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.


‘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.

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.

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.


The Domestic and International Trade of an Eighteenth-Century Dublin Bookseller: John Archer (1782-1810).


Throughout the eighteenth century Dublin was the second city of the three kingdoms, it was the seat of parliament, with a university and law school, a centre of trade and commerce, with particular emphasis on trade with Europe and America. Dublin was renowned for its bookshops, whose main income came from the reprints of London editions sold on the local market. Trade restrictions and the English Copyright Act meant that exports of illicitly reprinted books to Great Britain were prohibited from 1739 and exports to America were not legal until 1778.[2]

From the late seventeenth century Dublin printers and booksellers became prominent in the commercial life of the city. The establishment of the Guild of St Luke the Evangelist in 1670, as the guild of cutlers, painters, paper-stainers and stationers, gave Dublin printers and booksellers certain trading privileges and a place in the economic development of the city.[3] In the course of the eighteenth century a large number of booksellers carried on an extensive trade based on locally reprinted books, original printings and imported stock. Many of the large Dublin booksellers of the last quarter of the eighteenth century were wholesale dealers, supplying Dublin and provincial booksellers with stock. The scale of this wholesale trade in books meant a substantial financial investment, but large fortunes could be made in this way.

London was the main centre for the importation of books, periodicals and stationery in the eighteenth century, with a sharp increase in imports after the Act of Union in 1801. The extension of the Copyright Act to Ireland, as part of the Union, ended the lucrative trade in reprints, and demand for modern literature was satisfied from then on by the London book trade.

The importation of foreign language books, especially French and Italian, was a component of the book trade of most major Dublin booksellers throughout the eighteenth century. There was a perceptible shift in the market from the early to the later century, in the first half of the century continental imports were made up of expensive scholarly works in literature and the sciences, aimed at the wealthy intellectual. In the second half of the century a broader-based readership demanding the fashionable works of the Enlightenment developed, though the demand for serious works of literature, scientific and scholarly publications did not cease to be an important part of the market.

The major book importers of the last quarter of the century traded with London suppliers and directly with continental publishing centres in France, Switzerland and the Netherlands. Luke White had an account with the Société Typographique de Neuchâtel,[4] while Richard Edward Mercier traded with Wild and Altheer at Utrecht,[5] and John Archer and Antoine Gerna travelled abroad to purchase books and negotiate terms in person.[6]

By the late eighteenth century foreign language books could be purchased in most Dublin bookshops, smaller retailers purchased their stock from a Dublin importer, or through importers in London. A system of sale-or-return operated with London suppliers, but in practical terms such a system could not be carried on with continental suppliers. This system operated in favour of the smaller bookseller by cutting down on the risk factor. This emphasises all the more the entrepreneurial nature of the large-scale importation of continental editions and the level of financial risk involved. The specialists in the field of foreign language imports in the last quarter of the century could boast of a large turnover and could display a breadth of stock not equalled at any other time during the century. They could tap into a market of educated readers with a cosmopolitan taste in literature.

The career of John Archer, one of the more prominent Dublin booksellers of the late eighteenth century, illustrates the range and scale of bookselling during this period. His trade centred around bookselling, publishing and importation, he does not appear to have been a printer. He operated in the Dame Street area for his entire career, first at Crampton Court from 1782 to 1787, then at 80 Dame Street from 1788 to 1800, and finally, from 1801, at the Commercial Buildings, erected in 1798 on the site now occupied by the Central Bank.[7] Archer’s name appears on over 100 titles in the period 1782-1800, as the sole publisher of a work, as one of a group of publishers, or as a selling agent for London-printed works.[8]

He began his career in Dublin about 1782 in the firm of Archer and Cawthorne, booksellers, stationers and lottery office keepers, buying, selling, valuing and exchanging books.[9] Their shop, the Established Book-Shop, at 18 Crampton Court, at the ‘Corner of the Narrow Passage leading into Essex Street’, was the premises formerly occupied by the bookseller, Luke White. It is likely that Archer came to Dublin from the London trade, George Cawthorne was a bookseller in the Strand, and he may have been Archer’s partner in the Dublin venture.[10] It is not clear where he served his apprenticeship, the ledgers of the leading London based bookselling firm of William Strahan, note on 7 July 1761 that they took on an apprentice called John Archer, who was freed in 1768.[11]

Archer’s business quickly expanded and he began to produce an annual sale catalogue of his stock, with prices affixed. One of his earliest catalogues, that of 1785, contained 10,000 volumes. This catalogue is not extant, but an advertisement was carried in the Volunteer’s Journal in January 1785 listing a selection of the larger format books, in folio and quarto. Catalogues cost 6d. which ‘was allowed in the smallest purchase’. He described his stock as ‘the First Variety of Scarce and Valuable Books in Dublin; including every New Publication, at Reduced Prices’.[12] The titles listed included volumes of the Irish Statutes, Bibles, Dictionaries, and books on history and antiquities.

In the early years of his business Archer had imported stock from England, in 1786 he went to London and Oxford where he purchased ‘an extensive variety in all Branches of Literature’ for which he intended to issue a sale catalogue.[13] Archer and other Dublin booksellers met and socialized with their English and Scottish counterparts in both Dublin and London, in this way facilitating trade and leading to co-operation on reprints.[14] Expansion of his business is evident in 1788 with the move to a more prominent location at 80, Dame Street. The area of Dublin from Skinner Row along Dame Street to the gate of Trinity College, with the alleys and courts off Dame Street included, contained a notable density of bookshops. This was the fashionable centre of the retail book trade in the late century which had extended from its original centre around Skinner Row. Those booksellers whose businesses were in the ascendant moved to properties in this area as their next step towards greater commercial success.

Archer’s catalogue of 1788 of ‘the most elegant editions in the English language, with a few valuable French, Latin and Greek Authors’ formed only part of his extensive stock. The books were ‘all in boards, uncut, and in proper condition for binding’. Books were often offered for sale in boards, as private library owners frequently opted for uniform bindings to adorn their bookshelves. Certain collectors had their own crests and symbols stamped on the binding, for example the Putland family used the symbol of the elephant, stamped in gilt, on the spines of their books. Archer addressed himself to ‘those Gentlemen who may wish to have their favourite Authors bound agreeable to their own taste, or to match particular sets of books’.[15]

Archer offered a variety of bindings to the buyer of The young lady’s pocket library, or parental monitor in 1790 and 1791, ranging from a plain binding at 3s.3d. to ‘Red Morocco leather, gilt over, with silk strings’ for 6s.6d. These volumes, advertised in November and December of the year, were considered ‘A proper Present for the Ladies’.[16] Archer also undertook binding work for his customers, but it is not clear if this work was carried out in a bindery of his own, or contracted out to commercial bookbinders in the city.


Several Dublin booksellers dealt in secondhand books, some were imported from abroad, while others were purchased in parcels or as a complete library. Secondhand books were offered for sale as part of a regular bookshop stock, or sold by auction. Archer was involved in this aspect of the business from his earliest years, when he offered to buy and exchange books. In 1785 he advertised for secondhand stock, offering ‘the highest prices for Parcels of Old Books, or will give Books in Exchange’. By 1788 he continued to appeal to the public, stating that ‘being desirous to enlarge his Library, will give the utmost value, in ready money, for any parcel of Books’.[17] By the end of the decade Archer had certainly enlarged his bookstock, his catalogue for 1789, priced at 6½d., contained over 20,000 volumes ‘in most languages and parts of Literature’.[18]

After the death of the Hon. Denis Daly, M.P. in 1791 Archer and William Jones purchased his renowned library from the family for £2,300. They ‘hoped to derive both reputation and profit from their purchase’.[19] Auction catalogues were printed for the proprietors, Archer and Jones, and went on sale for 2s.8½d. in March 1792 for the May sale. The catalogues were distributed to booksellers in Cork. Belfast, Britain and the continent.[20] The collection was auctioned in Dublin by James Vallance on 1 May 1792 and following days. Lord Charlemont described the sale to his correspondent, Edmond Malone in London, as follows:

you judged right respecting the sale of our poor friend’s books. They have, I believe, sold for almost the double of what the family got for them. 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. I am glad of it for two reasons, because Archer is an honest man, and deserved success for the more than Irish spirit of his enterprise, and because four Scotch and two English booksellers were disappointed in their impudent expectation of finding Ireland a land of ignorance, where the best books might be purchased for a trifle.[21]

The proprietors, Archer and Jones, made a clear profit of nearly £1,200 on the sale.

Archer acted as publisher on several occasions, either on his own, or with a group of other Dublin booksellers. The large printing firm, Graisberry and Campbell, printed several of his publications during the 1790s.[22] Archer also acted as selling agent for a number of works printed in London, and his name appears in the imprint on the title pages. He was the Dublin agent for an edition of Oliver Goldsmith’s The vicar of Wakefield, printed in London in 1800, and sold by booksellers in England and Scotland. He was involved with the sale of a series of publications, under the title General View of Agriculture of various English counties, printed in London, and sold by regional booksellers in England and Scotland.

Many of Archer’s own editions were published by subscription, for example, his edition of Pennant’s Some account of London, published in 1791.[23] It was a reprint of the London edition, selling at a much more moderate cost, the price to subscribers was 11s.4½d. in boards, or 13s. ‘neatly bound’, compared with the London price of £1.9s.3d. in boards, Archer added that ‘his edition shall in every respect be superior’. This work was accompanied by engraved plates, which Archer was careful to draw to the attention of intending purchasers. The volume, in royal octavo, was ‘printed on fine paper, and enriched with all the Plates of the Author’s last edition’. This engraving work was to be carried out in Dublin, and Archer sought the approval of his customers for this project, ‘It is needless to point out the utility of an effort to improve the arts of printing and engraving in this kingdom, the public sensible of their importance, will not, it is presumed, hesitate to give it an effectual support’. Specimens of the engraved plates could be viewed at Archer’s bookshop.[24] Several of the engravings were done by Henry Brocas, and his name appears as one of the subscribers to the volume.[25] Archer’s edition attracted 388 subscribers, including 16 booksellers in Dublin, Cork and Belfast, taking multiple copies, ranging from five to twenty-five.

It was at Archer’s bookshop in 1791 that a group of intellectuals met ‘to read the newspapers, new publications, and the memoirs of transactions of the Philosophic Societies, both foreign and domestic’. On 10 May of that year the group, under the chairmanship of Richard Kirwan, the renowned chemist, decided to form a ‘Society having a Library and a Reading room of its own’.[26] This became the Dublin Library Society, which was to continue until 1881. The first committee of the society met at Archer’s until June 1791, when they rented rooms for the new library at 6, Eustace Street, the shop of James Vallance, the book auctioneer. The fact that Archer’s was the resort of such literary people suggests the range and quality of his stock, which would be of interest to them, and the accommodation which his premises could provide for gatherings of this type.

The Irish aristocracy and landed gentry spent much of the year in their townhouses in Dublin, or travelling to London, Bath or the continent, but those who were resident in Ireland spent a substantial amount of time at their country estates. Books and other luxuries were purchased throughout the year. Archer’s catalogues were aimed at this dispersed bookbuying public. In his catalogue of 1793 he addressed himself to ‘Persons residing in the Country, or elsewhere, who may favour the Proprietor with Orders’, and requested them to order by quoting the number and the first word of the title, to ensure that they received the correct edition.[27] Country house accounts have a very poor survival rate, but from the existing evidence it can be shown that the wealthy bookbuyers were not expected to purchase ‘for ready money only’ but could instead charge purchases to their standing accounts and pay quarterly or half yearly.

Archer gave credit to these larger customers. This is illustrated by the Clonbrock Papers which contain nine booksellers’ accounts from 1800 to 1806.[28] They cover the purchase of books for the library of Lord Clonbrock of Ballinasloe, Co. Galway.[29] The accounts show a substantial expenditure on books in this short time span, Archer was paid £61.15s.1d. in June 1801; £46.3s.11d. in March 1802; £94.4s.8d. in March 1803; £45.10s. in February 1805 and £89.19s.9d. in September 1806. Credit on this scale suggests a large and prosperous business with a very large turnover. Lord Clonbrock’s account with John Archer covered both books and binding.

The Bellew family of Mount Bellew, Co. Galway, built up their library in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The Bellews were Catholic gentry who did not conform during the penal laws, yet managed to retain their status and estates throughout the eighteenth century. The sons of the family were educated in France, and many had careers on the continent, in the church, the army and as merchants. The Irish branch of the family was prominent in the flour trade.[30] Christopher Dillon Bellew dealt with John Archer where he had a book account from 1790 to 1810. Bellew paid all or a portion of his book account every three to six months, it was paid by ‘Draft at 61 Days’ or ‘by a note payable in three months’. Bellew’s expenditure on books increased during the period of the account from £11.15s.7d. in August 1790 to £210 in April 1802. In January 1804, 1805 and 1806 the account was paid with drafts of £200 for each year.

Archer kept what amounted to a reading profile of his customers and purchased books with this in mind. He wrote to Bellew that he had sent him books ‘I think within your reading’ and ‘I will immediately on receiving them make out a catalogue of such as strikes me to be within your line of reading, and send it to you’.[31] He also sent books on approbation, in September 1801 Bellew was sent a ‘selection from a valuable Collection of English, French and Latin Books which are just come to hand’ and subsequent invoices show that Bellew took many of them.[32] Archer acted as agent for Bellew, in 1799 he charged Bellew for ‘advertising Lanesboro in Dublin Evening Post’ and ‘advertising Maylough to Galway, ditto’. He also acted for Bellew at book auctions held by James Vallance and R.E. Mercier, bidding for agreed items, but only purchasing them if they were good value.[33] When Archer went abroad to purchase books in 1799 he took orders from Bellew, and on his return in December 1799 he promised to send Bellew a catalogue of some of the new French books purchased on the continent.[34] From as early as 1792 Archer wrote of books imported for Bellew which included Fleury’s Histoire ecclésiastique in 37 volumes quarto at £8.10s.7½d.[35] Archer bought for Bellew in London and arranged for binding the books.[36] Bellew also purchased books from R.E. Mercier in Dublin in 1800, but it is not clear if they were from one of his auctions, or from his bookstock. Archer wrote to Bellew in April 1800 apologising that ‘through mistake the parcel from Mercier was not packed’.[37]

Among his customers John Archer numbered the Edgeworth family of Edgeworthstown, Co. Longford. Maria Edgeworth, writing to her Aunt Mary from France in 1802, recommended her to purchase and read Madame de Genlis’ Petits romans ‘and those are to be found by Darcy, if he be not drunk, at Archer’s, Dublin’.[38] The Edgeworth family clearly kept an account at Archer’s and Darcy is likely to have been a servant or agent who was given the errand of collecting the books.

