books newly arrived from England, Holland and France. To be sold by Smiths and Bruce (Dublin, printed by S. Powell, 1726). A catalogue of books. Sold by John Smith and William Bruce (Dublin, Printed by S. Powell, 1728).

[14] Gaspar Caillard, Sermons sur divers textes de l’Ecriture Sainte (Dublin, pour J. Smith and W. Bruce, 1728).

[15] Faulkner’s Dublin Journal, 1 March 1755.

[16] Catalogue of books being the bound stock of John Smith, bookseller on the Blind-Quay, which will begin to be sold by auction by William Ross at the Rt Hon. the Lord’s Coffee-Room in the Parliament House on Thursday 13 April 1758. Remainder of the stock of John Smith will be sold by auction at his late house on the Blind-Quay by William Ross, 7 Dec. 1758. Lot 2092 in the catalogue of April 1758 and lots 1031       and 1320 in the catalogue of December 1758, ‘remainder of stock, left-overs from the first sale’. Universal Advertiser, 16-19 December 1758.

[17] Freeman’s Journal, 14-16 November 1769.

[18] Trinity College Dublin: Ms. 3939-3940, Tradesmen’s Receipts, Thomas Conolly, 2 volumes (1778-1795).

[19] Doig, loc. cit., p. 91.

[20] Flin’s sale catalogue for the year 1770, the sale begins on Wednesday 1st November 1769, lot 3722.

[21] Encyclopédie françoise, latine et angloise, ou dictionnaire universel des arts et des sciences françois (Londres: et se trouve à Lyon chez Jean-Marie Bruyset, imprimeur-libraire, 1761).

[22] Wilson’s Dublin directory 1802, p.4.

[23] There is no surviving copy of the earlier edition, but it was advertised in 1747. Dublin Courant, 21-24 November 1747.

[24] Freeman’s Journal, 28-30 August 1781. His ordinary edition was published at 2s.2d. or 2s.8½d. bound, but ‘some copies were printed in superfine paper, large octavo, to match the Author’s other works’.

[25] Freeman’s Journal, 20-23 March 1779.

[26] Wilson’s Dublin directories 1793-1803.

[27] Independent Chronicle, 3-5 November 1777.

[28] Volunteer’s Journal, 4 October 1784.

[29] Gough, loc. cit.

[30] Darnton, op. cit., p. 309; Appendix B, p. 592.

[31] General Evening Post, 15 July 1784.

[32] Máire Kennedy, French books in eighteenth-century Ireland (Oxford, Voltaire Foundation, SVEC – 7, July 2001). A sample of 193 catalogues of Irish private libraries, dating from 1715 to 1830 has been used to assess ownership of French language books. The catalogues were mainly issued as auction catalogues for the sale of libraries, though in some cases an inventory of a library was made by the owner. Only catalogues of named private owners were used. As the catalogues are mainly of libraries which were auctioned after the owner’s death, this indicates a certain value accorded to the collection.

[33] Darnton uses the price of bread to give an indication of the price range of the Encyclopédies. Calculating at 8 sous for a four-pound loaf, a first folio was worth 2,450 loaves, a quarto 960 loaves, and an octavo 563 loaves; the folio equaling 4 years’ bread supply for a labourer and his family. Darnton, op. cit., p. 275. In Ireland a four-pound loaf would have cost about 8d., in equivalent terms this makes the cost of the Yverdon quarto edition the same as 900 to 1,050 four-pound loaves of bread.

[34] Prices are taken from contemporary newspaper advertisements.

[35] Trinity College Dublin: Ms 3939, Tradesmen’s Receipts, Thomas Conolly (1778-1785).

[36] Freeman’s Journal, 14-16 April 1772.

[37] Dublin Public Libraries Gilbert Collection: Ms lease, William and Mary Rainsford to Thomas Williams, 29 September 1782.

[38] Darnton, op. cit., pp 295-8.

[39] Catalogue of books, being the library of the late Most Rev. Dr William Newcome, Archbishop of Armagh, and Primate of All Ireland (Dublin, James Vallance, 31 March 1800), lot 2679. Catalogue of a choice and extensive collection of books forming the library of the late Hon and Right Rev William Knox, Bishop of Derry (Dublin, Edward Maguire, 11 April 1832), lot 2341. Catalogue of a valuable and select collection of books, forming the Library of Rev. Dr Hales, deceased, Rector of Killeshandra (Dublin, Charles Sharpe, 1 February 1826; 2 June 1831), lot 413. Catalogue of the library of the late Rev. Richard Murray, D.D., Provost of T.C.D. (Dublin, Richard Edward Mercier & Co, 26 May 1800), lot 2483. Catalogue of the extensive and valuable collection of books, antiquities, books of prints and manuscripts, being the family library of a gentleman of distinction, deceased, [Burton Conyngham] (Dublin, Thomas Jones, 16 April 1810), lot 1833. Catalogue of books, prints and drawings, being the collection of the late Hon. Judge Hellen (Dublin, James Vallance, 10 February 1794), lot 368. Catalogue of books, being the library of the late Andrew Caldwell, Esq. (Dublin, Thomas Jones, 3 May 1809), lot 1055.

