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The Bagford Chapel Rules: A Set of English Printing House Regulations, CIRCA 1686–1707

From: Studies in Bibliography
Volume 58, 2007-2008
pp. 135-143 | 10.1353/sib.2006.0004

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

It is generally believed that only three sets of English printing house regulations—“chapel rules”—have come down to us from the period before 1800. One set, the rules of the Bowyer firm, was written in a ledger book in the late 1750s by the younger William Bowyer and one or two of his workmen. This set appears to be incomplete, for it includes no rules addressing the work of pressmen. A second and obviously complete set of rules survives from Samuel Richardson’s printing house. These are preserved in a broadsheet bearing a letterpress date of August 30, 1734, and the signatures of 20 journeyman printers Richardson employed at the time. A third group of chapel rules appears in Joseph Moxon’s Mechanick Exercises on the Whole Art of Printing of 1683 and 1684. Unlike Bowyer’s and Richardson’s regulations, these rules did not originate in a specific printing house. Moxon merely offered them as examples of rules “usually and generally accepted” among late seventeenth-century printers.1

These three sets of chapel rules have figured as valuable historical evidence in bibliographical studies concerned with the late 1600s and the 1700s. Because they imposed standards of behavior on journeymen and promoted order in the complicated technical procedures demanded by concurrent production, the regulations shed light on contemporary shop organization, workplace customs, the relationship between the master and his journeymen, and other aspects of printing.2 It should interest scholars, then, to learn that a fourth and practically unknown set of chapel rules from the period is preserved in the British Library’s Department of Printed Books. These are conveyed in a broadsheet bearing the headline “Orders to be Observed in this Printing-House.” 3 The document is part of the Bagford Title-pages Collection, which was assembled during the late 1600s and early 1700s by John Bagford (1650 –1716), a London book dealer and an antiquarian with a keen interest in bibliography. Bagford formed the Collection in anticipation of writing, as he announced in a 1707 subscription proposal, an ambitious but never completed “Historical Treatise, on that most Universally Famous, as well as Useful Art of Typography.” 4 Along with approximately 3,600 title pages of early English printed books, Bagford also collected book plates, type specimens, paper samples, printers’ and booksellers’ devices, book and manuscript auction catalogues, and other materials associated with printing, almost all of which can be dated to a period from 1528 to 1716.5 Insofar as the whole of the Bagford Collection has been surveyed and its contents enumerated, the “Orders” has not entirely escaped scholarly attention. It has been noted, albeit not described, in a handful of bibliographic publications. A. W. Pollard listed the “Orders” in an article, “A Rough List of the Contents of the Bagford Collection,” published in the Transactions of the Bibliographical Society for 1902 –1904. Ellic Howe glanced at the “Orders” in a footnote in his 1947 book, The London Compositor, Documents Relating to Wages, Working Conditions and Customs of the London Printing Trade, 1785 –1900. And in his 1974 Catalogue and Indexes to the Title-pages of English Printed Books Preserved in the British Library’s Bagford Collection, Melvin H. Wolf has taken notice of the “Orders” by reprinting Pollard’s “Rough List” in its entirety.6

Unfortunately, the “Orders” is something of a fragment. In its original state, the document’s dimensions apparently exceeded the leaves of the volume into which it was pasted, and so to make the “Orders” fit Bagford cropped the head, foot, and side margins, and he also cut away a strip of white space in the middle of the sheet between the last rule directed to compositors and the sub-headline over the press room rules (consequently, the “Orders” survives in two pieces and each bears a British Museum stamp).7 Despite Bagford’s pruning, the text of the “Orders”—headline, sub-headlines, and a total of 28 rules—appears wholly intact and there is no obvious indication, material or textual, of any missing text. It is certainly possible that in its original state the “Orders” resembled Richardson’s chapel rules and included, like Richardson’s, a letterpress date as well...



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