George Moore of Moore Hall, Co. Galway, was another account holder at John Archer’s. He was the son of an exiled merchant from Alicante who returned from Spain in 1790 and built Moore Hall. George was born in Spain where the family prospered in the manufacture of iodine, made from kelp shipped from Galway, and the export of wine to Ireland. He built up the library at Moore Hall in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.[39] In August 1806 Archer sent a case of books for George Moore with a consignment for C.D. Bellew.[40] Archer was bookseller to His Excellency, the Earl of Hardwicke, the Lord Lieutenant, in 1802-3, this suggests a hierarchy within the trade and places Archer towards the top of that hierarchy.

The 1790s saw Archer’s trade with the continent expand and develop, he went abroad in person to fulfill orders for his clientele. His catalogue of 1791, priced 6½d., contained over 20,000 volumes in various languages ‘including an uncommon variety of rare books and every new Work of approved Merit published here and abroad’.[41] In October 1791, after the purchase of books in London ‘the most capital collection of Books ever imported, at once, into this kingdom’, he went to Paris and other centres on the continent to procure ‘the most valuable, rare and expensive works’ and he expressed his willingness to take commissions from customers.[42]

In July 1792 he once again set out for London, Paris and Venice ‘for the purpose of enlarging his present extensive Collection of Books’, the books purchased would form his new ‘Catalogue of the Most Valuable and Curious Books ever offered for sale in this kingdom’ which he hoped to publish the following winter.[43] The fruits of this buying expedition are to be found in the extensive sale catalogue of 1793, which contained nearly 30,000 volumes to be sold in 5,418 lots.[44] Archer spent four months on the continent from August to November 1799 where he took commissions for books, purchasing French books for Christopher Dillon Bellew and probably also for other customers.[45] In 1801 he issued a priced catalogue devoted to French and Italian literature containing 564 titles in continental editions.[46]

Archer’s importation business was considerable at the commencement of the nineteenth century. In April 1802 he expected 2,000 volumes from London by the end of the week.[47] This period marked the high point of his bookselling career. He was expanding his business, especially in the area of book importation, and he advertised that he wished to make his shop ‘a Repository of the Literature of Europe’.[48] At this time, too, there is a notice of his second marriage, to Miss M. Priest of Salisbury St, London.[49] They had at least three sons, William (b.1805), Robert (1806-1820), and Edward (b.1808), all of whom attended Trinity College.[50]

The French Revolutionary Wars ended with the Peace of Amiens in March 1802, to the great relief of merchants whose business interests were affected by the state of war, and the consequent danger to shipping. In April 1802 Archer’s advertisement headed ‘Price of Books Reduced!’ appeared in the press, and he announced:

Peace having lowered the rates of Insurance, Freight, Carriage, and other Expenses attending the Importation of Books; and the Duty on Paper being in part taken off, by the Legislature, J. Archer, desirous that his Customers should benefit by the same, has determined to sell, in future, all Books he may import from Great Britain at the original prices, free of any advance or charge whatever.[51]

His last trip to the continent took place in the summer of 1802 when he went to France and Germany ‘for the purpose of collecting the choicest publications of the Continent and to form such connexions there as must in future secure to his customers every possible Accommodation in his line, on Terms the most advantageous to them’.[52]

Irish and British visitors had taken the opportunity of travelling to France after the peace was signed in March 1802. One report estimated that by September there were no fewer than 16,000 visitors in Paris from England and Ireland.[53] The peace came to a sudden end in May 1803, the outbreak of hostilities took many by surprise and they were detained in France as aliens until after the first Peace of Paris in 1814. Among those detained were Lovell Edgeworth, brother of Maria Edgeworth, and James Edward Devereux of Carrigmenan, a member of the Catholic Committee for Co. Wexford. In a letter of June 1803 to Lord Clonbrock Archer requested payment of his book account as he was ‘so unfortunate as to have books to the value of near £1500 in France, and all paid for’ as his books were impounded in France.[54] Some of his books were released and in August 1803 he wrote to C.D. Bellew ‘I have been unfortunate, only a part of the Books that I expected from France are arrived, the remainder to the value of near £700 paid, are detained in France’.[55] The state of war, accompanied by the detention of his books created a credit squeeze for Archer. In January 1804 in gratitude for the payment of his bill, he wrote to Bellew ‘nothing could be more timely than your recollection of me, for during the whole of my life, I never was so much in want of money – my french Books lie very heavy on my hands and as yet I have not recd. any acct. of those I expected from France, but, I hope they are safe’.[56]

Importation of continental books from this time until his retirement was through London and Archer charged for them as follows: ‘the foreign books are priced according to Mr Lunn’s Catalogue with 12 p.ct. advance – the English or London printed articles are at in general the publication prices’.[57] The steady decline of Archer’s importation business was apparent from this time, in June 1807 he stated: ‘there is very little novel in the book way … and business cannot be worse’ and by July he wrote: ‘Its my intention to visit London by the end of August to cloase accts. the greater part of them I shall never open again. Business is so very bad I am completely discovering my stock exceeding heavy’ and by December ‘the London Booksellers had drained me of the last shilling’.[58]

In 1809 and 1810 Archer’s business was conducted by his son from his first marriage, Charles Palmer Archer.[59] Charles had his own bookshop in Dame Street until 1827 when he was termed ‘His Majesty’s Bookseller in Ireland’.[60] Archer was clearly ill as Charles wrote to Bellew in August 1809 ‘there being no likelyhood at present of Mr Archer’s being able to attend to business’.[61] Archer retired from business in 1810 and died in July 1811.[62] His stock was sold by auction by Thomas Jones on 12 November and following days, presumably to raise money for his widow and young sons from his second marriage. The extant catalogue covers only part of his stock, amounting to 3,000 volumes, containing continental as well as Dublin and London imprints.[63]

The early years of the nineteenth century were bad ones for Dublin booksellers. As a result of the Union the reprint trade collapsed, putting many booksellers out of business, but more significantly for Archer, the readership declined as many prominent families closed up their Dublin houses and moved to London. The early nineteenth century saw a large number of private libraries coming up for auction as their owners left the city. In the eighteenth century the bookbuying public consisted of the nobility, gentry and emerging middle classes, after the Union the political and cultural focus for the gentry shifted to London, and the market for luxury goods declined. The professional and merchant middle classes now formed the core of the book market, with some large country house accounts still remaining. It was in the early nineteenth century that many Catholic families returned from the continent and began to assemble libraries at their country estates.

The importance of Archer’s bookselling business can be assessed in relation to that of Luke White, the leading Dublin book importer of the late eighteenth century. Both issued stock catalogues containing tens of thousands of volumes, White from 1777 and Archer from at least 1785.[64] Both carried an extensive stock of continental literature, especially in French and Italian, and both traded directly with continental suppliers, White with the Société Typographique de Neuchâtel and other suppliers, and Archer trading personally with continental publishing centres. White was active in reprinting popular titles from London and continental editions, as sole publisher or with a group of booksellers. His name occurs in the imprints of over 370 books between 1776 and 1797.[65] Archer’s publishing record was more modest, just over 100, and consisted mostly of reprinted English language editions. White, however, diversified his business interests, giving up the retail book trade in 1793 to concentrate on the wholesale book trade and book importation, he invested in property and became involved in finance, thus laying the foundations of a substantial personal fortune. Archer’s bookselling business suffered greatly in the early nineteenth century as a result of the Union and the Napoleonic wars.

Archer’s business interests in the book trade were substantial in the 30 years of his working life and point to the scale of bookselling in Dublin at this period. Archer was only one of many Dublin booksellers whose trade was international in scope, whose investment in the trade was considerable, and whose returns reflected that heavy investment. The speculative nature of the international trade is obvious, as fortunes were made, as in the case of Luke White, and lost, in Archer’s case.

Specialisation in the continental book trade, in the early eighteenth century, and more particularly in the last quarter of the century, provides evidence of a sufficient demand for imported continental literature among bookbuyers. It also points to the diversity on offer to the Irish reading public as booksellers sought to import the latest and best publications from the continent, through their contacts in Paris, Amsterdam, The Hague, Vienna, Neuchâtel and Utrecht. Irish bookbuyers were able to support the Dublin book trade in its publishing and bookselling activities. The foreign language book importers catered solely for the domestic market which was sufficient to keep several booksellers with extensive undertakings in business throughout the century.

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

[1] An earlier version of this article was first published in Dublin Historical Record, XLIX, no. 2 (Autumn 1996), pp 94-105.

[2] British Copyright Act 1709 (8 Ann, c.19, Great Britain, in force 10 Apr. 1710); Importation Act 1739 (12 George II, c.36, Great Britain, in force 20 Sept. 1739). In 1778 some Irish goods, including books, were allowed to be exported directly to the colonies (18 George III, c.55, Great Britain). M. Pollard. Dublin’s trade in books 1550-1800 (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1989), pp 66-109.

[3] National Library of Ireland: Mss 12,121-12,125 Records of the Guild of St Luke the Evangelist, vols I-V, 1670-1785.

[4] Hugh 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.

[5] Anthologia Hibernica, 4 vols (Dublin, R.E. Mercier & Co., 1793-94), i, June 1793, p. 450.

[6] Dublin Chronicle 24 July 1788. Gerna offered to execute commands in Paris for ‘Gentlemen in the book line’.

[7] Wilson’s Dublin directories 1783-1809.

[8] The Eighteenth-Century Short Title Catalogue (ESTC) lists Archer in the imprint of 104 titles, but additional titles may be located in libraries which have not yet been added to the ESTC.

[9] Freeman’s Journal, 24-26 Oct. 1782.

[10] George Cawthorne, bookseller in the Strand, London, d. 24 June 1804.

[11] British Library: Add MSS 4800-48918, Strahan archive

[12] Volunteer’s Journal, 24 Jan. 1785; 18 Feb. 1785.

[13] Dublin Journal, 9-11 May 1786.

[14] Richard B. Sher, The Enlightenment and the book: Scottish authors and their publishers in eighteenth-century Britain, Ireland and America (Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 2006), p. 452.

[15] Freeman’s Journal, 29 Nov.-2 Dec. 1788.

[16] The young lady’s pocket library, or parental monitor (Dublin, printed by Graisberry & Campbell for John Archer, 1790). M. Pollard, ‘Plain calf for plain people’ in Agnes Bernelle, ed. Decantations: a tribute to Maurice Craig (Dublin, The Lilliput Press, 1992), pp 177-86; p.185. Dublin Chronicle, 27 Nov. 1790; 22 Dec. 1791.

[17] Freeman’s Journal, 29 Nov.-2 Dec. 1788.

[18] John Archer, A catalogue of books (for 1789) … the sale begins 11th Feb. 1789. At the shop of John Archer, no. 80, Dame-street (Dublin, 1789).

[19] J.S.C., ‘Bookbuyers in the Olden Time’, The 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 173-76.

[20] 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 Mar. 1792.

[21] The manuscripts and correspondence of James, First Earl of Charlemont, 2 vols, Vol. II 1784-1799, Historical Manuscripts Commission (London, HMSO, 1894), pp 193-94.

[22] Trinity College Dublin: Mss 10,314-10,316, Graisberry ledgers (1777-1785; 1797-1806); cash book (1799).

Vincent Kinane and Charles Benson, ‘Some late 18th- and early 19th-century Dublin printers’ account books: the Graisberry ledgers, in Peter Isaac ed., Six centuries of the provincial book trade in Britain, papers presented at the Eighth seminar on the British book trade, Durham, July 1990 (Winchester, St Paul’s Bibliographies, 1990), pp 139-50.

[23] Thomas Pennant, Some account of London, third edition (Dublin, printed for John Archer, 1791).

[24] Dublin Chronicle, 22 Dec. 1791; 19 Jan. 1792.

[25] Henry Brocas (1762-1837) was a landscape painter and engraver. As an engraver he contributed to several Dublin periodicals. From 1801 to his death in 1837 he was master of the Landscape and Ornament School of the Royal Dublin Society. Walter George Strickland, A dictionary of Irish artists, 2 vols (Dublin, Maunsel, 1913).

[26] Alexander MacWilliam, ‘The Dublin Library Society 1791-1882’ Short papers of the Bibliographical Society of Ireland, 2, no. 6 (1925), pp 120-31. John T. Gilbert, A history of the city of Dublin, 3 vols (Dublin, Gill & Macmillan, The Sackville Library (reprint), 1978), ii, pp 314-5.

[27] Archer’s Catalogue of Books for 1793. The sale begins on Wednesday, the 3d of April 1793 (Dublin, 1793).

[28] National Library of Ireland: Ms. 22,177, Clonbrock Papers, Booksellers accounts c.1800-1806, 10 items.

[29] Five are book accounts of John Archer, two are duplicate bills from James Carpenter and Co., Old Bond Street, London, one is from J. White and one has no date or bookseller’s name. James Carpenter was paid £166.5s.3d. to cover books purchased between October 1800 and May 1801. J. White was paid £142 in April 1801: – this included £31.10s. for the 70 volumes of the Beaumarchais edition of the Oeuvres of Voltaire in elegant bindings. An unnamed bookseller was paid £101.2s.6d. for 111 volumes of books.

[30] 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 171-197.

[31] National Library of Ireland: Ms. 27,293, Bellew Papers, Letters and accounts from John Archer, bookseller, to C.D. Bellew, 1790-1810; letters 8 Jan. 1805; 23 Jan. 1806.