[40] Royal Irish Academy: Ms. 12.R.8, Catalogue of the important, extensive and valuable library of a deceased nobleman, of great literary and artistic taste, [Lord Charlemont] (11 August 1865; 27 September 1865), lot 896. Public Record Office of Northern Ireland: Ms. D.671/A38/1A, Catalogue of the library at Hillsborough [c.1800]. Bibliotheca Browniana. Catalogue of the valuable and extensive library of the late Wogan Browne Esq., of Castle Browne, in the County of Kildare (Dublin, Thomas Jones, 3 August 1812), lot 856. Catalogue of books, prints, drawings, mathematical and philosophical Instruments &c., being the collections of two gentlemen and H. Hone Esq., miniature painter to His Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales, going to reside in England (Dublin, James Vallance, [1798]), lots 671 and 672. Catalogue of a large and valuable collection of miscellaneous books, the library of the celebrated Richard Kirwan, Esq., deceased, LLD, FRS, PRIA and member of most of the Literary Societies of Europe (Dublin, Thomas Jones, 12 April 1813), lot 1778.

[41] Catalogue of books, being the library of the late Rev. Dr Wilson (Dublin, James Vallance, 27 October 1800), lots 1105 and 1177.

[42] Catalogue of a valuable and excellent collection of miscellaneous books and capital books of prints, the library of John Claudius Beresford, Esq. (Dublin, Thomas Jones, 28 February 1811), lots 764 and 765.

[43] Catalogue of … H. Hone, op. cit., lots 671 and 672.

[44] Catalogue of … Richard Kirwan, op. cit. Royal Irish Academy: Ms. 3.A.6., Catalogue of books bequeathed to the Royal Irish Academy by Richard Kirwan, 1813.

[45] Catalogue of the library of John Fergus M.D. and his son [Macarius Fergus] (Dublin, L. Flin, 3 February 1766), lot 162. Diarmaid Ó Catháin, ‘John Fergus MD eighteenth-century doctor, book collector and Irish scholar’, Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, 118 (1988), pp 139-62.

[46] National Library of Ireland: Ms. 5514, Catalogue of the library of Mount Bellew (Galway, printed by Geo. Conolly, 1813). Karen J. Harvey, ‘The family experience: the Bellews of Mount Bellew’ in T.P. Power, and Kevin Whelan, eds., Endurance and emergence: Catholics in Ireland in the eighteenth century (Dublin, Irish Academic Press, 1990), pp 171-97.

[47] Maurice James Craig, The Volunteer Earl: being the life and times of James Caulfeild, First Earl of Charlemont (London, The Cresset Press, 1958), pp 198-223.

[48] Catalogue of the library of the late Rt Hon. Denis Daly which will be sold by auction by James Vallance on 1 May 1792 (Dublin, printed for the proprietors John Archer and William Jones, 1792), lot 684. Dublin Chronicle, 24 March 1792. Thomas U. Sadleir, ‘An eighteenth-century Irish gentleman’s library’, Book Collector, 2 (1953), pp 173-6.

[49] Darnton, op. cit., pp 299-300; Doig, loc. cit., pp 88-91.


Spreading the word in the Irish midlands: bookselling and printing in the late eighteenth century.

The main centres of printing and book production outside Dublin in the eighteenth century and earlier tended to be the major ports: Cork, Belfast, Waterford, Limerick and Derry, with Kilkenny on the river Nore also an important centre. Surprisingly Galway, a major port from medieval times, was slow to develop a printing and bookselling trade.[2] For book distribution too the seaport towns had the advantage of better channels of communication, both overseas and inland. The raw materials for book and newspaper production were more easily available in the ports. News to form the content of newspapers arrived on packets from abroad or via the Post Office network linking Dublin with the major cities and towns. Books, paper, leather for binding, and stationery from Great Britain and the continent were imported directly through the secondary ports although Dublin continued to monopolise book imports throughout the century. Inland towns had greater costs in production and distribution, as transport costs eroded profit margins. Edmund Finn of Kilkenny must have been prepared to accept lesser profits when he advertised books ‘at Dublin prices’.[3]

There has been very little research into the book trade and readership in the Irish midlands. In the early decades of this century some important, but piecemeal, work was carried out in identifying printers working in the area in the eighteenth and particularly in the nineteenth centuries. In this paper I propose to draw together earlier work on bookselling and printing in the region during the eighteenth century, expanding it with new research.

Recent studies show that increased literacy in English created a demand for reading matter in the cities and towns from at least mid-century. Schoolbooks were printed in large quantities and distributed widely. The aristocracy and gentry ordered their books from Dublin booksellers or alternatively purchased them while staying at their Dublin houses, or while on visits to London or the continent. Bishop Edward Synge ordered books from William Ross and George Ewing in Dublin for his townhouse in Kevin Street, Dublin, and for the bishop’s palace at Elphin, County Roscommon.[4] Charles O’Conor of Belanagare, County Roscommon, received many of his books through George Faulkner in Dublin.[5] The Edgeworth family from County Longford purchased books from John Archer, bookseller in Dame Street, in 1802.[6]

Readers from outside elite circles were more dependant on local supply. Local shops stocked books from the early years of the eighteenth century, but in many towns they were not specialist bookshops, but shops which stocked luxury imported goods such as stationery, musical instruments, patent medicines, groceries, teas, wines etc. The absence of specialist bookshops in the provincial towns until well into the nineteenth century is not an indication of the unavailability of reading matter, although some nineteenth-century travellers drew this conclusion, as the situation differed from that pertaining in England and elsewhere.


