Cassell, John (DNB00)
|←Cassan, Stephen Hyde||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 09
CASSELL, JOHN (1817–1865), publisher, son of Mark Cassell, the landlord of the Ring o' Bells, in the Old Churchyard, Manchester, who died in 1830, was born in his father's inn at Manchester on 23 Jan. 1817. His education was of a very slight nature, and at an early age he was bound apprentice to a joiner at Salford. In 1833 his attention was especially called to the temperance movement by hearing Mr. Joseph Livesey speaking on the subject in Oak Street Chapel, Manchester, and on the completion of his indentures he commenced his introduction to public life by setting out on a temperance lecturing tour. He had already by careful self-culture obtained an extensive acquaintance with English literature, great general information, and a fair mastery of the French language. In quest of employment as a carpenter he reached London in October 1836, and shortly afterwards spoke at a temperance meeting in the New Jeru- salem schoolroom near Westminster Bridge Road, when it was noticed that he had a very broad provincial dialect. He was then recommended to Mr. Meredith, who enrolled him among his temperance agents. In 1847 he was at 14 Budge Row, city of London, where he had established himself as a tea and coffee dealer and patent medicine agent, but two years afterwards removed to 80 Fenchurch Street, where he always continued to have a share in the business. His teas and coffees were very extensively advertised, and the sentence ‘Buy Cassell's Shilling Coffee’ became quite a household word. In the meantime he had become a writer and his own publisher; his first production was the ‘Working Man's Friend,’ which appeared in 1850. The Great Exhibition in the following year gave scope to his energies in the ‘Illustrated Exhibitioner,’ a comprehensive and well-executed scheme. On 16 and 20 May 1851 he gave valuable evidence before the select committee on newspaper stamps, showing the injustice of the prosecution of many periodicals for giving their readers a minimum amount of actual news. He also at the same time stated that he had entered into the publishing business for the purpose of issuing publications calculated to advance the moral and social well-being of the working classes (Report from Select Committee, 1851, pp. 206–41). Cassell's ‘Popular Educator’ and ‘Cassell's Magazine’ followed in 1852, and during the succeeding twelve months Cassell's ‘Family Paper’ was brought out; this was a combination of the pictorial paper with the popular periodical, containing a serial story and a chronicle of current history; many of the illustrations were printed from electrotypes procured from the Paris office of ‘L'Illustration,’ and they were equal to those which embellished the illustrated papers published at six times the price. The first number appeared on 31 Dec. 1853, and in a very short time this paper attained a large circulation, owing partly to the illustrations which were given in connection with the war in the Crimea. He took advantage of its circulation to benefit himself also in another way, to advertise his own teas and coffees. Numerous works now proceeded in quick succession from his press, either in the form of a series of educational books or in weekly numbers of illustrated standard authors, such as ‘Robinson Crusoe,’ ‘Don Quixote,’ the ‘Pilgrim's Progress,’ ‘Gulliver's Travels,’ and many others of a similar nature, besides more substantial fare in the shape of the ‘History of England,’ the ‘Natural History,’ the ‘Bible Dictionary,’ the ‘Book of Martyrs,’ &c. Towards the close of 1854 he became involved in pecuniary difficulties, which obliged him to decrease his establishment, and to discontinue the least remunerative of his publications. Other periodicals which he produced were ‘The Freeholder,’ the monthly organ of the free land movement, ‘The Pathway,’ a religious magazine, and ‘The Quiver.’ In 1859 he joined with Thomas Dixon Galpin and George William Petter, and founded the well-known firm of Cassell, Petter, & Galpin. From that date a constant series of popular illustrated and other books have been issued by these publishers. Cassell lived to see many of the works brought to a successful termination, or reaching a circulation such as never entered into his mind when he commenced his publishing career, and to preside over an establishment in full working order employing nearly five hundred hands. He died at 25 Avenue Road, Regent's Park, London, on 2 April 1865.
As a publisher he is no doubt entitled to rank with William and Robert Chambers and with Charles Knight, and it must not be forgotten that sometimes more praise was due to him for a work on which he made a loss than for a work which in more recent times was a splendid success. What were his merits as a writer cannot be stated, as no reliable information has been found on this point. Although a strict abstainer, he was an inveterate smoker, and, whether engaged in business or in the company of his friends, was seldom seen without a cigar between his lips. His widow, Mary Cassell, died at 47 Wilbury Road, Brighton, 6 July 1885.
[Cassell's Illustrated Family Paper, with portrait, 20 May 1865, pp. 262–4; Thomas Frost's Forty Years' Recollections (1880), pp. 226–38; Bookseller, April 1865, p. 225, and May, p. 291.]