[32] Ibid., letter 18 Sept. 1801.

[33] Archer purchased books for Bellew at the sale of the library of Dr William Newcome, Archbishop of Armagh, auctioned by Vallance from 31 March 1800 ‘almost every article of value in the Primate’s Collection, as yet, has sold above the value. I have purchased a few Books for you, but on reasonable terms’. Charles P. Archer, who conducted business during John Archer’s illness, mentioned that Thomas Jones, the auctioneer, had bought books for Bellew at the sale of Mr Caldwell’s library, which began on 3 May 1809. Bellew Papers, op. cit., letters 14 Apr. 1800; 13 May 1809.

[34] Ibid., letter 5 Dec. 1799.

[35] Ibid., account Sept. 1793-Apr. 1794.

[36] ‘I shall have a large Box of Books ready for you by the end of next week, consisting of Books from the list of Messrs Rivington London … which are now in the hand of the binder’. Ibid., letter 6 Apr. 1808.

[37] Ibid., letter 14 Apr. 1800.

[38] F.V. Barry, Maria Edgeworth: chosen letters (London, Cape, 1931), p.108.

[39] Joseph Hone, The life of George Moore (London, Gollancz, 1936); Joseph Hone, The Moores of Moore Hall (London, Cape), 1939.

[40] Bellew Papers, op. cit., letter 1 Aug. 1806.

[41] Dublin Chronicle, 31 Mar. 1791.

[42] Dublin Chronicle, 6 Oct. 1791.

[43] Dublin Chronicle, 28 July 1792.

[44] Archer’s Catalogue of Books for 1793, op. cit.

[45] Bellew Papers, op. cit., letters 20 July 1799; 5 Dec. 1799.

[46] A catalogue of French and Italian books, imported and sold by J. Archer, Bookseller, Commercial Buildings, Dublin, 1801.

[47] Hibernian Journal, 22 Apr. 1802.

[48] Hibernian Journal, 19 Apr. 1802.

[49] Freeman’s Journal, 21 Aug. 1802. Walker’s Hibernian Magazine (Sept. 1802). Henry Farrar, Irish marriages … in Walker’s Hibernian Magazine 1771-1812, 2 vols (London, Phillimore & Co., 1897).

[50] Alumni Dublinenses, ed. by G.D. Burtchaell and T.U. Sadleir (Dublin, Alex. Thom & Co., 1935). M. Pollard, A dictionary of members of the Dublin book trade 1550-1800 (London, Bibliographical Society, 2000).

[51] Hibernian Journal, 19 Apr. 1802.

[52] Hibernian Journal, 22 Apr. 1802.

[53] Freeman’s Journal, 7 Sept. 1802.

[54] Clonbrock Papers, op. cit., letter 15 June 1803.

[55] Bellew Papers, op. cit., letter 5 Aug. 1803.

[56] Ibid., letter 25 Jan. 1804.

[57] Ibid., letter 5 Mar. 1806.

[58] Ibid., letters 6 June 1807; 22 July 1807; 4 Dec. 1807.

[59] Charles Palmer Archer was freed by the guild in 1810, and later became Lord Mayor and M.P. for Dublin. Pollard, Dictionary.

[60] Wilson’s Dublin directories 1810-1827, first at 44, and later at 34 Dame Street.

[61] Bellew Papers, op. cit., letter 7 Aug. 1809.

[62] Pollard, Dictionary. Belfast News Letter, 19 July 1811.

[63] A catalogue of a valuable collection of books, being part of the stock of John Archer (lately retired from business) which will be sold by auction by Thomas Jones, 12 Nov. 1810.

[64] Independent Chronicle, 15 May 1777; Hibernian Journal, 3-5 Nov. 1777.

[65] ESTC online.

A Passion for books: The Gilbert Library


Great libraries depend on the acquisition of earlier collections gathered by enthusiasts and scholars. The dispersal of collections adds to the riches of other libraries. Nobody was more aware of this process than Gilbert himself, and for most of his life his eye was sharply focused on saleroom and auction catalogue. His personal library benefited from the collections of Sir Edward Newenham, the Putland library, Judge Christopher Robinson, James Hardiman, Daniel O’Connell and many others. In addition to this, from his teenage years he had a network of friends and correspondents throughout Europe, who were willing to seek out particular books for him. Assiduous collecting throughout his lifetime resulted in one of the finest Irish historical libraries of the period. Dublin was fortunate in not losing this library after Gilbert’s death, as Dublin Corporation committed itself to purchasing it for the city. The Gilbert Library is now the core collection at the heart of the very fine Dublin Collection at Dublin City Library and Archive, Pearse Street. Its treasures are appreciated among researchers throughout the world.

The Young Collector.

John Thomas Gilbert was born on 23 January 1829 in Jervis Street, Dublin. The son of a Catholic mother whose family came from County Meath and a Protestant father whose family hailed from Devon. From an early age Gilbert’s interest in books was apparent. As a child, on family holidays at his uncle’s house in Brannockstown, Co. Meath, he was introduced to the subject which would form his life’s work. According to the biography by his widow the young Gilbert had the use of the extensive library of Fr Murray, parish priest of Trim, a relative of his maternal grandmother’s, who was educated for the priesthood on the continent.[1] This Fr Murray has proved elusive; he was neither parish priest nor curate of Trim. However, Fr James Murray (1771-1844) was parish priest of Clonmellon, Co. Westmeath, in the diocese of Meath, from 1809 until his death on 29 January 1844. He succeeded his uncle, Fr John Murray (1751-1809), an Irish scholar, in the parish of Clonmellon. Both were from Rathmolyon, in the same barony as Brannockstown. Fr James Murray is a likely identification for Gilbert’s relative.[2] No account of Fr Murray’s library survives, and we have no way of knowing if its riches included Irish historical material, or indeed if any items from it were passed on to Gilbert.

Gilbert educated himself in Irish history, archaeology and bibliography through his intensive and widespread reading. In his early years his own library was small and could not fully cater for his needs. In 1848, at the age of 19, he became a reader at the libraries of the Royal Dublin Society (RDS) and Marsh’s, and on becoming a member of the Royal Irish Academy in 1855 its excellent library became available to him.[3] Gilbert borrowed books throughout his life, as we know from his later letters, and he was pleased to lend books to other scholars. It is likely that some of his early research was done using borrowed volumes. But many of the rare works which he needed could not be borrowed, nor even read in Dublin’s best libraries. These he had to locate and to purchase where possible.

It is notable from his letters that Gilbert had contacts in key places on the continent through the Catholic clergy. The Irish Catholic diaspora of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries resulted in a spread of archival material relating to Irish history across Europe. Irish writers published their works in continental cities from the fifteenth century. This material was often collected by the Irish Colleges in Paris, Rome, Lisbon, Salamanca and elsewhere. Irish books and archives often came on the market in Paris, Rome and Lisbon, and Gilbert showed a particular interest in acquiring some rare books which could be obtained through his correspondents in these cities. In addition, he had a particular interest in Lisbon: his father had been consul of Portugal and Algarve, and his mother’s brother, Patrick Costello, practised medicine there. In 1848 John Savage sent him a copy of O’Sullivan Beare’s Historiae Catholicae Iberniae (1621) from Lisbon, one item from Gilbert’s list of books wanted.[4]

What was so unusual in one so young was the systematic way in which Gilbert formed his collection, and the thorough manner in which he organised it for use. An early hand-written catalogue, now in the National Library of Ireland, containing over 300 titles compiled in 1848, and with additions made the following year, exemplifies this care.[5] The catalogue is in alphabetical order by author, giving full details of format, number of volumes, place and date of publication. A surprising number of contemporary editions of French literature, as well as some works in Latin and Italian testify to his command of languages. At school in Prior Park Gilbert learned Latin and Greek, French, Italian and German. Dictionaries and grammars in French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese and German in his library indicate that he kept up his knowledge of European languages throughout his life.

Already his main interest is clear, and rare and valuable works of Irish history and some manuscripts form part of his early library. Books relating to Ireland from the late sixteenth century to the most recent publications of 1849 are present. He gathered seventeenth- and eighteenth-century imprints in considerable quantities. The range of places of publication is impressive: London, Dublin, Edinburgh and Glasgow for English language works, Paris, Amsterdam, Lyons, Leyden and Cologne for French and Latin books and Rome and Paris for Irish language works. Gilbert began to collect seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century Irish Almanacks; items that are especially scarce because of their ephemeral quality. He had an early and abiding interest in portraits of Irishmen and women, and his catalogue of 1848 notes the books which contain portraits.

John Dunton’s Dublin Scuffle (1699), a valuable source for the late seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century Dublin book trade, was among his early acquisitions.[6] A life-long interest in the printers and booksellers at work in Dublin up to the end of the eighteenth century is apparent from Gilbert’s own writings; especially his History of Dublin, and two papers on Irish bibliography read to the Royal Irish Academy in 1896 and 1897.[7] He also began to purchase books printed in Dublin, the early catalogue has 43 eighteenth-century Dublin-printed titles and seven from the seventeenth century, the latter including the works of James Ussher, Sir James and Robert Ware.[8]

At this stage Gilbert showed a keen interest in contemporary works of literature, prose and poetry. The Waverley novels of Walter Scott, the poetry of Robert Burns, Byron, Keats, Shelley, Southey, Tennyson, and Wordsworth are there in modern editions, as well as works by Washington Irving, Goëthe and Madame de Staël. Books on bibliography are present at this early point in his collecting career: appropriately Dibdin’s Bibliomania and Introduction to the Greek and Latin Classics, Brunet’s Manuel du Libraire, and Lowndes’ Bibliographer’s Manual. His life-long practice of making pencilled notes inside the back covers of his books, referring to pages of interest to him in the text, was a working method developed at the start of his career. His copy of Bibliomania has one reference at the back to a portrait of St Brigid on page 196.

Assembling the Library.

One of the distinguishing characteristics of Gilbert’s library are the number of very rare continental editions of little-known works of Irish writers, some identified by the use of “Hibernus” with the writer’s name. An impressive set of works about St Patrick from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries are present, the earliest by Richard Stanihurst (who is called “Dubliniensis” or “Hiberni Dubliniensis”), a life of St Patrick printed in Antwerp by the renowned Christopher Plantin in 1587.[9] Thomas Messingham’s (“Sacerdos Hibernos”) Florilegium Insulae Sanctorum, published in Paris in 1624, contains the lives of St Patrick, St Brigid, St Columcille and St Malachy, while another life of St Patrick, with lives of St Brigid and St Columba, by Revd. Bonaventure Baron was published in St Omer in 1625.[10] Revd. Baron (“Hyberno-Clonmeliensis”), one of the Irish Franciscan friars at Louvain, also published works in Lyons, Cologne and Rome in the mid seventeenth century and these works are to be found in Gilbert’s library.[11] It was Gilbert who provided the entry on Baron to the Dictionary of National Biography.[12]

An extremely rare and interesting work by Thomas Hibernicus or Palmeranus, Thomas of Palmerstown (fl.1267), Flores omnium, theological and philosophical extracts from a range of authors, compiled in the second half of the thirteenth century and printed in Lyons in 1567, was probably purchased from John O’Daly, the Dublin bookseller.[13] As we have seen, Gilbert corresponded with John Savage in Lisbon in the late 1840s, sending Dublin newspapers to him, and asking him to seek out certain books and manuscripts. Having purchased O’Sullivan Beare’s Historiae Catholicae through him, Gilbert also hoped to find the manuscripts of Philip O’Sullivan and a portrait, but in this he was unsuccessful.[14] The Historiae Catholicae, published in Lisbon in 1621, a very scarce volume, was in the hands of a private individual, who parted with it for a moidore [a Portuguese gold coin].[15] Gilbert offered it to Revd. Matthew Kelly, professor of French and belles lettres at Maynooth and council member of the Celtic Society, to do a new edition. According to the biography of Gilbert this offer was refused, yet letters from Revd. Kelly in 1850 suggest that he may have used Gilbert’s copy to work from.[16] The new edition, edited by Matthew Kelly, was published in Dublin by John O’Daly in 1850.[17] One of Gilbert’s copies of this edition is a presentation copy from the editor.

Throughout the nineteenth century major auctions of Irish libraries took place in Dublin. Auctioneers such as Charles Sharpe (1820-1852) of Anglesea Street[18] and John Fleming Jones (1840-1880) of D’Olier Street[19] led the way. Sharpe specialised in the sale of private libraries of the Catholic clergy, many of whom were educated on the continent and had an array of continental imprints in their collections. Libraries of collectors of Irish material also came on the market, some of which were assembled over a century of purchasing. None of what must have been an extensive collection of Gilbert’s book auction or booksellers’ catalogues have been preserved, so we cannot say with accuracy what range of sales he attended, nor what items were of interest to him, whether he succeeded in purchasing them or not.

The Putland library, built up by John Putland (1709-1773) of Great Britain Street and Bray Head, his son George (1745-1811) and grandson George junior (1783-1841), came up for auction in 1847.[20] John Putland was a prominent member of the Dublin Society, acting as treasurer from 1754 to 1772. His son and grandson were also members of the Dublin Society and of the Royal Irish Academy. We know from the distinctive Putland bindings that Gilbert acquired some of these books. The elephant motif formed part of the Putland crest displayed on the bookplate, and their books bear the elephant head on the panels of the spines. Yet, Gilbert did not attend this auction in 1847, as the titles do not form part of his catalogue of 1848. He must have purchased them later, either at another sale, or from a secondhand bookseller.[21]


Bookplate  of Lieutenant-General Daniel Charles, Count O’Connell, uncle of Daniel. (I am grateful to Anthony Pincott of the Bookplate Society for this information).

