Penny Maps

Johnston Invoice

Came across this at a recent ephemera fair – an 1897 invoice (on their own watermarked paper) from the well-known publishers of maps and atlases, W. & A. K. Johnston, for a bundle of 195/180 penny maps.  The business was founded in Edinburgh by the engravers Sir William Johnston (1802-1888) and his younger brother Alexander Keith Johnston (1804-1871) and continued after their deaths by a third brother, Thomas Brumby Johnston (1814-1897) and by his sons in turn – an extraordinarily successful family sufficiently well-documented not to need further examination here.

But who was the customer – Mr John Hawthorn of Uppingham in Rutland?  And why 195/180 penny maps?  He was in fact a trade customer, a bookseller and printer with a shop on the High Street in Uppingham.  And (you may have to have been born pre-decimal coinage to figure this out), but his order was evidently for fifteen dozen maps at the trade price of 8d a dozen.  And the Johnston firm evidently allowed a “baker’s dozen” overage of a free map for every dozen ordered – hence 195 maps billed as 180 and a total price of ten shillings (50p in modern money or 120 old pence).

Hawthorn was born in Stafford in 1828 on 9th November 1828 and baptised at the local church of St. Chad two days later – the son of John Hawthorn and his wife Maria Dickinson or Dickenson, who had married in 1825.  In 1841 he was living with his mother and siblings in Eastgate Street, Stafford – next door to John and William Drewrey, printers, who may perhaps have provided his early training.  He subsequently moved to Uppingham, where he worked from 1853 for Charles Wellington Oliver, bookseller, printer and stationer.  When Oliver gave up the business in April 1854 (in a slightly unusual career switch he subsequently became the lessee of the Assembly Rooms in Bath),  John Hawthorn took over, aged just twenty-five, buying the premises at 6 High Street East (which had been a bookshop since about 1720) later that year.  An announcement in the “Lincolnshire Chronicle” assured the local “nobility, clergy, gentry and inhabitants generally” of his experience in the various branches of the business, as well as his punctuality and attention to their needs.  By 1857 he was advertising for an apprentice of his own (“churchman preferred”).  In 1861 he married Sophia Dickenson, also from Eastgate Street in Stafford, the daughter of a grocer and ironmonger, and probably related to his mother’s family.

The business was broadly based, also including the sale of newspapers and even paper hangings, but evidently successful.  By 1871, now with four young children (eventually to become twelve), Hawthorn was employing three journeymen and an apprentice, as well as two domestic servants and a wet-nurse.  He was by now becoming a figure of some local prominence, involved in a host of local activities, not least in chairing a public protest meeting over the boarding fees being asked at Oakham School in 1875.  In 1877 he read the town’s address to Uppingham School on its return from a forced exile in Wales after three outbreaks of typhoid fever in Uppingham – Hawthorn himself having been heavily involved in local demands for better sanitation and drainage.  That same year, as vice-president of the local Mutual Improvement Society, with which he had been involved since its formation in 1861, he chaired a lecture on “Education, its market value, and its real value” – and in 1878, his second son John was awarded a handsome annual exhibition to Oakham School.  John Hawthorn was also secretary of the local cricket club, later served on the parish council, and eventually became an alderman for the county, a position he filled until a few weeks before his death aged sixty-nine on 9th April 1898.

Much mourned locally, his lifelong interest in education and self-improvement was also reflected in his occasional publications, often books and pamphlets by local schoolmasters on both education in general and grammars and texts for school use.  Uppingham School – masters, pupils and the school itself – were of course the mainstay of his custom and I imagine that it was this interest and connection that caused him to buy the penny maps.  Even with the overage, the potential profit on selling 195 maps at a penny was not immense: even if all were sold and none damaged in shop handling, he would only have made 6s.3d – or 31p as we have it today.  But possibly it was a bulk purchase for the school, I suppose.  By December 1897 he was already in ill-health and this must have been one of the last purchases he made.

The business in the High Street was continued after his death by his widow Sophia Hawthorn (1841-1923), employing their son Charles Hawthorn (1972-1956) as a manager.  He took over the business in turn and I think continued to run it until 1951.  He too served on the town and county councils and as honorary secretary of the Mutual Improvement Society.

What of course none of this answers, is what were these penny maps?  What sort of map might one expect at this fantastically low price?  I can’t find any reference to a Johnston penny map in the COPAC combined catalogue of the major UK libraries (although this does not mean that they are not there – and penny maps produced by the rival George Philip firm of Liverpool and London were being produced from at least the 1850s).  The National Library of Australia does however have an apparently untitled atlas described as a “specimen set of Johnston’s penny political coloured maps”, dating from a little earlier than 1897, but probably the same kind of thing – forty maps of the world, the continents and the principal countries, measuring a respectable 23 x 31cm.  My surmise would be that this specimen atlas may well have been the kind of publisher’s sample that Hawthorn and other booksellers would have used in ordering the maps – perhaps an order for a dozen each of the maps deemed most popular, useful, necessary or interesting for the students of Uppingham (at this price one probably wouldn’t expect a fully itemised invoice).  Or perhaps the order was for a mixed bag of whatever maps were immediately to hand in the Johnston warehouse.  Any thoughts or examples out there?

About Laurence Worms - Ash Rare Books

Laurence Worms has owned and run Ash Rare Books since 1971. He represented the antiquarian book trade on the (British) National Book Committee from 1993 to 2002 and has been six times an elected member of the Council of the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association. He was largely responsible for drafting the Association’s Code of Good Practice introduced in 1997, served as Honorary Secretary of the Association from 1998 to 2001 and as President from 2011 to 2013. He is a former member of the Council of the Bibliographical Society and continues to serve on the Council of the London Topographical Society. He writes and lectures on various aspects of the history of the book and map trades, and has lectured at the universities of Cambridge, London, Reading and Sheffield, as well as at the Bibliographical Society, the Royal Geographical Society, the Warburg Institute and at Gresham College. He teaches annually at the London Rare Books School and also organises the monthly Book Collecting Seminars at Senate House, University of London. Published work includes the compilation of fourteen ‘lives’ for the “Oxford Dictionary of National Biography”, a number of articles for “The Oxford Companion to the Book” and the chapter on early English maps and atlases for the fourth volume of “The Cambridge History of the Book in Britain”. A major essay on the same subject also appeared in “The History of Cartography” published by the University of Chicago Press. His long-awaited “British Map Engravers, co-written with Ashley Baynton-Williams, was published to critical acclaim in 2011”. More recently, he contributed the numerous biographical notes to Peter Barber’s hugely successful “London : A History in Maps”, co-published by the British Library and the London Topographical Society in 2012.
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