Richard Brookes, The general gazetteer: or, compendious geographical dictionary (Dublin, printed by P. Wogan, 1791). Image courtesy of Dublin City Library & Archive (www.dublincitypubliclibraries.ie )

The midlands, centred on counties Westmeath, Longford and Offaly, and extending into Cavan, Roscommon, South Leitrim, Meath, Laois and North Tipperary, form a cohesive block. Sufficiently far from Dublin not to be part of its hinterland, and yet not so remote as to form a different world, the midland towns were connected by stage coach and postal networks to the capital from the first half of the eighteenth century. By 1775 stage coaches linked Dublin with Cootehill, Cavan, Athlone (2 coaches), Mullingar (2 coaches), Birr, Roscrea and Banagher.[7] The presence of shops or agents selling books or willing to order them from Dublin allowed a localised readership to develop. By the last quarter of the century local printing became viable in Birr, Mullingar, Athlone, Cavan and Roscrea, and regional newspapers were published to serve local readership.

It is difficult to estimate the percentage of reading ability in the late eighteenth century. The earliest indication of literacy levels among the whole population is from the 1841 census. The figures point to high levels of illiteracy in the region: 43% in Offaly, 45% in Longford and 46% in Westmeath. Even among those who were able to read, or to read and write, their proficiency in reading and familiarity with printed texts may have been slight. The reading public, those who wished to have access to books and periodicals, was well under 50% of the whole population of the midlands in the late eighteenth century.

Although printing did not commence in the midlands until the last quarter of the century the ordinary reading public did have access to books, periodicals and newspapers through local suppliers. As well as the shops which stocked a range of luxury items supplied from Dublin or imported from abroad, local printers also acted as outlets for Dublin-printed and imported books. For example, in 1787 and again in 1795 and 1796, William Kidd of Mullingar advertised his own publications and a selection of titles which he stocked, as well as paper, stationery, account books, music books and fiddle strings.[8] In addition, chapmen and pedlars carried a range of cheaper reading material in their packs which they purveyed through the countryside and at fairs, the assizes and other public assemblies. In 1787 William Kidd was supplying country chapmen with ‘small books on the best terms’.[9] Maria Edgeworth mentions a blind bookseller, a pedlar, in 1796, who got books for her.[10]

A number of individual booksellers are known, but the extent of their trade, their customers, and whether they dealt exclusively in books remains unknown. Book subscription lists are a valuable source for the book trade and they also give an indication of readership. Subscription agents are often named in newspaper advertisements. These individuals acted as local agents to take in subscriptions for the publisher and to supply subscribers with the published book; they often held a sample of the printed sheets to show intending purchasers what the finished article would look like. Subscription agents also existed for newspapers, taking names of intending subscribers, taking in advertisements, gathering monies due and acting as supply points for a local area. Caution is required here, however, as these persons were not always fully part of the book trade, but may have been recruited to act only for a single book subscription list.

Abraham Fynla in Cavan and John Webster in Longford were subscription agents in 1710 for the Dublin edition of The tryal of Doctor Henry Sacheverell.[11] This volume, bound in calf, was selling to subscribers at 6s. or to non-subscribers at 7s. Specimen pages of the work, showing the quality of paper and print, could be inspected at the places of subscription. Mr Giles of the Leap, Co. Offaly, acted as agent for Increase Mather’s Sixteen sermons in 1720.[12] In 1738 four agents in the midlands are named for the sale of Fénelon’s Dissertation on pure love: Erasmus Jackson in Moate, John Atkinson in Edenderry, George Pope in Mountrath and William Ridgway in Mountmellick.[13]

The London Magazine, a monthly periodical reprinted from the English edition with some material of Irish interest included, was widely distributed throughout the country. In the 1740s a number of sales agents were named for the midlands: Mr J. Brogan, Athlone (1746-47), Mr M. Bruen, Boyle, Co. Roscommon (1746-47), Mr Thomas Cuff (or Guff), Roscommon (1746-48), Mr D. Mahan, Strokestown, Co. Roscommon (1746-47), Mrs Ursula Mason, Maryborough (1747-48) and Mr Roe in Mountmellick (1746-50).[14] During the same period Mrs Roe of Mountmellick and Thomas Guff of Roscommon were subscription agents for A new life of William III, indicating more than a passing trade in books.[15] This work was sold to subscribers as a part book, issued in 12 parts from the autumn of 1746 to late February 1747. Costing one British 6d. per part, the whole volume came to 6s. This method of sale was common for country booksellers, where subscribers could acquire the book by spreading the cost over six months. In 1757 James Connor termed himself bookseller in Mullingar in the subscription list to Robert Manning’s A single combat; he subscribed to 50 copies of the book.[16]