Daniel O’Connell’s legal and miscellaneous library came under the hammer in 1849.[22] The presence of his uncle’s bookplate on at least some of his books suggests that Gilbert purchased books from this sale.[23] Many other sales from this period must have attracted him, such as that of Irish history and antiquities of J.M. Ray (1850), duplicates from the Dublin Library Society (1851), the Latouche library from Marlay Park (1857), the library of Isaac Weld, Vice President of the RDS (1857), the library of Sir William Rowan Hamilton (1867), that of his friend and colleague, John O’Donovan (1867), and those of his friends Denis Florence McCarthy in 1874 and R.R. Madden in 1886, but there is no evidence of purchases. Gilbert retained a copy of Madden’s catalogue in his library, but it is unmarked.[24]

The sale of Lord Charlemont’s library and paintings in August and September 1865 was one of the great sales of the century.[25] This very large collection was amassed over 50 years in the second half of the eighteenth century. Charlemont’s commitment to Irish studies, and his patronage of writers and artists, is reflected in the holdings of his library. A priced copy of the auction catalogue is held in the Royal Irish Academy. Gilbert, and other collectors of Irish historical material, were keenly aware of the riches afforded by the dispersal of such libraries. However, competition must have been intense, the libraries of the Royal Irish Academy and Trinity College, and private collectors such as Henry Bradshaw (1831-1886) of Cambridge University and Evelyn Philip Shirley (1812-1882) of Lough Fea, Co. Monaghan, must have helped to raise prices. In fact Tony Sweeney, author of Ireland and Printed Word 1475-1700, believes that Gilbert, Bradshaw and Shirley were responsible for inflating prices to levels not reached again until the twentieth century.[26] Gilbert had a copy of the rare Catalogue of the Library at Lough Fea, presented to him by E.P. Shirley.[27]

One of the outstanding acquisitions to the library was the set of Newenham pamphlets and tracts, dating from 1650 to 1798. Uniformly bound and bearing the initials “E.N.” on most of the spines, this extensive collection of rare Dublin imprints belonged to Sir Edward Newenham, M.P., of Belcamp Hall in Coolock, where they occupied a specially-constructed alcove in one of the ground floor reception rooms. The collection, comprises over 100 volumes, each containing several pamphlets. Begun by Dr Worth in the seventeenth century and continued by the Newenhams, his descendants, it was offered for sale to Trinity College in 1884 for £63. When Trinity declined to purchase, Gilbert “having looked over the collection, purchased it at once for my own library, and so kept it in Ireland”.[28] The unique collection, specialising in political and economic topics, is an invaluable resource for the study of this period.

Gilbert had very specific needs when it came to book collecting. He sent lists of books or manuscripts to friends and acquaintances abroad. His correspondence led to a two-way traffic in books and information, and Gilbert always seemed generous in these exchanges. His friend, Denis Florence MacCarthy, poet and translator of Spanish drama, a fellow bibliophile, frequently sought books in libraries and bookshops in France and elsewhere. In 1877 Gilbert wrote to him: “if you go into any old book shops in France, will you try to find me a copy of the two volumes noted on enclosed slip? I would be glad to get them for a guinea a-piece … they were printed somewhere in France”.[29] In reply MacCarthy felt that there was little chance of fulfilling his order in Boulogne as “there is only one old bookshop in the town, and from my inspection of the Public Library in the Grande Rue on Sunday last, I have little hope of ever seeing them there”.[30] The two volumes referred to are Revd. John Lynch’s Alithinologia (1664) and Supplement (1667), published in St Omer. Gilbert seems not to have tracked down these books for his library, although he held others by Revd. Lynch. Writing from Paris the following year, MacCarthy offered: “if there is any book or other matter you would like me to hunt up for you, I shall be most happy to do it”.[31]

Father P.S. Dunne in St Isidore’s College, Rome, corresponded with Gilbert in 1877 when Gilbert wished to have photographs or drawings made of the portraits of Irish clergy in the Theological Hall. Gilbert also sent a list of books which were of interest to him, and which proved difficult to find. In December Fr Dunne wrote: “The reason it is so difficult to find these books is because the old libraries have been long since disposed of, and for the most part lie perdu in the bookshops”. However, by February 1878 Fr Dunne could say that “the books are all found, and will be on their way to Rome in a few days”.[32] Richard O’Flynn, an Irish emigrant from Waterford, living in Worcester, Massachusettes, was acquainted with Gilbert from reading his books. He wrote asking Gilbert to send copies of his publications, in one letter he asked for three copies of the Contemporary History of Affairs in Ireland and copies of the Facsimiles of Ancient Irish Manuscripts. In return he offered: “If I can be of any service to you in obtaining anything in the book line, you may command my services”.[33]

As Secretary of the Irish Archaeological and Celtic Society[34] and librarian of the Royal Irish Academy Gilbert’s position was unique. In these two capacities, as well as author of so many books, he had dealings with booksellers in Ireland, Britain and the continent for the sale of books and for purchasing. Among the most prominent London firms taking the publications of the Archaeological and Celtic societies, and likewise taking copies of Gilbert’s own publications as they were issued, were Bernard Quaritch, Leicester Square, and later Picadilly; Messrs Trübner & Co., Paternoster Row; and Asher & Co. Foreign Booksellers, Covent Garden.[35] These companies also specialised in publishing small editions of the works produced by historical societies in England, some of which are to be found in the library.[36]

Several other booksellers dealt with Gilbert for the publications of the Archaeological and Celtic Society and for his own works: in London Ellis & Elvey, of 29 New Bond Street, A. Heylin, of 29 Paternoster Row, B.F. Stevens, of 4 Trafalgar Square, Messrs Puttick and Simpson, 47 Leicester Square, and in Dublin M.H. Gill of 50 Upper Sackville Street and Patrick Traynor of 29 Essex Quay.[37]

Gilbert’s purchasing cannot be fully documented. Even though thousands of letters survive, they are fragmentary, mainly one-sided (to Gilbert), and are largely concerned with the business of the Royal Irish Academy and the Archaeological and Celtic Society.[38] Some, however, deal with his personal purchasing, and a number of factors emerge. The range of booksellers and literary sale-rooms which he corresponded with was very wide, and was certainly wider than we know of. Gilbert liked to bargain for the best terms from secondhand booksellers. His books were ordered by letter, or later by telegraph, and were dispatched from abroad by book post, by Globe Parcels Express, or by rail and steamer. Some booksellers sent books on approval[39] and many had his lists of wants to work from. William George, bookseller in Park Street, Bristol, kept a “Books Wanted” list and Gilbert’s list was noted there.[40] Booksellers also alerted Gilbert to items which might be of interest to him. Miss Millard, of Teddington, Middlesex, had Story’s History of the Wars in Ireland 1689-92, complete with folding plans and plates, for three guineas in 1889.[41] There is a copy in the library, but it is not known if Miss Millard made the sale.

As well as supplying Bernard Quaritch with his own books and those of the Archaeological and Celtic Society, Gilbert was evidently a very good customer.[42] In 1882 they wrote: “I forward by post as desired the volume from the Sunderland Library. I cannot make any reduction in the price – as it is so fine a copy of a rare work and only just purchased. I have not at present a copy of “Mone Hymni Latini”, but I can offer you Daniel, Thesaurus Hymnologicus, 3 volumes in 1, 8vo, hf. cf. 1855 for £1.16.0. Shall I send this to you? Both Mone and Daniel are very scarce and very dear, and much sought after. I have just bought Sir Robert Peel’s Irish Library. I intend to add to it, and to issue in about 18 months a catalogue of my Irish stock”.[43] Gilbert owned a copy of Franz Joseph Mone’s Latinische Hymnen, but not a copy of the Daniel volume.

J.W. Sage of 4 Newman’s Row, London, also fulfilled orders for Gilbert.[44] In December 1863 they had procured the four books by Timothy Cunningham requested by him: Historical Account of the Rights of Election (1783) (7s.6d.), The Law Diary for 1764 (10s.6d.), Law of Simony (1781) (3s.6d.) and folio Reports (£2.10s.0d.). Of these four titles Gilbert retained only the first in his library.[45] They had got the books for him from other secondhand booksellers, but they insisted on charging extra for this service.[46] Orders were sent to Barthés & Lowell, foreign booksellers, 14 Great Marlborough Street, London, in 1863.[47]

James Bain, 1 Haymarket, London, got Samuel Ayscough’s Catalogue of Manuscripts in the British Museum (1782), 2 volumes, for Gilbert in 1873. “I have sent Ayscough as we can not do better as to condition. The other book, Cat. Mss. 1697, is rare and especially in good condition as the one reported. It is of course possible that an inferior copy may occur and at less price and I will let you have note of it if it does … I dare say I shall report a Clarendon shortly”.[48]

Gilbert purchased from the catalogues of the London booksellers C. Herbert, 60 Goswell Road, and Clement S. Palmer, antiquarian bookseller, The Priory, Lower Clapham, in 1877; Sotheby, Wilkinson and Hodge, 13 Wellington Street, the Strand, and Edward Daniell, book and printseller (for engraved portraits), Cavendish Square,  in 1881; and Matthews and Brooks in Bradford and Leeds.[49]

In Ireland Gilbert almost certainly trawled all the Dublin bookshops and auction rooms. In June 1877 a receipt from William Bernard Kelly of Grafton Street has survived, itemising four titles: Leadbeater’s Papers, 2 volumes (6s.6d.), Worcester’s Dictionary of the English Language (£1.5s.6d.), Carleton’s Traits and Stories of the Irish Peasantry (4s.0d.), and Chambers’ Encyclopedia of English Literature (16s.8d.).[50] These volumes are likely to have been bought as new books as that edition of Carleton, and Chambers, had only been published in 1876.

As noted earlier borrowing and lending books among scholars was common. Gilbert’s particular friends, William Wilde, Denis Florence MacCarthy and Revd. William Reeves had open access to each other’s libraries. Many other scholars benefited from Gilbert’s generosity. William Wilde found a copy of the old Icelandic Chronicle belonging to Gilbert on his shelves in 1874; it had been borrowed and forgotten.[51] In 1870 Francis Prendergast returned the 3 volumes of Arthur O’Connor’s Monopoly the Cause of all Evil which he had borrowed.[52]

Gilbert applied to the Royal Irish Academy in 1877 to borrow their copy of the Journal of the War of 1641, this request was granted, provided a deposit of £5 was lodged for it.[53] In August 1881 Evelyn Shirley of Lough Fea thanked Gilbert for the safe return of Queen Elizabeth’s Primer and is sending him a loan of Belling’s Annotations, published in Paris in 1654.[54] Blayney Balfour of Townley Hall thanks Gilbert in November 1889 for a book returned and says he will collect the second one at the Royal Irish Academy when Gilbert has finished.[55] In 1897 the Earl of Fingall of Killeen Castle, Dunsany, asks Gilbert to return his copy of M.T. “Light to the Blind” as he wishes to show it to a friend. We see from the Catalogue that Gilbert had a transcript made of this manuscript and labelled it Fingall Manuscripts.[56]

As Gilbert’s expertise in matters relating to Irish history and records increased, his circle of friends and colleagues working in similar areas also expanded. It can be seen from his letters that he was generous in supplying information, often devoting valuable time to checking facts for other scholars’ research. This generosity was repaid by authors when their works were published and Gilbert’s library attests to the esteem in which he was held by the presence of so many presentation copies, inscribed to him. When he was just 20 William Wilde presented him with a copy of his book The Closing Years of Dean Swift’s Life with the inscription: “J.T. Gilbert, Esq., with the author’s kind regards”.[57] The French archaeologist and Celtic scholar, Henri d’Arbois de Jubainville, visited Gilbert and dined with him while he stayed in Ireland in 1881. They subsequently corresponded on matters relating to Irish manuscripts and Gilbert sent copies of his Facsimiles to him in France. Gilbert had seven of de Jubainville’s works in his library, at least one a presentation copy, with an inscription by the author.[58] The Trustees of the British Museum sent him copies of the Catalogue of  Additions to Manuscripts (1854-75) and (1876-1881) as gifts, “the Trustees of the British Museum … request that you will be pleased to accept the same as a present from them”.[59]

He also received presentation copies from well-known historians, antiquarians and genealogists: Sir John Bernard Burke, compiler of Burke’s Peerage, E. Maude Thompson of the British Museum, Richard Caulfield, antiquarian and editor of the Corporation records of Cork, Kinsale and Youghal, Eugene O’Curry, the Irish scholar (“his affectionate friend”), historians William Hardinge, Revd. Edmund Hogan, Arthur B. Leech, and R.R. Madden, Revd. John O’Hanlon, author of the Lives of the Irish Saints, Bishop William Reeves, ecclesiastical historian and Gilbert’s friend and correspondent (“with the author’s affect. regards”), Lord Talbot de Malahide, Lord Dunraven, Charles Gavan Duffy, Samuel Ferguson, P.W. Joyce, historian of Irish placenames, and Cardinal Patrick Francis Moran, church historian.

In addition to books purchased and presentation copies received, Gilbert was given the works of contemporary historians and archivists for review. He reviewed for the London-published periodicals Athenæum, Academy, Gentleman’s Magazine, and Dublin Review.

Honing the Collection.

It is clear from Gilbert’s early collecting that he chose his library with care and maintained it for use as a working collection. The integrity of the library as it stood when he died points to the focus of his collection policy. In the introduction to the printed catalogue the editors note that “It is almost, if not altogether, lacking in what is called ‘belles lettres’”.[60] That is largely true of the final form of the library, but we have seen from Gilbert’s 1848 catalogue that it was then well furnished with contemporary literature. As Gilbert honed the collection many of the modern works were shed, nineteenth-century editions of earlier works were frequently replaced by older or rarer editions. Contemporary literature made place for books which were more essential to his work. In 1848 he sent 200 volumes to the auction rooms of John Fleming Jones, in order to make room for new acquisitions.[61]

While the Gilbert family was quite comfortable thanks to a thriving wine and cider importation business, Gilbert’s own circumstances changed as he relinquished his involvement in the business and devoted himself to historical studies. The nature of his contract work with the Historical Manuscripts Commission and other institutions allowed him to provide for his needs, without too much surplus. However, a low point was reached financially when he lost his position of secretary with the Public Records Office in 1875, when that post was abolished. This was compounded  in 1885 with the failure of the Munster Bank; Gilbert faced ruin and it looked as if his home and library would have to be sold. Sale of his life insurance policy, however, allowed him to keep his collection and continue his work. By any standards Gilbert’s expenditure on books was enormous, but as his resources were limited he needed to negotiate the best deal whenever possible. In addition, the publication of his books was an expensive undertaking and the return uncertain.

