Friday, June 17, 2011

Unique Copy of an East India Company Printed Oath

The Center's copy of King James I's Works (1616), as so many other copies of books with elaborate frontispiece portraits, is imperfect. It lacks the half-title leaf, the verso of which bears a portrait of the seated King engraved by Simon van de Pass. In complete copies the portrait faces the elaborate title page engraved by Renold Elstracke, which depicts peace and religion flanking a triumphantly ascendant crown. 

This happens of course—missing frontispieces. Art-lovers remove their favorite images for presentation on a wall or preservation in a scrapbook. Thieves and unscrupulous dealers excise illustrations (and more famously, maps) for individual sale. What is strange about this particular copy isn't the leaf's absence (a common enough condition), but the presence of something else, something that doesn't belong. 

At some point in the eighteenth century a former owner or bookbinder augmented the volume with a new leaf, an unrelated bibliographical item most likely printed over a century after the Workes' original date of publication. 

The leaf is actually a printed oath of allegiance to the East India Company, an ephemeral  document related to early commercial administration abroad. According to the document's text the company administered this oath to all commanders, mates, pursers, super-cargoes, and factors sailing on ships belonging to the United East India Company. 

Generically speaking, the leaf is a printed form intended for manuscript addition (the document contains a space left blank for the ship's name), and since the space has not been filled in we can assume it was never used as an official company document. 

Dating this item is extremely difficult for two reasons: 1) it lacks any and all publication data; and 2) it seems to be the only surviving copy. John Lancaster (our volunteer rare books cataloger) discovered this item, and he could not find a record of the imprint in any of the usual sources. It appears to be a unique copy (see ESTC N477829). Upon further examination, the sheet reveals a few more clues as to its approximate date range of publication. 

From 1698 to 1708 there were two commercial entities in England known as the "East India Company." Earlier legislation (1694) had deregulated English commerce on the Indian subcontinent, thereby encouraging a group of investors to form "The English Company Trading to the East Indies" in 1698. A decade of competition finally ended in 1708, when the two merged as "The United Company of Merchants of England Trading to the East-Indies." Since this is the specific company name used on the form in question, we can confidently set a terminus a quo at 1708, the date of the merger.

document verso
document verso, inverted
document verso, inverted, detail
By flipping the document over, we see that it was once folded up and sent as correspondence. The little packet is docketed "James Goodchild at ye Green Man Canon Street ouer a Gainst Abchurch Laine Cuttler," in what looks like an eighteenth-century hand. The identity of this James Goodchild may reveal yet another clue about the date of the printed document. 

By searching for "James Goodchild" among Prerogative Court of Canterbury (PCC) wills (via the National Archives' "Documents Online" service), I found two mid-eighteenth century Londoners of the same name: the first, a glazier, whose will dates 1729; the second, a cutler, with a will dating to 1751. Is this cutler the "James Goodchild...Cuttler" to whom the folded form is addressed?

The same figure is recorded in a few mid-eighteenth century London commercial directories. A "James Goodchild, Hardwareman, Cannon Street" is listed in the 1737 edition of The Directory: containing an Alphabetical list of the Names and Places of Abode of the Directors of Companies, etc. (p. 22). The same entry appears four years later in A compleat guide to all persons who have any trade or concern with the City of London and parts adjacent (p. 129). (Many tradesmen were known as both "cutlers" and "hardwaremen.") The Court Kalendar for both 1736 and 1737 lists a "James Goodchild" as Common-Councilor representing Candlewick Ward (a small ward just north of the Thames close to London Bridge, encompassing the areas of Abchurch Lane and Cannon Street).

I think it is probable that all of these refer to the same James Goodchild, who is also the James Goodchild who received the folded up East India Company document. This information allows us to set 1751—the date of James Goodchild's PCC will—as our publication date range's terminus ad quem. It appears, then, that the printed form could date anywhere between 1708 and 1751, although typographic evidence would suggest a date closer to 1751.

These binding scraps, made from what seems to be part of an uncut sheet used as printer's waste, could reveal even more clues about publication date, but I have been unable to identify the text. 

The title-page inscription of Stephens Thomson records that the book was a gift from "E. Stephens." The title page also features an early circular book stamp belonging to "Samuel Tvrner," perhaps the East India Company officer who lived from 1759 to 1802. 

The first few pages of the book contain some manuscript doodlings of minor importance.

The beginning of a face.
Fancy "R"?
Poor imitation of the historiated initial? 

While clues in the book have answered some of our questions, many more problems remain. I would be very interested in more information about East India Company printed forms c. 1700-1750 and the publication activities of the Company more generally in the eighteenth century. I found some information about an "R. Penny," printer for the East India Company, who died in the early 1760s, but I'm not sure if he had a hand in the printed oath. Catherine Pickett's Bibliography of the East India Company...1600-1785 (to be released on July 5) looks to be a promising resource.

Look for a potential update next week when I look for a watermark. 

UPDATE (6/23): Although I found a watermark on the printed document in question, its contours are obscured by the woodcut image of the East India Company's coat-of-arms. The watermark looks to be a large coat-of-arms, but without better equipment I simply can't determine for sure what it is. 

In other news, John Lancaster has identified the printed text used as binder's waste in this book:

John Downame, Lectures vpon the foure first chapters of the prophecie of Hosea. At London : Imprinted by Felix Kyngston [and T. East], for William Welby, and are to be sold at his shop in Pauls Churchyard at the signe of the Greyhound, 1608. 
STC 7145, ESTC S110223 (about a dozen copies recorded).

While the waste does not help us date the printed form (it was printed too early), it does help us date the binding to sometime after 1608.

No comments:

Post a Comment