John Wilkinson, an apothecary in Birr, was agent for the Limerick Chronicle in 1769. Five years later, in 1774, he was still involved in the book trade, when he was the subscription agent for Bowen’s Spelling book, published by John Ferrar, printer of the Limerick Chronicle.[17] In 1775 Patrick Brenan of Maryborough collected subscriptions for a pamphlet entitled A vindication of the new oath of allegiance, and the following year for Edward Ledwich’s Report on the sturdy beggars in the Queen’s County.[18] Nathaniel Jackson of Mountmellick was sales agent for Grant’s Almanack for 1775.[19] A ladies’ magazine in French, the Magazin à la mode, had as sales agent in Athlone in 1777 and 1778, one Mr Pennington.[20]

Finn’s Leinster Journal, published in Kilkenny, was distributed throughout the south midlands in the late 1760s and 1770s. It was delivered twice weekly to Bryan Cassin, Mountrath, from 1769 to 1773, James Duigan, Maryborough, in 1772 and 1773, Edward Fox, Roscrea, and Thomas Lee, Mountmellick in 1773, for subscribers in these areas.[21] A New Historical Map of England, published by subscription in 1779, was sold by Thomas Russell in Mountmellick, Joseph Menliff in Tullamore, Ephraim Proctor in Athlone, and Robert Atkinson in Edenderry, presumably a relative of John Atkinson who was in business in 1738.[22] In 1793 and 1794 Mr Hunter and Mr La Cam in Portarlington and Sylvester Nolan in Athlone were agents for the sale of the Anthologia Hibernica, a periodical devoted to Irish literary and historical topics.[23] Mrs Ryan was the agent in Birr and Edward Dudley the agent in Roscrea for the first issue of the Roscrea Southern Star in 1795.[24] While all of these newspaper and book subscription agents may not have carried on a regular trade in books it is likely that most of them did so. The presence of a bookbinder in Portarlington in 1773, James Tomlin, suggests that he had enough business to make a living.[25]

Dublin and London newspapers and monthly periodicals [Hibernian Magazine, Ladies’ Magazine, Gentleman’s and London Magazine] could be ordered through the Post Office. By the 1770s it is known that quantities of Faulkner’s Dublin Journal and the Freeman’s Journal were distributed throughout the country.[26] The Post Office clerks of the four roads, Leinster, Munster, Connaught and Ulster, administered the distribution of periodicals. In the last quarter of the eighteenth century the office of the Connaught, or west road, serving the midlands, was held successively by Thomas Lee, Thomas Jones and Henry Harrison.[27] In February 1777, giving his address as Newgate [prison], presumably as a bankrupt, Thomas Lee ‘late of the Post Office’ requested payment of his newspaper accounts ‘as he is in the greatest Want of Money to pay his Lawyers’.[28] In 1793 Henry Harrison complained in the Connaught Journal of the difficulty of collecting his newspaper money from subscribers and he decided that in future all newspapers were to be paid for in advance.[29] The collection of debts was a perennial problem for each of the Post Office clerks.

From as early as the 1770s and 1780s a number of printers were at work in Birr, Athlone, Mullingar, Cavan and Roscrea.[30] They mainly provided the reading public with newspapers, religious and educational works and ephemeral items such as notices, broadsheets, visiting cards etc. The newspapers produced locally were The Westmeath Journal (William Kidd), possibly from as early as 1773, but certainly from 1780-81 to about 1834, The Athlone Herald (Denis Daly) from 1785 to 1802, The Athlone Chronicle (Ephraim Proctor) possibly from as early as 1770 to about 1793,[31] and The Roscrea Southern Star (William and Thomas Henry Lord) from 1795. Local newspaper publishing was commercially viable in several Irish towns from mid-century, yet it was a precarious business demanding a capital outlay and depending on subscribers and advertising to make it a success.[32] Eighteenth-century local newspapers were often short-lived and because of the poor survival rate of issues it can be difficult to determine the frequency and the life of a title. In this way while it is known that Alex M’Cullogh gave a Crown Bond to pay stamp duty for the Birr Weekly Journal in 1774 it is not certain if the paper actually appeared.[33]

Three of the midlands printers of this period had been in business elsewhere before setting up in the area. Alex M’Cullogh had a printing office in Dublin from 1754, first at Skinner Row and later in Henry Street where he printed a number of different newspapers. His book production consisted mainly of pamphlets, reprints of London publications, comic operas for Smock Alley Theatre, in English and Italian parallel texts, and mathematical treatises. In 1772 he set up as printer in New Bridge Street, Birr, where he seems to have remained until about 1785. During this time he continued to pay his guild dues and he is listed in the records as being ‘in the country’.[34] His only known book printed in Birr, The young arithmetician’s guide, was printed by subscription in 1775.