The library’s strengths coincide with its owner’s priorities; books of less use or interest were quickly replaced by more relevant ones. It is known from his letters that he spared no effort when it came to tracking down items necessary to his research, and money was found to purchase them. Books and manuscripts relating to Dublin, the growth, development and governing of the city, form one of its main strengths. The social and cultural history of Dublin was an important element for Gilbert, from his earliest collecting theatrical memoirs, biographies, histories of buildings and institutions, texts of eighteenth-century plays and librettos, remained at the core of the collection. The works of Irishmen and women, especially the neglected Catholic writers, were of paramount interest to him, whether published in Ireland or the continent.

Scarce ephemeral items were collected throughout his life, and he assembled a large and varied collection. As a young man he began to collect Irish Almanacks, and in his lifetime he collected a very complete set. James Hardiman’s library provided him with a good set of rare almanacks of early date: Coats’ Almanacks, Butlers Advice from the Stars, Parker’s Ephemeris (1718), Rider’s Country Man’s Kalendar (1711), and Tom Tatler’s Astral Gazet. Watson’s Gentleman and Citizen’s Almanacks from 1729, and Wilson’s Dublin Directories from 1761, are present in a full set.

Contemporary single-sheet street ballads, poorly printed on bad paper relating to topical events of their day were amassed by Gilbert and bound into a large volume. These ballad slips give a good insight into the popular culture of nineteenth-century Dublin.[62] Small song books of the eighteenth century, published in Dublin, Cork and Newry, are rare and now very much sought after for their view of eighteenth-century Irish society. One of these, Paddy’s Resource, a book of patriotic songs of the United Irishmen, in its Dublin edition of 1798, reveals one of the ways in which the United Irishmen tried to popularise their ideals by the use of songs, sung to well-known tunes.[63] Gilbert’s bound volumes of eighteenth-century newspapers, dating from 1700 to the 1830s, provided him with much of the detailed information to be found in his writings. Some of these newspapers from the first three decades of the century are unique survivals.

Dublin craftsmanship, in the form of fine printing and fine bindings, forms another enduring strand of the collection. Gilbert’s interest in bibliography remained constant, he was aware of the importance of collecting Irish bindings representative of the finest work of the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Several of the Dublin bindings from his library have been used for exhibition, both in his lifetime and since. In 1895 the Arts and Crafts Society of Ireland was founded to encourage high standards of design. Two exhibitions were held in the Royal University buildings in Dublin, the first opened on 26 November 1895, and the second on 21 November 1899.[64] The main part of both exhibitions was devoted to modern arts and crafts, but there was a retrospective section, displaying high-quality items of workmanship from the past. The bookbinding section was directed by Sir Edward Sullivan, and in 1895 Gilbert was asked to loan some of his best examples to the exhibition. Included among the volumes lent were his beautiful copies of Milton’s Paradise Lost edited by John Hawkey, in fine eighteenth-century Dublin bindings.

The Duke of Ormonde was also approached to lend items for exhibition. Gilbert had acted in an advisory capacity to the Duke in selecting and purchasing books for the Ormonde library.[65] He also spent time at Kilkenny Castle ordering, transcribing, calendaring, preparing the Ormonde manuscripts for publication, and arranging for them to be bound. In 1877 Gilbert was entrusted with the safe-keeping of some of the Ormonde documents, and with responsibility for their safe return to Kilkenny Castle.[66] In September 1895 the Duke wrote to Gilbert in advance of the exhibition: “should you think it proper and could you spare them, and should you consider the guarantees for their safety sufficient, I think you might let Sir Edward have the loan of the volumes in your possession for Exhibition …”.[67]

Of the nearly 300 manuscripts in the library a good percentage are transcripts, carried out for Gilbert in the libraries of the British Museum, the Bodleian in Oxford, the Record Office in London, the University Library in Cambridge, the Royal Irish Academy, Royal Dublin Society and Trinity College in Dublin, and in some of the ‘great house’ libraries in Ireland. The unique manuscripts relate to the history and topography of Dublin (including 8 volumes of Monck Mason’s materials for a history of Dublin, and several relating to the Dublin guilds), and to Irish historical figures and events (such as the notebooks of Judge Christopher Robinson, 9 volumes of Apothegms of Revd. Thomas Sheridan, and R.R. Madden’s collection of Secret Service documents relating to the 1798 rebellion). There are few manuscripts in the Irish language, a fact which caused great disappointment to Douglas Hyde when he compiled the Catalogue.[68]

Many of the books in the library have one of Gilbert’s two distinctive bookplates, the Gilbert crest with the squirrel at the top, or the oval with the squirrel in the centre. Very many of the books contain evidence of former owners, retaining their bookplates, written signatures or notes on ownership by Gilbert. In 1874 Gilbert corresponded with Longman and Strongitharn, ‘Engravers to Her Majesty’, in Waterloo Place, London, about ordering a set of bookplates. They sent proofs on approval, and their cost was 6s. for 100 adhesive labels, or 5s. for non-adhesive labels, but it is nor clear if Gilbert placed an order with them.[69]

Sale of the Library.

When Gilbert died suddenly on 23 May 1898 the fate of his library was uncertain. There is no evidence to suggest that he had made provision for donating it to any of the institutions with which he was associated. The decision to offer it for sale, therefore, was left in the hands of his widow, Rosa Mulholland, Lady Gilbert. Writing to Dublin Corporation in 1899 she offered to sell it for £2,500 stating that “it was always the desire of her husband that the Municipality, if possible, should acquire his valuable library”.[70] She wished the library to be accorded pride of place in the public library system: “She had a strong desire to see Sir John’s collection placed in City Hall, or other Corporate building, for the use of the present and future generation of citizens”.[71] To encourage the Corporation to make a speedy decision she pointed out that “she is being pressed by many booksellers in London to sell the library at their rooms, great interest in the sale being expressed from many parts of Europe, and more especially from America”.[72]

The Finance and Leases’ Committee of Dublin Corporation, who were in charge of publishing the city muniments, requested the Public Libraries’ Committee of the Corporation to report whether the library was of “sufficient civic interest to entitle the Corporation to purchase it”.[73] T.W. Lyster, librarian of the National Library, and D.J. O’Donoghue, antiquarian bookseller, and later librarian of University College Dublin, and both members of the Public Libraries Committee, were asked to report. They visited the library, examined the typewritten catalogue and assessed it under three headings: the manuscripts, the printed books, the condition and bindings. Their opinion was that its purchase for the city by the Corporation was desirable.

“To sum up, the Collection, as a whole, represents half a century of devotion to books, careful selection, and most liberal expenditure on the part of a man supremely fitted for the task of gathering a valuable library relating to the history of Dublin and Ireland. In our opinion it will be a matter of deep regret if the opportunity of acquiring it be allowed by the Municipal Council to lapse”.[74]

The Finance and Leases’ Committee decided to accept the asking price of £2,500 for the library. On 27 February 1900 they recommended that the Municipal Council approve the purchase at that price, and that a loan be sought under the Public Libraries’ Act.[75] The Corporation itself was in favour of acquiring the collection “being of the opinion that every effort ought to be made to prevent so valuable a collection of books and manuscripts being scattered by public auction”.[76] Lyster and O’Donoghue considered that if the purchase should be approved that “Sir John Gilbert will in a sense have acted as the Librarian of the City of Dublin during many years of his studious life. During those years his knowledge and power of selection will have been at work on behalf of the City’s Library”.[77] It was hoped at the time to build a central reference library and municipal museum at Lord Edward Street which “would allow the Gilbert Collection to be fittingly housed and made available to the public”.[78] This proposed library was not built but the Gilbert Library was housed in the new library erected in Great Brunswick Street, later Pearse Street, which became library headquarters.[79]

The decision of Dublin Corporation to purchase the library shows their foresight in relation to the public libraries. The library of John T. Gilbert was one which fitted comfortably into their view of Ireland’s cultural independence. He was the historian of Dublin who, throughout his working life, showed the importance of the city by preserving, organising and making available through the published Calendars, the records relating to the city’s past. The Corporation intended the library to “form the nucleus of a distinctively Irish collection”.[80] The purchase was also approved by the newly-formed Library Association (Cumann na Leabharlann). When presenting the first issue of their journal, An Leabharlann, to the public libraries they acknowledged “the progressiveness, repeatedly shown by the Corporation of Dublin with respect to the Public Library movement generally, and of its spirited action in securing the Gilbert Library for the nation”.[81] Assessing the library in the Irish Book Lover the unnamed writer also praised the Corporation: “thanks to the munificence and public spirit of the Dublin Corporation, it remains intact in the city of his birth, an enduring memorial to his taste, energy and skill, and a mine of wealth to future students”.[82]

A catalogue of the Gilbert Library was commissioned by the Corporation and money approved for its compilation and publication, which was inserted in the estimates for 1902.  Dr Douglas Hyde, the Irish scholar, and later to be first president of Ireland, was chosen for the task. In this he was joined by D.J. O’Donoghue, who had already examined the library to assess its value for purchase. For several reasons, including the deficiency of the penny rate to provide adequately for the library service, and the shortage of men and materials due to the First World War, the Catalogue did not appear until 1918.[83] This Catalogue is highly valued in its own right as representing a fine Irish historical library and is very much in demand among scholars as a bibliographical resource.

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

[1] Rosa Mulholland Gilbert Life of Sir John T. Gilbert LLD, FSA, London, Longmans, Green & Co., 1905 (hereafter Gilbert Life), p.8.

[2] Complete Catholic Directory, Almanack and Registry, compiled by W.J. Battersby, Dublin, 1836-1848. Revd. A. Cogan The Diocese of Meath, Ancient and Modern, Vol. II, Dublin, Joseph Dollard, 1867, pp.291-293. Freeman’s Journal 7 Feb. 1844. NLI: Ms.G228 Copy of Keating’s Eochair-sgiath an Aifrinn, scribe: Eoin Ó Muirreadh (Revd. John Murray, P.P.), 1801. I am very grateful to Peter Folan, former librarian of the Dublin Diocesan Archive, for his help in the search for Fr Murray.

[3] Gilbert Life, pp.16-17.

[4] Gilbert Life, p.17.

[5] NLI: Ms.648 Gilbert Catalogue of Books c.1850. The date of 1848 is given in pencil in Gilbert’s writing inside the front cover, and additions to the catalogue are dated 1849.

[6] John Dunton, The Dublin Scuffle, London, printed for the Author, 1699.

[7] John T. Gilbert A History of the City of Dublin, 3 volumes, Dublin, McGlashan & Gill, 1854-59. ‘Irish Bibliography’, first paper read 22 June 1896, second paper read 14 June 1897, in Gilbert Life, Appendix, pp.437-442.

[8] James Ussher Britannicarum Eclesiarum Antiquitates, Dublinii, ex officina Typographica Societatis Bibliopolarum, 1639; Veterum Epistolarum Hibernicarum Sylloge, Dublinii, 1632. Sir James Ware De Praesulibus Lageniae sive Provinciae Dubliniensis, Dublinii, ex officina Societatis Bibliopolarum, 1628; Rerum Hibernicarum, Dublinii, John Crook, 1662; The Hunting of the Romish Fox, Dublin, by J. Ray for Will. Norman, 1683. Robert Ware Foxes and Firebrands, Dublin, by Jos. Ray for Jos. Howes, 1682.

[9] Richard Stanihurst De Vita S. Patricii Hiberniae Apostoli Liber II, Antverpiae, Christophorus Plantinus, 1587.

[10] Revd. Thomas Messingham Floregium Insulae Sanctorum sev Vitae et Acta Sanctorum Hiberniae, Parisiis, ex officina Sebastani Cramoisy, 1624. Revd. Bonaventure Baron The Life of the Glorious Bishop S. Patricke, Apostle and Primate of Ireland, St Omer, for John Heigham, 1625.

[11] Revd. Bonaventure Baron Panegyrici Sacra-Prophani, necnon Controversiae et Stratagemata, Lugduni, Joannes-Antonius Hugvetan et Marcus-Antonius Ravaud, 1656; Metra Miscellanea Epigrammatum, Coloniae Agrippinae, Johannes Busaeus, 1657; Metra Miscellanea, Romae, Ludovic Grignani, 1645.

[12] Dictionary of National Biography, ed. by Sir Stephen Leslie and Sir Sidney Lee, reprinted Oxford, Oxford University Press, 22 volumes, 1921-1922.

[13] Thomas Palmeranus Hibernicus Flores Omnium penè doctorum qui tum in Theologia tum in Philosophia Hactenus Clarrerunt, Lugduni, Theobaldus Paganus, 1567.

[14] Gilbert Life, p.18, letter from John Savage 20 March 1848.

[15] Don Philip O’Sullivan Beare Historiae Catholicae Iberniae Compendium, domino Philippo Austriaco IIII, Ulysippone excusum a Petro Crasbeeckio regio typographo, 1621. Marks of earlier ownership are present on this book, a bookplate of Charles de Bachi Marquis d’Aubaïs, and a stamped crest with the words Alsassiana Bibliotheca.

[16] Gilbert Life, p.17; pp.21-22.

[17] Don Philip O’Sullivan Beare Historiae Catholicae Iberniae Compendium … edidit notulisque ac indicibus illustravit Matthaeus Kelly, Dublinii, apud Johannem O’Daly, 1850.

[18] Wilson’s Dublin Directories 1820-1852. Collection of catalogues in the Royal Irish Academy 1820-1851 (Fr.C/cats).

[19] Pettigrew & Oulton The Dublin Directory 1841-1846. Thom’s Irish Almanac and Official Directories 1847-1880. Collection of catalogues in the Dublin Corporation Public Libraries Dublin & Irish Collections (DCPL) 1840-1877.

