Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Whitaker, Joseph

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WHITAKER, JOSEPH (1820–1895), publisher, born in London on 4 May 1820, was the son of a silversmith. At the age of fourteen he was apprenticed to Mr. Barritt, bookseller, of Fleet Street. Nine years later young Whitaker was with John William Parker [q. v.] of the Strand. He next entered the house of J. H. & J. Parker of Oxford, for whom he became the London agent, and opened a branch at 377 Strand. Here, in 1849, he originated the ‘Penny Post,’ the first penny monthly church magazine, which long continued in its original form, and edited an edition of the ‘Morning’ and ‘Evening Church Services.’ In 1850 he projected and published for four years the ‘Educational Register’ and ‘Whitaker's Clergyman's Diary;’ the latter is still issued by the Company of Stationers. He commenced business on his own account as a theological publisher in Pall Mall, and removed in 1855 to 310 Strand, where he published, with the assistance of Thomas Delph, ‘The Artist,’ a fine-art review. Between 1856 and 1859 he edited the ‘Gentleman's Magazine,’ and in January 1858 started the ‘Bookseller,’ intended primarily as an organ for booksellers and publishers, but also adapted to the requirements of book-buyers generally. The new monthly journal was very successful, and was warmly supported by the bookselling and publishing trade. With it, in 1860, was merged ‘Bent's Literary Advertiser;’ the form of the periodical has remained practically unaltered for over forty years.

His name has become familiar throughout English-speaking countries owing to ‘Whitaker's Almanac.’ This was commenced in 1868; thirty-six thousand copies of the first issue were subscribed before publication. As an example of the wise forethought of its originator, it is noticeable that the ‘Almanac,’ like the ‘Bookseller,’ has been little changed since the first number, except in the direction of natural expansion. Whitaker had a large share in the organisation of a relief fund, which ultimately reached 2,000l., for the Paris booksellers and their assistants in 1871. As a distributor of the fund he was one of the first Englishmen who entered Paris after the siege. In 1874 he produced the ‘Reference Catalogue of Current Literature,’ consisting of a collection of catalogues of books on sale by English publishers, with an elaborate index. Other editions of this useful compilation appeared in 1875, 1877, 1880, 1885, 1889, and 1894; the latest, in two very thick volumes, was published in 1898.

He published a few devotional works, among which may be mentioned ‘The Daily Round’ (1880, and many subsequent editions) and Ridley's ‘Holy Communion.’ He was always a keen and judicious defender of the interests of the bookselling trade, and was recognised as an authority upon copyright. In 1875 he was elected a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries. He died at Enfield on 15 May 1895. He had a family of fifteen children, of whom the eldest,

Joseph Vernon Whitaker (1845–1895), born on 3 Feb. 1845, was educated at Bloxham school. He preferred a life of adventure to business, and, after a voyage to the East Indies, enlisted in the army, and became a full sergeant at the age of twenty-one. Having purchased his discharge, he entered the office of the ‘Bookseller’ for a year or two. At the invitation of George William Childs of Philadelphia he went to the United States, and was editor of the ‘American Literary Gazette,’ and subsequently acted as sub-editor of the ‘Public Ledger’ for three years. He returned to England in 1875 to resume his connection with the ‘Bookseller,’ of which he ultimately became editor, as well as of the ‘Reference Catalogue,’ mentioned above. In 1880, in conjunction with his father, he started the ‘Stationery Trades' Journal.’ He took an active interest in all trade questions, especially those of a social and charitable character. He died in London on 15 Jan. 1895, in his fiftieth year. He married, in 1875, an American lady, who bore him two children, one of whom survived the father.

[Bookseller, 6 Feb. 1895 (with portrait), 8 June 1895 (with portrait); Publishers' Circular, 19 Jan., 18 May, 25 May (with portrait) 1895; Athenæum, 19 Jan., 18 May 1895; Times, 16 Jan. 1895.]

H. R. T.