Secondly William Kidd produced several books from his shop at 29 Skinner Row, Dublin, between 1771 and 1779 before transferring his trade to Mullingar, County Westmeath, in the early 1780s. Here he remained in business until the early nineteenth century and was succeeded by William Thomas Kidd and Francis Kidd, probably sons.[35] Kidd published about 15 titles from his printing offices in the Main Street, Mullingar, near the Post Office. These books were chiefly religious: what E.R. McClintock Dix referred to as ‘Puritan theology’.[36] Kidd’s work also included broadsides and jobbing work such as A list of the poll for 1800 and Co. Meath abstract of presentments (1803).[37] Kidd remained in contact with the Dublin book trade and he took subscriptions for Dublin publications such as Guthrie’s Modern geography in 1788, and Kennicott’s Family Bible in 1793-5, and in 1803 he printed a work by William Penn for John Gough of Dublin.[38] It was common for members of the book trade to sell patent medicines, many of which were distributed by the well-known Newbery booksellers from London. Provincial networks for printed materials and patent medicines were shared throughout the eighteenth century and into the nineteenth. In 1820 Kidd in Mullingar was agent for a range of medicines imported from London.[39]

T107873_Mary-Wells-ECCOImage from ECCO

Thirdly Thomas Lord, a roving printer in the Munster region in the 1770s and 1780s when he set up printing presses successively in Cork, Cashel, Youghal, Clonmel, Carlow and  Waterford, finally settled in Roscrea about 1790. The Roscrea Southern Star was begun by William and Thomas Henry Lord in 1795, probably sons of Thomas. In 1798 the Roscrea Star Printing Office in Limerick Street was destroyed by the Birr Yeomanry Corps on suspicion of printing seditious ballads.[40]

Ephraim Proctor, proprietor of the Athlone Chronicle was apprenticed to Samuel Powell in Dublin in 1743, but did not complete his service.[41] He became Athlone’s first printer about 1770. He issued a single sheet notice for letting lands for Thomas Mahon of Strokestown in 1778,[42] and is likely to have carried out other work of a similar nature. Henry Ireland was printing in Cavan in 1790. His only surviving item from the eighteenth century, a pamphlet entitled A list of the several baronies and parishes, in the County of Cavan, is of local appeal and was not meant for wider circulation. J. Hennessey is listed as a printer in Birr in the subscription list to James Hendrick’s System of natural philosophy in 1795.[43]

In all, the examples of printing from the midlands in the late eighteenth century that have survived, point to the supply of local needs, with an emphasis on local newspaper production, jobbing work, school books and religious works. Several of the larger items were printed by subscription; in this way the printer offset the initial cost of production and had an assured market for the book. The quality of presswork was not of a very high standard generally. At a time when many Dublin printers, such as James Williams, were priding themselves on the quality of production, the aspirations of provincial printers were more modest.[44]

Who were the readers in the midlands in the last quarter of the eighteenth century? Aristocratic and gentry families ordered their books from Dublin or London, and many fine libraries were established by families such as the Edgeworths at Edgeworthstown, County Longford, the Pakenhams at Pakenham Hall (now Tullynally Castle), County Westmeath, Charles O’Conor at Belanagare, County Roscommon, the Mahons at Strokestown, County Roscommon, the Earls of Rosse at Birr Castle, County Offaly, Lord Dunsany at Dunsany Castle, County Meath, Lord and Lady Portarlington at Dawson’s Court, County Laois, the Coote family at Bellamont Forest, County Cavan, and Lord Trimlestown at Trimlestown Castle, County Meath. These families were sufficiently wealthy and possessed a degree of cultivation which ensured the presence of a library in their homes. The existence of these ‘big house’ libraries gave neighbouring families and friends the opportunity of reading borrowed books, or being read to in company, thereby extending their access to books. It is known from the Edgeworth letters that the borrowing and lending of books was a common occurrence, and reading aloud from books was a regular pastime at Edgeworthstown.

Ordinary readers who might have assembled a small personal collection of books in their lifetime, are  harder to identify. Their libraries have not survived in physical form, or in printed catalogues, and most traces of book purchase and use are obliterated. Household inventories often point to the presence of a family Bible or prayer book. For example, when William Collins, a farmer from Shinrone, Co. Offaly, died in 1749 he left a Bible valued at 2s.8d.[45] These sources, however, are not complete and offer only glimpses of book ownership.

During the eighteenth century books were frequently published by subscription. When this method of publication was used and the subscription list printed as part of the book we are able to get a window on a certain segment of the book-buying public. Publishing by subscription indicates an uncertainty about the market, either on the part of author or publisher, whichever was financing the production. The gathering of a set of interested buyers ensures the viability of a publication. Readers/purchasers supported an author not only by subscribing to the book themselves, but by encouraging others to do so as well. A subscription list, therefore, is not just a list of persons interested in a particular work, but also a network of friends, acquaintances, people from the area, or linked together by some element, which may or may not be known to a modern researcher. In this way the subscription list to Mary Barber’s Poems on several occasions, published in London in 1734, reflects the wide acquaintance in Ireland and England of Dr Jonathan Swift, who was the prime activist in the subscription campaign.[46]

Subscription lists vary considerably in the amount of information which they provide. The most useful furnish full name, occupation and address. Some give only the surname, with or without an initial for the first name, and title (Mr, Mrs, Lord, Lady &c.). In the case of books published in Dublin addresses may be given only for those from outside Dublin. However, there is no consistency in the format of these lists. In general the printing of a subscription list was done with less care than the body of a work and mistakes are common.

To identify bookbuyers in the midlands a small number of books published by subscription in the last quarter of the eighteenth century can be used. Three of William Kidd’s publications are important in this regard: one published in Dublin in 1775 and two in Mullingar, in 1787 and 1796. Alex M’Culloh, in Birr, published a volume by subscription in 1775 which found a market in the region. In addition a number of Dublin-printed books also found support in the midlands at this period.