[20] Bibliotheca Putlandia, Catalogue of the Extensive and Valuable Library of George Putland Esq., deceased, the entire Collection having been formed from 1749 up to about 1816, Dublin, Charles Sharpe, 19 July 1847 (RIA).

[21] The titles include Sir William Petty’s Political Survey of Ireland (1715), Marcus Hieronymus Vida’s Albae Episcopi (1701), two volumes of Luke Lively’s The Merry Fellow (1756-57), three volumes of Mrs Pilkington’s Memoirs (1748, 1754), A Collection of Acts and Statutes (1702), Boethius’ Consolationis Philosophiae (1671), Pervigilium Veneris (1712), Mendico-Hymen [and 8 other separately-printed long poems, bound together], (1730 &c.) and The Gentleman Instructed (1723).

[22] Catalogue of the Law and Miscellaneous Library of the late Daniel O’Connell Esq., M.P., Dublin, John Fleming Jones, 22 May 1849 (DCPL).

[23] Peter Gale, An Enquiry into the Ancient Corporate System of Ireland, London, Richard Bentley, 1834. Revd. George Oliver, Collections Towards Illustrating the Biography of Scotch, English and Irish Members, Exeter, W.C. Featherstone, 1838. Valor Beneficiorum Ecclesiasticorum in Hibernia, Dublin, for Edward Exshaw, 1741.

[24] Catalogue of the Valuable Library of the late Dr R.R. Madden, to be sold by auction on Monday, 6 December 1886, by Messrs Bennett and Son, 6 Upper Ormond Quay, Dublin.

[25] RIA: Ms.12 R 8 Catalogue of the Important, Extensive and Valuable Library of a deceased Nobleman, of great Literary and Artistic Taste, 11 August 1865, 27 September 1865. Lord Charlemont was a founder member of the Royal Irish Academy and its president from 1785 until his death in 1799. He was also a member of the Dublin Society and the Dublin Library Society, as well as Fellow of the Royal Society and Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries in London.

[26] Tony Sweeney ‘Compiling an Irish Bibliography: the highs and lows’, lecture to the Rare Books Group (Library Association of Ireland), 27 May 1998.

[27] Catalogue of the Library at Lough Fea, in Illustration of the History and Antiquities of Ireland, London, privately printed at Chiswick Press, 1872. Only 100 copies were printed.

[28] Gilbert Life, pp.308-9, letter from Gilbert to Revd. Dr Reeves, 12 Apr. 1884.

[29] Gilbert Life, pp.241-2, letter from Gilbert to D.F. MacCarthy, 15 July 1877.

[30] Gilbert Life, pp.260-1, letter from D.F. MacCarthy to Gilbert, 18 July 1877.

[31] Gilbert Life, pp.226-7, letter from D.F. MacCarthy to Gilbert, 26 Jan. 1878.

[32] RIA: Ms.12 O 20, letters from Revd. P.S. Dunne to Gilbert, 4 Aug. 1877, 27 Aug. 1877, 21 Feb. 1878. Gilbert Life, pp.226-7.

[33] Gilbert Life, pp.298-9, letter from Richard O’Flynn to Gilbert, 1880.

[34] The Archaeological Society was founded in 1840, the Celtic Society in 1845, they were amalgamated in 1855 as the Irish Archaeological and Celtic Society. Some publications date to before the amalgamation and were attributed to one of the societies only. Gilbert was secretary of the Celtic Society, and became joint-secretary, with James Henthorn Todd, of the new society.

[35] NLI: Ms.1599 Letter Book of J.T. Gilbert, f.3 to Quaritch, ff.41-43 to Trübner & Co., f.59 to Asher & Co. NLI: Ms.10,722 Fifty Letters to J.T. Gilbert, letters from Quaritch 3 Dec. 1859, July 1862, Oct. 1862, 6 July 1863, 26 Oct. 1863, 24 Dec. 1863; letter from Asher & Co. 9 Mar. 1889. RIA: Ms.12 O 20, letter from Quaritch 15 Dec. 1877.

[36] For example Thomas Carve’s Itinerarium was published in a limited edition of 100 copies by Quaritch in 1859, Revd. Frederick George Lee’s Glossary of Liturgical Terms in 1877, and Select Pleas of the Crown 1200-1225 was printed by Quaritch for the Selden Society in 1888. Trübner & Co. printed Peter Levins’ Manipulus Vocabulorum of 1570, for the Early English Text Society in 1867, and Henry O’Neill’s Sculptured Crosses of Ancient Ireland in 1857 and his Ireland for the Irish in 1868. Asher & Co. published Alexander J. Ellis’ Only English Proclamation of Henry III (1258), a reprint from the Philological Society’s Transactions in 1868.

[37] NLI: Ms.10,722 Fifty Letters to J.T. Gilbert, letter from Ellis & Elvey, n.d. NLI: Ms.8261 (1), letter from Heylin 18 July 1855. RIA: Ms.12 O 20, letter from Stevens 19 Nov. 1881; from Gill 25 Nov. 1881; from Traynor 14 May 1887; from Puttick & Simpson 14 July 1889.

[38] RIA: Ms.12 O 19,  John T. Gilbert, Collection of transcripts of manuscripts, copies of title pages and correspondence. RIA: Ms.12 O 20, John T. Gilbert, Letters, notes, papers and extracts. RIA: Ms.23 L 58, Collection of letters to and from Gilbert. NLI: Ms.10,722 Fifty Letters to J.T. Gilbert. NLI: Ms.1599 Letter Book of John T. Gilbert. NLI: Ms.8261 (1) 38 letters to Gilbert 1853-59. NLI: Ms.8261 (2), 21 letters to Gilbert 1863-1879. NLI: Ms.811, John T. Gilbert, Historical Manuscripts Commission Ireland Letter Book. NLI: Ms.5929, Autograph letters of John T. Gilbert.

[39] RIA: Ms.12 O 20, letter from Quaritch 14 June 1877, saying that he was forwarding books telegraphed for by Gilbert and would send his new publication Paleographia di Montecasino on approval.

[40] RIA: Ms.12 O 20, letter from William George 5 Aug. 1880.

[41] RIA: Ms.12 O 20, letter from Miss Millard 2 Dec. 1889.

[42] RIA Ms.12 O 20, letter from Bernard Quaritch 14 June 1877.

[43] RIA Ms.12 O 20, letter from Bernard Quaritch 20 Jan. 1882.

[44] RIA Ms.12 O 20, letters from J.W. Sage 17 Nov. 1863; 19 Nov. 1863.

[45] RIA Ms.12 O 20, letter from J.W. Sage 5 Dec. 1863.

[46] RIA Ms.12 O 20, letter from J.W. Sage 8 Dec. 1863.

[47] RIA Ms. 12 O 20, letter from Barthés & Lowell 30 Nov. 1863.

[48] NLI: Ms.8261 (2), letter from James Bain Feb. 1873.

[49] RIA MS.12 O 20, letters from Clement S. Palmer 9 June 1877; from C. Herbert 24 Nov. 1877; from Sotheby, Wilkinson & Hodge 4 Apr. 1881; 22 Dec. 1881;  from Edward Daniell 18 June 1881. Invoice head for Matthews and Brooks in the Gilbert Library.

[50] RIA: Ms.12 O 20, receipt from William Bernard Kelly 8 June 1877.

[51] Gilbert Life, p.200.

[52] RIA: Ms.12 O 20, letter from Francis Prendergast 16 Feb. 1870.

[53] RIA: Ms.23 L 58 (1), letter 141, 19 June 1877.

[54] RIA: Ms.12 O 20, letter from Evelyn Shirley 21 Aug. 1881.

[55] RIA: Ms.12 O 20, letter from Blayney Balfour 16 Nov. 1889.

[56] RIA: Ms.12 O 20, letter from the Earl of Fingall 15 Apr. 1897.

[57] NLI: Ms.648 Gilbert Catalogue of Books. William Robert Wilde The Closing Years of Dean Swift’s Life, Dublin, 1849.

[58] Henri D’Arbois de Jubainville Les Premiers Habitants de l’Europe, Paris, Ernest Thorin, 1889.

[59] RIA: Ms.12 O 20, letters from the Trustees of the British Museum 6 Dec. 1877; 12 Aug. 1882.

[60] Catalogue of the Books and Manuscripts Comprising the Library of the late Sir John T. Gilbert, LL.D., F.S.A., M.R.I.A., compiled by Douglas Hyde & D.J. O’Donoghue, Dublin, Browne and Nolan, 1918 (hereafter Gilbert Catalogue), p.1.

[61] Gilbert Life, p.367.

[62] Ballads include The Emigrant’s Farewell to Ireland, The Fenian’s Welcome to Ireland, Johney I Hardly Knew Ye, Lines Written on the Most Dreadful Fire that Broke out in Chicago in America, A Much Admired Song entitled Lannigan’s Ball, Murphy the Blighted Potatoe, A New Song Simpathising with the Fenian Exiles, A New Song on Garibaldi’s Arrest in Attempting to enter Rome, The Sorrowful Lamentation of the Ship Eliza bound from Belfast to Queebeck laden with 200 Passengers, The Velocipede.

[63] First published in Belfast in 1795, and reprinted in 1796, it was also published in Philadelphia in 1796 and New York in 1798. The Dublin edition of 1798 is expanded to include a song on the death of Lord Edward Fitzgerald and the Wake of William Orr.

[64] Freeman’s Journal 26 Nov. 1895; 27 Nov. 1895; 21 Nov. 1899.

[65] RIA: Ms.12 O 20, letter from the Duke of Ormonde 22 June 1888.

[66] Gilbert, Life, p.245.

[67] RIA Ms.12 O 20, letter from the Duke of Ormonde 25 Sept. 1895

[68] Gilbert Catalogue, p.xiv.

[69] RIA: Ms.23 L 58 (1), letters from Longman and Strongitharn letter 125, 26 Oct. 1874; letter 129, 30 Nov. 1874.

[70] Dublin Municipal Council Reports (hereafter Reports), 1899, no.74, p.425.

[71] Reports, 1899, no.74, p.426.

[72] Reports, 1899, no.74, pp.425-6.

[73] Dublin Municipal Council Minutes (hereafter Minutes), 11 June 1900, p.306.

[74] Reports, 1900, no.32, p.395.

[75] Reports, 1900, no.32, p.400.

[76] Reports, 1899, no.74, p.425.

[77] Minutes, 11 June 1900, p.310.

[78] Reports, 1900, no.207, p.705.

[79] Máire Kennedy “Plans for a Central Reference Library for Dublin 1883-1946”, An Leabharlann, 2nd ser., Vol. 7, no.4, 1991, pp.113-125.

[80] Reports, 1903, no.64, p.197.

[81] An Leabharlann, Vol 1, no.2, June 1905, p.189.

[82] “Great Irish Book Collectors: Sir John T. Gilbert”, Irish Book Lover, Vol. 10, 1918-19, pp.56-57.

[83] Máire Kennedy “Douglas Hyde and the catalogue of the Gilbert Library”, Long Room, no.35, 1990, pp.16-27.

The Abecedarian Society: Dublin 1789.

As part of my research for a Ph.D. on the French language book trade, and readership of French books in Ireland in the eighteenth century, I tabulated the schools and teachers known to have taught French. When following the career of one of these teachers, Charles Praval, whose wife, Catherine, ran a French boarding school at Platanus, Donnybrook Road, I came across the Abecedarian Society. The society proved to be of great interest because I noticed that several prominent Dublin teachers were members, including Mrs Praval, and later, Charles Praval’s daughter, Eliza. Following its progress through various name changes in Watson’s Gentleman’s and citizen’s almanack and later in Thom’s Dublin directories, it became clear that the society was very long-lived. I contacted the Register of Friendly Societies, who informed me that the Literary Teachers Society was still in existence, and had its address at Sandford Park School, Dublin. The ledgers connected with the early years of the society are held at the school. Ledger 2 is the earliest extant, so the first has probably been lost over the years. Ledger 2, however, deals with the setting up of the society and gives a long list of its first members. The value of these records from the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries is immense for historians, educationalists, genealogists, and other interested persons.

History of the Society.


On 26 March 1789 a group of teachers, clergy, booksellers and other interested persons instituted a new society. It was the first of its kind ‘for raising a Fund for the Relief of distressed School Masters, School Mistresses and their families’ called originally the Abecedarian Society, but later renamed the Society for the Relief of Reduced Literary Teachers. Its originator was John McCrea, principal of the Academy in Fade Street, Dublin, ‘who was the steady furtherer of the society’, remaining its ‘unalterable Friend and Parental Guardian’.[1] He became the society’s first secretary. The society issued a printed notice with a pamphlet setting out its resolutions, signed by its first president, Samuel Whyte.[2] Each year, on 26 March, a general meeting of subscribers was held, at which the officers and committee were elected for the coming year. An anniversary dinner was held for the membership ‘at their own private expense; not out of the fund of the society’.[3]

The society held its regular meetings at the Royal Exchange on alternate Saturday and Thursday evenings from 7 to 10 pm, to accommodate country as well as city members.[4] In 1799 it was incorporated by an Act of Parliament and received its definitive name: the Literary Teachers Society, which it has retained to the present day. The establishment of the society pointed to a concern for the profession in general which sought to take care of its more needy members, a society which has lasted for over 200 years. The plight of reduced school masters and mistresses in the eighteenth century is known because of their literate status and their consequent appeals for help in the newspapers. The society was initiated at a time when the death or illness of a breadwinner meant destitution for a family. Teachers were in a vulnerable position in this regard, especially those in subordinate situations. The entry for the society in Watson’s Almanack of 1791 is quite specific on this point and informs us that it ‘not only includes distressed Schoolmasters who have been in a reputable situation, their Widows and Children, private Teachers and Ushers as objects of relief, but also extends to Mistresses of Boarding schools, Tutoresses and Governesses in private Families’.[5] These women teachers in lowly situations were among the most vulnerable in the educational system of the time.