In 1775 William Kidd, while still in Dublin, published Thomas Digby Brooke’s translation from the French of The exemplary life of the pious Lady Guion.[47] A subscription list of 126 names provided 61 addresses. A surprising number of addresses were in the midlands: 41 from Athlone, two from Moate and one from Mullingar. To those may be added Mr John Black from Lessyvallen (near Athlone), Mrs Letitia Drew of Hyde Park (Kilucan), Revd. Dean Handcock, Willbrook (3 miles from Athlone), Samuel Owens Esq. of Dundermott, near Roscommon, Mr Thomas Pearson of Glassin (north of Athlone), as well as many others whose addresses are not given, such as Mrs Fetherston, from a Westmeath family.

Thomas Digby Brooke, the translator, was a cousin of Henry Brooke, poet and dramatist, and of Charlotte Brooke, author of The reliques of Irish poetry (1789).[48] Brooke would have had a network of family and friends in the midlands who encouraged others to support the work. His marriage to Susannah (or Agnes) Kirchhoffer of Marlborough Street, Dublin, in June 1769 ensured the support of Mr Francis Kirckhoffer, his wife’s relative, and possibly others of his acquaintance.[49] William Kidd may also have had contacts in the area at this period before his move to Mullingar. One of the subscribers is Ephraim Proctor, printer of Athlone, mentioned earlier, who may have intended the volume for resale.

From his Mullingar base William Kidd produced a subscription edition of A treatise on health and long life by George Cheyne in 1787. It attracted 95 names but only 6 addresses are supplied. However, several well-known local families can be identified.[50] The National Library’s copy of the book was the property of Alexander Murray Esq., Mount Murray, Co. Westmeath; he is listed in the volume as a subscriber and we know that he subscribed to books from the 1770s.[51] In 1796 Kidd again published a volume by subscription, Mary Wells’ The Triumph of Faith. One of the National Library’s copies of this work was also owned by Alexander Murray of Mount Murray. No addresses are given in this list, but once again representatives of local families can be identified.[52]

Alex M’Culloh issued one book by subscription in Birr in 1775, The young arithmetician’s guide by James Parr and Thomas Walsh.[53] It has a subscription list of 133 names, revealing a strong local support. Birr is given as the address in 23 cases, with at least a further 5 names from Co. Offaly. One person from Athlone, Bart. Whiskins, subscribed to both this work and William Kidd’s Lady Guion. One subscriber is listed with an address in Mullingar, while Cork [21], Dublin [19] and Galway [10] are well represented.

From an examination of a range of books published by subscription in Dublin in the last quarter of the century a pattern emerges of the regular subscribers from the midlands who were certainly forming libraries at this period. Inevitably the well-known county families are to the fore in supporting local publications. However, many other bookbuyers are also in evidence, some of whom may never be fully identified. The aristocracy and higher clergy come as no surprise: the Earls of Bective, Belvedere, Bellamont, Farnham, Granard, Lanesborough, Portarlington, Rosse, and Westmeath; Lords Longford and Trimlestown, and their respective wives, the Church of Ireland bishops of Elphin, Kilmore and Meath.[54] Of more interest are the individuals who appear in several lists and are therefore making a collection of books for their own intellectual and cultural needs: Henry Brooke, George Rochfort, William Steuart, M.P. of Bailieborough, County Cavan, Robert Hodson of Westmeath (this family was connected to the Goldsmiths by marriage), Dr Donnelly of Ballymahon, county Longford, Arthur French of Roscommon, Charles Henry Coote, M.P. for Maryborough, Charles O’Conor of Belanagare, Richard Levinge and Cuthbert Fetherston of Westmeath, Daniel Bagot of Offaly, Dean Richard Handcock of Willbrook, Dr Edward Naghten of Mullingar, Revd. Daniel Augustus Beaufort, Revd. Robert Bligh, Dean of Elphin, Dean Dudley-Charles Ryder of Longford, and Revd. William Digby, Dean of Clonfert.

In conclusion: The midlands supported a moderate trade in books in the second half of the eighteenth century, with printers in the main towns catering for local needs by the production of newspapers, a small range of books, mainly of local interest, and an amount of jobbing work. The region’s readers, however, were not confined to the output from these printing houses. Books, periodicals and newspapers could be got from Dublin and from abroad. Readers could get their supply of books while in Dublin or London, or they could ask friends to bring them. Reading matter could be purchased locally from shops stocking a range of luxury items. Specialist bookshops, however, were not the norm either in the midlands or elsewhere in the country outside the major cities and towns. The distribution of printed matter was small-scale, but it was able to penetrate deeply into the countryside, giving readers much greater access to the printed word than has previously been supposed. Cheaper books, pamphlets and song sheets could be obtained from travelling chapmen, or at local fairs. Monthly magazines and newspapers could be ordered through the Post Office by applying to the clerk of the Connaught Road. Books could be borrowed from friends and acquaintances. Guests were entertained in country houses by the reading aloud of books and plays by a member of the company.

The intellectual life indicated by the presence of large and important libraries in country houses at one end of the scale, and the popular interest in chapbooks, song sheets and religious works sold by the chapmen who visited local fairs, show that the midlands region had an expanding print-based culture from at least mid-century. Thus we can observe a pattern of cultural energy in the region in the second half of the eighteenth century. In this climate writers such as Charles O’Conor, Henry and Charlotte Brooke and Maria Edgeworth were able to develop and flourish. Their historical and literary interests should be seen as part of a more widespread intellectual activity in their milieu and not as emerging from a cultural vacuum.

Towns in the Irish midlands connected to the book trade:

County Cavan: Cavan

County Laois (Queen’s County): Maryborough (Portlaoise); Mountmellick; Mountrath; Portarlington.

County Offaly (King’s County): Birr (Parsonstown); Edenderry; Tullamore.

County Roscommon: Boyle; Strokestown.

County Tipperary: Roscrea.

County Westmeath: Athlone; Moate; Mullingar.

[1] An earlier version of this paper was read at the joint conference of the Eighteenth-Century Ireland Society and the Goldsmith Summer School, Ballymahon, Co. Longford, 29-31 May 1998. ‘Spreading the word in the Irish midlands: bookselling and printing in the late eighteenth century’, Long Room, 43 (1998), pp 29-37.

[2] Vincent Kinane, ‘The early book trades in Galway’ in Gerard Long, ed., Books Beyond the Pale: aspects of the provincial book trade in Ireland before 1850 (Dublin, Rare Books Group of the Library Association of Ireland, 1996), pp 51-73.

[3] Finn’s Leinster Journal, 9-13 July 1768.

[4] Marie-Louise Legg, ed., The Synge letters: Bishop Edward Synge to his daughter Alicia Roscommon to Dublin 1746-1752 (Dublin, The Lilliput Press, 1996).

[5] Robert E. Ward, Prince of Dublin printers: the letters of George Faulkner (Lexington, University Press of Kentucky, 1972). Catherine Coogan Ward, and Robert E. Ward, eds., The letters of Charles O’Conor of Belanagare, 2 volumes (Ann Arbor, University Microfilms International, 1980).

[6] F.V. Barry, Maria Edgeworth: chosen letters (London, Cape, 1931), p.108.

[7] Watson’s Gentleman’s and citizen’s almanack 1775, p.41.

[8] George Cheyne, A treatise on health and long life (Mullingar, printed by William Kidd, 1787). Richard Baxter, A call to the unconverted to turn and live (Mullingar, printed by William Kidd, 1795). Mary Wells, The triumph of faith over the world, the flesh and the devil (Mullingar, printed by William Kidd, 1796).

[9] Cheyne, op. cit., final advertisement leaf.

[10] Augustus J.C. Hare, The life and letters of Maria Edgeworth, 2 volumes (London, Edward Arnold, 1894), 1, p.43.

[11] Dublin Intelligence, 24 June 1710. The tryal of Doctor Henry Sacheverell, before the House of Peers, for high crimes and misdemeanors (Dublin, printed by A. Rhames and F. Dickson, for E. Dobson [and 6 other booksellers], 1710).

[12] Dublin Courant, 4 July 1720.

[13] Faulkner’s Dublin Journal, 30 September – 3 October 1738.

[14] The London Magazine (Dublin, printed by Edward and John Exshaw, 1746-1750).

[15] Dublin Courant, 30 December 1746-3 January 1746/7; 10-13 January 1746/7; 20-24 January 1746/7; 3-7 February 1746/7; 17-21 February 1746/7.

[16] Robert Manning, A single combat, or personal dispute between Mr Trapp and his anonymous antagonist (Dublin, printed for Philip Bowes, 1757).

[17] Limerick Chronicle, 13 March 1769; 5 September 1774.

[18] Finn’s Leinster Journal, 15-18 November 1775; 27-31 July 1776.

[19] Nicholas Grant, An almanack for the year 1775 (Dublin, printed for the Author by R. Jackson, 1775).

[20] Charles Praval, Magazin à la mode (Dublin, William Whitestone, 1777-78).

[21] Finn’s Leinster Journal, 16-19 August 1769; 4-7 November 1772; 15-19 May 1773; 27-30 October 1773.

[22] Finn’s Leinster Journal, 18-22 September 1779.

[23] Anthologia Hibernica, 4 volumes (Dublin, R.E. Mercier & Co., 1793-94).

[24] Henry Bradshaw, A catalogue of the Bradshaw collection of Irish books in the University Library Cambridge, 3 volumes (Cambridge, printed for the University Library, 1916), ii, p. 892.

[25] Freeman’s Journal, 29 June – 1 July 1773. A provincial bookbinder’s main income would come from binding account books, ledgers, registers, etc. as well as books.

[26] Freeman’s Journal, 2-5 April 1774.

[27] Thomas Lee 1768-1776; Thomas Jones 1777-1781; Henry Harrison 1782-1800. Watson’s Gentleman’s and citizen’s almanack 1768-1800.

[28] Freeman’s Journal, 13-15 February 1777.

[29] Connaught Journal, 25 July 1793.

[30] Séamus Ó Casaide, A typographical gazetteer of Ireland (Dublin, M.H. Gill & Son, 1923).