Any person applying for admission to the society had to be recommended by two members and their application voted on, an applicant was required to have at three years experience as an established teacher.[6] Membership of the society included such celebrated teachers as Samuel Whyte, its president, principal of the Grammar School in Grafton Street; Sisson P. Darling, who ran an academy at Mabbot Street and later at the North Strand; Mrs Catherine Praval, who ran a French boarding school at Platanus, Donnybrook Road; David Bates, who ran the Nautical Academy in Chequer Lane; John Coyne, Principal of St Wolstan’s Academy in Glasnevin; Elias M. Draffin, who ran the Académie Françoise; Rev. John Moore, who had a boarding school in Donnybrook; Rev. Thomas Willis who had a famous school at Portarlington and Francis Amyot, King’s Professor and teacher of modern languages at Trinity College, Dublin.


Several well-known figures of late eighteenth-century Dublin were honorary, non-professional members: Rev. James Whitelaw (1789), one of the three authors of the two volume History of Dublin, published in 1818, and author of a treatise on the population of Dublin (1805); Arthur Guinness Jun. Esq. (1789); Joseph Cooper Walker Esq. (1790), the antiquarian scholar; Luke White Esq. (1790), a bookseller with a profitable international trade and later owner of Luttrellstown House; Alexander Jaffray Esq. (1792), a prominent merchant in Dublin; Peter La Touche Esq. (1794), of Bellevue, Co. Wicklow, of the famous banking family, and Rev. John Thomas Troy D.D. (1794), Catholic archbishop of Dublin.


The original membership fees were 11s.4½d. or a half-guinea, paid twice a year on the first Monday of March, June, September, or December, as the subscription fell due, or 10 guineas for life membership. Professional and honorary members paid at the same rate. When the society’s funds were sufficient, relief not exceeding one guinea per week could be paid to a member or his/her family who were in distress. When a member died, a sum not exceeding £10 could be given towards the funeral expenses. While no member could benefit from the fund unless they had subscribed for at least three years, discretion could be applied: ‘unforeseen accidents and infirmity excepted.’[7] The society received no aid from government nor grant from parliament, and was supported entirely from membership fees.[8] In 1818, when Warburton, Whitelaw and Walsh’s History of Dublin was published, they noted that the society’s fund amounted to £2,780 vested in government stock, from which three pensioners were in receipt of 16s.3d.; 10s.; and 7s.6d. per week.

From an examination of the membership of the society it would seem that only the more prominent teachers were members. Perhaps the payment of one guinea a year was more than some could afford, even to guard against penury in sickness and old age. The Dublin society was the first such society to be established; the Literary Teachers Society in London was established several years later. It was an innovative and imaginative enterprise, based on a solid financial model. No payments were made until a sufficient sum was accumulated, and funds were invested in secure government stock. The fund was never used for the entertainment of officers or society members. Women were admitted from the beginning and their status within the society was equal to that of their male colleagues.

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

[1] Sandford Park School, Dublin: Abecedarian Society Ledger 2.

[2] Dublin City Library and Archive: Abecedarian Society, instituted Thursday, March 26th, 1789 (Dublin, 1789). Abecedarian Society: Society Room, Royal Exchange, Saturday, November 14, 1789 (Dublin, 1789), ESTC T228595.

[3] Abecedarian Society, resolution 3, p. 2.

[4] Abecedarian Society, resolution 15, p. 5. Dublin Chronicle, 10 May 1791.

[5] Watson’s Gentleman’s and citizen’s almanack 1791-1800, sub Abecedarian Society, Society for the Relief of Reduced Literary Teachers, or Literary Teachers Society. Abecedarian Society, resolution 12, p. 4.

[6] Abecedarian Society, resolutions 7 and 8, p. 3.

[7] Abecedarian Society, resolution 10, p. 4.

[8] J. Warburton, J. Whitelaw, and Robert Walsh, History of the city of Dublin from the earliest accounts to the present time, 2 volumes (London, 1818), pp 884-5.

Charles Praval: eighteenth-century French teacher in Dublin.

French language and culture formed an essential component of civilised life in eighteenth-century Ireland. Cultivated men and women, irrespective of religious or political allegiance, displayed an awareness of French fashions and cultural trends. From the early years of the century French was taught in private schools in Ireland and in families by tutors and governesses. By the last quarter of the eighteenth century an education which included French was within the range of the sons and daughters of middle income families in Dublin and in the provincial cities and towns. In 1775-6 French was introduced, with German, Italian and Spanish, as an optional extra subject at Trinity College Dublin.

The Huguenot diaspora coincided with the desire of an increasing number of members of the higher socio-economic levels in Irish society to learn to read, write and speak French for social and scholarly purposes. The Huguenot emigrants who came to Ireland and England without skills, or with skills which were not in demand, were able to teach French until a more favourable situation presented itself. The first French schools in the Huguenot community in Portarlington were run by ex-soldiers and tradesmen, who were natives of France and therefore felt qualified to teach the language. Of most interest, however, are the men and women who taught French as a full-time career, some of whom wrote textbooks for their students and for the wider market. Many opened French schools, but the majority, perhaps lacking the capital, were employed as French teachers in general schools, some dividing their time between several schools, or teaching private students in their homes in addition to teaching in a school. Not all taught in schools, some French teachers became resident governesses or tutors with a family, or visited at appointed hours for lessons.

Charles Praval seems to typify the successful and energetic professional French teacher in the last quarter of the eighteenth century. Diversity was the key to a successful career. Clearly being in the right place at the right time with the right skills was a decided advantage. His career combines several elements of the teaching life; there was hardly an aspect of French language education in which he was not involved. Praval lived and worked in Dublin during the period 1773 to 1789. In his advertisements he describes himself as a Frenchman and claims to have a perfect knowledge of the English and Latin languages.

Strickland refers to him as a French artist and landscape draftsman who came to Dublin in 1773.[1] He exhibited three drawings at the Society of Artists Exhibition Rooms in William Street, one of which was an Indian fortification in New Zealand, another an arched rock in New Holland (Australia). In the catalogue to the exhibition he describes himself as ‘late draftsman to Mr Banks during his expedition around the world’.[2] Sir Joseph Banks’ expedition was the voyage of the Endeavour, commanded by Captain James Cook. Undertaken from 1768 to 1771, the Endeavour circumnavigated the world, exploring islands in the Pacific, ascertaining that New Zealand formed two islands, and discovering the eastern portion of Australia, New South Wales, and the infamous Botany Bay, named because of the amount of botanical specimens gathered there. Praval joined the expedition in 1770 at Batavia (now Jakarta) in the Dutch East Indies when two of the artists aboard the Endeavour fell ill and died. He made the six-month return journey to England as a supernumerary.[3] Sir Joseph’s chief draughtsman, Sydney Parkinson’s account of the voyage was published in London in 1773.[4]

In 1773 Praval taught French and drawing at the Dublin Academy in Abbey Street. In February 1774 he moved from the Dublin Academy to Mr Egan’s, opposite the White-Hart Inn, Phrapper Lane, where he advertised the French Evening School ‘the only one of its kind in this city’.[5] In an advertisement for his school text, The rudiments of the French tongue, just published in March 1775, Praval’s address is given as 10 Bull Lane.[6] He is first listed in Wilson’s Dublin directory as a teacher of the French language in 1776 at Great Strand Street, then at 5 White Friar Street from 1777 to 1785; this corresponds with his most active period both as a teacher and author. In 1786-7 his address is at George’s Court and finally, from 1788 until his death in June 1789, at Platanus, Donnybrook Road.[7] He seems to have had no involvement with Trinity College although The syntax of the French language (1779) is dedicated to the ‘Right Hon. the Provost and Fellows of Trinity College Dublin’.[8] This dedication occurs just four years after the foundation of the first professorships of modern languages at Trinity College, so perhaps he cherished some hopes of appointment.

The idea of a French evening school is an interesting one and apparently an innovation in Dublin at the period. It was open every evening from 5 until 9 pm and French was the only language spoken during school hours. The evening school was for young gentlemen who were not free to attend during the day either because they were working, were apprentices, or because they attended schools which did not teach French. The evening school, teaching French after hours, must have attracted sufficient interest as Praval continued with it until at least 1787, when he taught three evenings a week, on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday at his lecture room in George’s Court, Great George’s Street.[9]

While he claimed the French evening school to be the first of its kind in the city it was soon followed by others in Dublin and other towns and cities. Mr Walenbergh, who arrived in Dublin ‘from abroad’ in January 1776, taught French and Italian from 7 until 8 pm at his lodgings in Capel Street, in addition to teaching ladies and gentlemen in their homes.[10] In 1798 Robert Lowther of the Royal Military and Marine Academy in Summerhill, Dublin, offered ‘private tuition in appartments separate from the Public School, or in the evening’ to young gentlemen ‘who are engaged in business, and wish to improve themselves in the Classics, French or English languages, Arithmetic, Book-keeping, or any branch of Science, preparatory to the University, Army, Navy or East India Company’.[11] Evening classes were not only confined to the metropolis, but took place in the provincial cities and towns. At Mawhinney’s Latin and French school in Pottinger’s Entry, Belfast, an extra class was organised from 7 until 9 pm ‘for the convenience of those who cannot attend his other Classes at an earlier part of the day’, commencing on 19 October 1789.[12] In Cork in the early years of the nineteenth century, Dominick Jacotin carried on his evening academy from 6 until 8 pm in Patrick Street, where he taught French and Italian.[13] Praval appears to have been one of the first teachers to see the potential of an evening academy in the context of French for those who wanted extra tuition, or for those hoping to improve themselves in order to get a better situation.

For those French teachers who had the capital, directing a boarding school often seems to have been the ultimate career aim. Several started their careers teaching in student’s houses or in schools and as soon as the opportunity arose they moved to a house large enough to accommodate boarders and set up a school. In several instances husband and wife teams were involved in the running of these schools. Rev Thomas Willis’ celebrated school in Portarlington was run by Mr and Mrs Willis in 1784.[14] At White’s Old Merrion Lodge Academy, Dublin, Mr White ran the school for young gentlemen while Mrs White took care of the boys under six years old.[15] In 1798 Mrs Gautier ran a boarding school for young ladies at James’s Street, Dublin, while Mr Gautier ‘taught in respectable schools’.[16] On 1 July 1785, twelve years after his move to Dublin, Charles Praval took a lease for 63 years on the house and two-acre demesne of Platanus, on the road leading to Donnybrook, now Upper Leeson Street, at £100 per year, to be paid quarterly.[17] He prepared the four-storey house as a boarding school for twenty young ladies. The school was opened on 1 September 1785 and was under the care of his wife, Catherine Praval, while he continued with his evening school in George’s Court.[18] The Pravals must have made a success of the boarding school as there is evidence for its continued existence after Praval’s death until at least 1811 under the direction of his wife, and his daughter, Eliza.[19]


Praval promised that his students would learn French in a very short time by taking advantage of his method of teaching. For those who were already instructed in the principles of the language he offered that they would ‘speedily acquire Facility in Speaking and Elegancy in Discourse’. Indeed he was ready to compare students who had attended his lessons for four or five months with students who attended a private master for nine months. He felt that ‘this assertion would appear pompous, if Praval had any other way to recommend himself to Publick Favour, than by proving thus the Solidity of his Establishment’.[20] Praval’s method of teaching French involved the constant use of the French language during school hours. He believed that ‘this continual Practice, united to the Lessons of the Master, is the true means of enabling his Pupils to speak in shorter Time than they possibly could do under the care of a private Master’.[21] By this method he claimed that some of his pupils learned to speak, read and write French in six months. French was the language spoken during school hours at his evening academy, and at the boarding school at Platanus French was the language of the house.[22]

Many schools emphasised that they taught French grammatically and while this was very necessary it was also desirable that the spoken language should be taught. In the schools where French formed a major component of the curriculum, as distinct from schools where French was taught as an extra, it was frequently the case that French was the language in everyday use. Peter Chartier had a French school for gentlemen boarders at his home in Waterford from about 1774 to 1788. His students were given the opportunity of conversing with the family in French.[23] At Carey’s Classical School in Dorset Street, Dublin, French was spoken by the boarders at meals and at playtime.[24]

In addition to running his own evening academy and teaching at their French school at Platanus, Charles Praval was willing to take private students. This seems an excessive workload until the careers of other teachers are examined and it can be seen that certain teachers spread their talents very widely indeed. In terms of energy and diversity Praval is rivalled by Mr Lefebure in Cork in the 1790s. Lefebrure is first encountered in July 1789 when he was in charge of the French department at the Munster Academy, at 13 Grand Parade. In February 1792 he was employed as a French master at Mr Knowles’ Cork Academy of Languages in George’s Street.[25] In September of the same year Mr Lefebrure ‘at the particular request of his Friends’ opened an academy at his own house in George’s Street. It was called the Mercantile School and Academy of Languages and here he taught French while employing masters to teach Latin, Greek, English, Geography, Arithmetic and Mathematics. He stated that his private tuition was attended as usual.[26] In January 1793 Lefebure and his son taught French at Mrs Menzies’ boarding school, Cittadella, on the Blackrock Road. Mrs Menzies felt that ‘the Teachers attending that School require only to be named, to point out their excellence’. Even taking a little exaggeration into account for publicity, the Lefebures must have been highly thought of.[27] On 21 January 1794 Mr Lefebure’s own academy moved from George’s Street to Summerstown on the Kinsale Road, one mile from the city, where he accommodated twenty boarders. Mr Lefebure and his son continued with their private tuition in town.[28] Lefebure’s academy was still listed in Nixon’s Cork Almanack in 1798 at the Lough, although Mr Lefebure senior had died of apoplexy in 1797.[29]

Peter Chartier also showed a particular zeal for teaching in the 1770s and 1780s. In 1769 he taught French in Barrack Street, Limerick. He next appears in Waterford; he ran a boarding school for young gentlemen in his own house from about 1774, where he taught French and where French was the language of the house.[30] He was the French teacher at Mrs Long’s school in Waterford in 1777. Chartier is still listed as a French teacher in Goosegate Lane, Waterford in Lucas’ General Directory of 1788.[31] Plumb has identified a similar trend in England, displaying energy and diversity among teachers. He cites John Richardson who ran a school in Paradise Square, Sheffield, while his wife ran a girl’s school. Richardson operated a circulating library, conducted evening classes and a free Sunday school. He also draws attention to a dancing teacher and his sons who taught in 19 schools in East Anglia in 1784.[32]


Praval’s teaching was supplemented both financially and intellectually by the production of language learning texts and readers for his students and for the general market. In this endeavour he formed a working partnership with William and Henry Whitestone, printers and booksellers at 33 Skinner Row and 29 Capel Street, Dublin. The Whitestones published several books of French interest, such as La Bruyère’s Characters in an English translation in 1776 and in French in 1778, and the French textbooks of John Perrin. Praval’s first text, The rudiments of the French tongue was issued by them in 1775, followed by a second edition in 1779, The syntax of the French tongue in 1779 and The idioms of the French language in 1783.[33] (33)

The grammar books were well received and went into several subsequent editions around the country. The rudiments of the French tongue came out in a third edition, printed by George Burnett in 1802, and in a fourth edition, printed in Cork in 1809.[34] The syntax of the French tongue was reprinted in Dublin in 1802 and 1804 by George Burnett and his successor, Richard Burnet.[35] The idioms of the French language was reprinted in Dublin by George Burnett in 1794, and by William Porter in 1803 and 1810; it was reprinted in Cork by Anthony Edwards and Michael Harris in 1795.[36] In 1825 and 1833 respectively The idioms of the French language was ‘revised and augmented’ and The rudiments and syntax of the French language ‘improved and considerably enlarged’ by Adelbert Doisy, a teacher at the Belfast Academical Institution.[37] Two more textbooks by Praval are listed in the General catalogue of books 1791, French exercises (1770) and French grammar (n.d.), but no copies seem to be extant. Both were published in Dublin in duodecimo format at 3s.3d. and 2s.2d. respectively.[38] However, the date of 1770 for the publication of French exercises is puzzling as there is no evidence that Praval was in Dublin prior to 1773.


For his more advanced students Praval issued a monthly periodical, the Magazin à la mode, in 1777-8, and in 1780 compiled a collection of extracts from the writings of ‘Voltaire, Racine, Corneille, Crébillon, Rousseau et autre auteurs célébres’, Le Parnasse François, for which he wrote an introductory treatise on French poetry.[39] Both were published by the Whitestones. The publication of the Magazin à la mode, issued between May 1777 and April 1778, was significant from a teaching point of view. Written entirely in French it claimed that ‘les personnes qui apprennent le François trouveront une source inépuisable d’instruction, & celles qui le savent y verront avec plaisir un receuil choisi de sujets intéressants’.[40] The Magazin was advertised in the Hibernian Journal and the Waterford Chronicle in May 1777 to tie in with the publication of the first issue.[41] It was distributed throughout Ireland to subscribers and to bookshops for general sale.[42] Praval included reviews and extracts from newly published books in the Magazin. In the issue of July 1777 he reviewed James Cook’s Voyage vers le pole du sud et autour du monde 1772-5, a book that must have been of particular interest to him in the light of his own participation in the earlier voyage, from 1768 to 1771.

Clearly there was a market for French language textbooks and in this endeavour as in his many others Praval epitomised the successful French teacher. From the early years of the century French teachers produced their own textbooks. The textbooks and readers for the use of their students served as an arena where the teachers could parade their own skills and also supplement their income. A number of teachers ‘improved’ the texts in new editions of best-sellers. John Astruc, a teacher of French in Grafton Street and Glover’s Alley, Dublin, from 1762 to 1783, ‘corrected and greatly improved’ Nugent’s French and English dictionary. It was published in Dublin as Astruc’s French and English dictionary by James Williams in 1770 in duodecimo format at 3s.3d., and by Thomas Ewing in 1774 at the same price. Porny’s Grammatical exercises in English and French was ‘considerably improved’ in its seventh edition by William C. Leech, a teacher of French in Dorset Street; it was printed in Dublin for Patrick Wogan in 1794.

Charles Praval lived a busy life teaching, running two schools, taking private pupils and writing textbooks. Not all teachers were so energetic or so fortunate in their endeavours. On 26 March 1789 a group of teachers, clergy, booksellers and other interested persons instituted a new society, the first of its kind ‘for raising a Fund for the Relief of Distressed School Masters, School Mistresses and their families’ called originally the Abecedarian Society, but later renamed the Society for the Relief of Reduced Literary Teachers. The Society met on the first and third Thursday of every month at the Royal Exchange.[43] In 1799 the Society was incorporated by an Act of Parliament and received its definitive name: the Literary Teacher’s Society, which it has retained to the present day. Among the earliest members of the society was Eliza, Praval’s daughter.[44] On the committee of the society were such celebrated teachers as John McCrea (its founder), Samuel Whyte, Sisson P. Darling, David Bates, John Coyne, John Farrell, John Dumoulin, Elias M. Draffin, Revd. John Moore, Revd. James Whitelaw, Revd. Thomas Willis of Portarlington and Francis Amyot, King’s Professor and teacher of modern languages at Trinity College, Dublin.[45] A number of prominent Dublin booksellers had places on the committee, they included William Gilbert, William Sleator, Luke White and Robert Marchbank.

Members of the society paid one guinea per annum and when the funds were sufficient relief not exceeding one guinea per week could be paid to a member or his/her family who were in distress. When a member died, a sum not exceeding £10 could be given towards the funeral expenses. The society received no aid from government nor grant from parliament, and was supported entirely from membership fees.[46] From an examination of the membership of the society it would seem that only the more prominent teachers were members. Perhaps the payment of one guinea a year was more than some could afford, even to guard against penury in sickness and old age.

The career of Charles Praval affords us a considerable insight into the working lives of the teachers of French in Ireland in the eighteenth century. A number of elements stand out as being progressive in the field of education, notably the provision of evening classes for those who were unable to attend school during the day and who wished to improve themselves. The existence of evening classes conducted by Praval and by teachers in Dublin and in other parts of the country signifies a desire on the part of parents that their children receive tuition in French even if the schools that they were attending did not provide it. Evening classes also offered an opportunity to those who had completed their schooling to learn and perfect the language. The emphasis on the oral method of language learning was a feature of the better schools. It is significant that teachers particularly advertised the fact that students would have an opportunity to speak French in normal everyday situations, in the playground, at meals etc., either with a native of France or with a person who had resided in France. This indicates that school French was not intended for reading only, but for conversation as well.

The provision of a French language periodical containing extracts from the latest French publications was an especially significant innovation. It went farther than a textbook or reader, and sought to encourage an advanced appreciation of the language and literature among learners. A market clearly existed for such a periodical as it was widely distributed by booksellers around the country. Diversity was the key to a successful career, combining private and school teaching and producing textbooks for the teacher’s own students and for the wider market. Elements of the teaching life were consistent in Dublin and in the provincial towns, although it is likely that there was more opportunity for teachers in the capital. The diversity of activities apparent among Irish teachers of French is paralleled by their counterparts in provincial England.

Eliza Praval’s involvement with the Literary Teacher’s Society pointed to a concern for the profession in general which sought to take care of its more needy members; a society which has lasted for over 200 years. The plight of reduced school masters and mistresses is known because of their literate status and their consequent appeals for help in the newspapers. The society was initiated at a time when the death or illness of a breadwinner meant destitution for a family. Teachers were in a vulnerable position in this regard, especially those in subordinate situations who owned no property. The Pravals were in a better financial position than most, with a boarding school in Donnybrook, yet they thought it prudent to subscribe to the society. After Charles Praval’s demise, his wife and daughter were able to continue to direct the boarding school for more than another two decades.

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

This article was first published in Dublin Historical Record, LII, no.2 (Autumn 1999), pp 126-37.

[1] Walter G. Strickland, A dictionary of Irish artists, 2 volumes (Dublin and London, Maunsel and Co, 1913), ii, pp 260-1.

[2] Society of Artists in Ireland index of exhibits, 1765-80, compiled by George Breeze (Dublin, National Gallery of Ireland, 1985), p.23.

[3] I am very grateful to Julie Ann Godson for the reference to Charles Pravel in the Hakluyt Society archive, which she discovered during her research for The Water Gypsy: how a Thames fishergirl became a viscountess (FeedARead.com, 2014, new edition 2016).

[4] Sydney Parkinson, Journal of a voyage to the South Seas in HMS Endeavour (London, 1773; facsimile reprint London, Caliban Books, 1984).

[5] Freeman’s Journal, 5-8 Feb. 1784.

[6] Freeman’s Journal, 14-16 March 1785.

[7] Wilson’s Dublin directories (Dublin, William Wilson, 1776-1789). Freeman’s Journal, 6-9 June 1789.

[8] Charles Praval, The syntax of the French language (Dublin, W. & H. Whitestone, 1779).

[9] Volunteer’s Journal, 30 Dec. 1785. Wilson’s Dublin directories 1786-1787.

[10] Freeman’s Journal, 23-25 Jan. 1776.

[11] Dublin Evening Post, 27 Oct. 1798.

[12] Belfast News Letter, 13-16 Oct. 1789.

[13] Cork Courier, 20 Aug. 1794. D. Jacotin, Catalogue of the English, French and Italian Circulating Library (Cork, 1803). William West, Directory and picture of Cork and its environs (Cork, 1810). John Connor’s Cork directory for 1812 (Cork, 1812).

[14] Volunteer’s Journal, 9 July 1784.

[15] Dublin Evening Post, 25 May 1797.

[16] Hibernian Journal, 15 Aug. 1798. It is not clear if this Mr Gautier can be identified with the author of The idioms of the French language, published by subscription in Dublin in 1807, and supported by several of the leading French schools in the city.

[17] Registry of Deeds: 389/143/255914 (27 Mar. 1787); 464/27/293097 (18 Sept. 1792). Platanus is marked on William Duncan’s Map of the county of Dublin, 1821.

[18] Volunteer’s Journal, 5 Aug. 1785.

[19] Wilson’s Dublin directories 1787-1788. Dublin Evening Post, 9 Jan. 1798. Registry of Deeds: 637/304/438606 (27 Jul. 1811).

[20] Saunder’s News Letter, 17-19 Oct. 1774.

[21] Freeman’s Journal, 5-8 Feb. 1774.

[22] Volunteer’s Journal, 5 Aug. 1785.

[23] Waterford Chronicle, 12-16 Dec. 1777.

[24] Volunteer’s Journal, 5 Jan. 1784.

[25] Hibernian Chronicle, 27 Jul. 1789. Cork Gazette, 4 Feb. 1792.

[26] Cork Gazette, 8 Sept. 1792.

[27] Cork Gazette, 9 Jan. 1793.

[28] New Cork Evening Post, 17 Oct. 1793. Cork Gazette, 23 Oct. 1793; 18 Jan. 1794.

[29] Nixon’s gentleman’s and citizen’s Cork almanack 1798 (Cork, J. Haly, 1798). Hibernian Chronicle, 20 Nov. 1797.

[30] Limerick directory (Limerick, John Ferrar, 1769). Waterford Chronicle, 12-16 Dec. 1777.

[31] Richard Lucas, General directory of the kingdom of Ireland 1788 (1788).

[32] J. H. Plumb, ‘The new world of children in eighteenth-century England’, Past and Present, 67 (May, 1975), pp 75-7.

[33] Freeman’s Journal, 14-16 Mar. 1775. Charles Praval, The rudiments of the French tongue (Dublin, printed for the author and sold by W. and H. Whitestone, 1775, 2nd ed. 1779); The syntax of the French tongue (Dublin, printed for W. and H. Whitestone, 1779); The idioms of the French language (Dublin, printed for W. and H. Whitestone, 1783).

[34] Charles Praval, The rudiments of the French tongue (Dublin, 3rd ed., George Burnett, 1802; Cork, 4th ed., printed by Edwards and Savage, 1809).

[35] Charles Praval, The syntax of the French tongue (Dublin, George Burnett, 1802; R. Burnet, 1804).

[36] Charles Praval, The idioms of the French language (Dublin, George Burnett, 1794; Cork, printed by A. Edwards and M. Harris, 1795; Dublin, William Porter, 1803; c.1810).

[37] Charles Praval, The idioms of the French language, revised and augmented by Adelbert Doisy (Dublin, John cumming, 1825); Charles Praval, The rudiments and syntax of the French language, improved and considerably enlarged by Adelbert Doisy (Belfast, Simms and McIntyre, 1833).

[38] General catalogue of books in all languages, arts and sciences that have been printed in Ireland and published in Dublin, from the year 1799 to the present time, 1791 (Dublin, printed by John Jones, 1791).

[39] Charles Praval, Magazin à la mode (Dublin, chez Guillaume Whitestone, May 1777 – April 1778). Le Parnasse François precede d’un traité sur la poësie françoise, par M. Praval (Dublin, de l’imprimerie de Guillaume et Henri Whitestone, 1780).

[40] ‘Those learning French will find an inexhaustible source of instruction, and those who know [the language] will have the pleasure of seeing a choice selection of interesting subjects.’

[41] Hibernian Journal, 14-16 May 1777. Waterford Chronicle, 20-23 May 1777.

[42] 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.

[43] Dublin Chronicle, 10 May 1791.

[44] Watson’s Gentleman’s and citizen’s almanack 1791-1800, sub Abecedarian Society, Society for the Relief of Reduced Literary Teachers, or Literary Teacher’s Society.

[45] Watson’s Gentleman’s and citizen’s almanack 1791-1801. Sandford Park School: Abecedarian Society or Literary Teacher’s Society records, no. 2, ledger 1789-1808; no. 4, transaction book 2.

[46] J. Warburton, J. Whitelaw and Robert Walsh, History of the city of Dublin, 2 volumes (London, printed for T. Cadell and W. Davies, 1818), pp 884-5.