[31] The survival rate for this newspaper is very poor, Dix saw an issue of 1788 in Lord Iveagh’s Library, Farmleigh, which was numbered Vol 19, no. 56. E.R. McClintock Dix, ‘Earliest printing in Athlone’, Irish Book Lover, 2, no. 6 (January 1911), pp 84-5.

[32] Máire Kennedy, ‘Eighteenth-century newspaper publishing in Munster and South Leinster’, Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society, 103 (1998), pp 67-88.

[33] O Casaide, op. cit. Robert Munter, A dictionary of the print trade in Ireland 1550-1775 (New York, Fordham University Press, 1988).

[34] National Library of Ireland: Ms. 12,125 ‘Journal of Proceedings of the Guild of St Luke the Evangelist’, V (1766-1785). Ms. 12,132 ‘Quarterage Accounts 1787-1841’, 30 October 1787.

[35] William Kidd married Miss Kitty Parker of Limerick in 1773. Finn’s Leinster Journal, 4-8 September 1773.

[36] E.R. McClintock Dix, ‘Printing in Mullingar, 1773-1825’, Irish Book Lover, 2, no. 8 (1911), pp 120-2.

[37] Patk. Murphy Vs. Robt. Cooke, a broadside (William Kidd, 1788). At a meeting of the masters of the different Orange lodges [of] the province of Ulster … resolutions, single sheet (Mullingar, printed by William Kidd, 1797). A list of the poll (Mullingar, printed by William Kidd, 1800). Co. Meath abstract of presentments (Mullingar, printed by William Kidd, 1803).

[38] M. Pollard, A dictionary of members of the Dublin book trade 1550-1800 (London, Bibliographical Society, 2000). Dublin Chronicle, 16 December 1788.

[39] Freeman’s Journal, 3 November 1820.

[40] William P. Burke, History of Clonmel (Waterford, printed by N. Harvey & Co. for the Clonmel Library Committee, 1907), p.359.

[41] National Library of Ireland: Ms. 12,131, ‘List of apprentices of the Guild of St Luke the Evangelist 1740-1830’, p.9. Munter, op. cit. Pollard, Dictionary, op. cit.

[42] Co. Roscommon To be let … lands, part of the estate of Thomas Mahon, Esq of Strokestown (Athlone, Printed by Ephraim Proctor, [1778]).

[43] E.R. McClintock Dix. ‘Printing in Birr, or Parsonstown, 1775-1825’, Irish Book Lover, 3 (June 1912), pp 177-9.

[44] James Williams issued Oliver Goldsmith’s An history of the earth and animated nature, in 8 volumes, by subscription in 1776. Great pains were taken with its production to make it an example of the art of fine printing, using the best type, ink and paper. Williams claimed that his principal desire was to put ‘a work of merit, beautifully printed, into every one’s hands’. Oliver Goldsmith, An history of the earth and animated nature, 8 volumes (Dublin, James Williams, 1776-7), ‘Advertisement by the Printer of the Irish Edition of Goldsmith’s History of the Earth, to the Public’.

[45] British Museum: Add. Mss .31,882 ‘Killaloe Court Book’, given in Irish Ancestor, 4, no. 2, (1972), pp 104-5.

[46] Mary Barber, Poems on several occasions (London, printed for C. Rivington, 1734).

[47] The exemplary life of the pious Lady Guion, translated from the French by Thomas Digby Brooke (Dublin, William Kidd, 1775).

[48] D.J. O’Donoghue, The poets of Ireland (Dublin, Hodges Figgis & Co., 1912).

[49] Freeman’s Journal, 24-27 June 1769.

[50] Among the subscribers are the Countess of Longford and Lady Longford, and also from Longford Revd. Samuel Achmuty of Ballymahon and John Achmuty Esq., Mr Thomas Coffy of Brianstown and Mr James Hagarty. Co. Westmeath is represented by Francis D’Arcy, Robert Hodson, William Judge, Lady Dowager Levinge, John Lyons from Lady’s Town, near Kilpatrick, William Lennon of Great Down, Mrs Berry of Middleton, Kilbeggan, John Meares, Sir James Nugent, the Honourable Miss Pakenham, Dr Edward Naghten from Mullingar, Mrs Purdon from Curristown and George Rochfort. Mrs Low from Newtown, Co. Offaly, and Mr James Fleming from Co. Cavan, also subscribed.

[51] He subscribed to Taylor and Skinner’s Maps of the roads of Ireland (London, 1778) ten years before.

[52] Subscribers included George and Gustavus Rochfort, Samuel Handy of Kilbeggan, Peter Longworth, Mrs Meachum, Richard Handcock, Edward Purdon, all from Westmeath families, George Beatty of a Longford family, and George Moore of Cavan.

[53] James Parr and Thomas Walsh, The young arithmetician’s guide, being a course of practical arithmetick, both vulgar and decimal (Birr, Alex. M’Culloh, 1775).

[54] The Church of Ireland bishops of this period were: Elphin, Dr Jemmett Browne 1772-75; Dr Charles Dodgson 1775-95; Dr John Law 1795-1810. Kilmore, Dr George Lewis Jones 1774-90; Dr William Foster 1790-95; Hon. Dr Charles Broderick 1795-1800. Meath, Hon. Dr Henry Maxwell 1766-1798. Watson’s Gentleman’s and citizen’s almanack 1772-1800.