Whittingham, Charles (1767-1840) (DNB00)

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WHITTINGHAM, CHARLES (1767–1840), ‘the uncle,’ printer and founder of the Chiswick Press, born on 16 June 1767 at Stoke Farm, Caludon or Calledon, in Warwickshire, three miles from Coventry, was the youngest child of Charles Whittingham, a farmer. He was apprenticed to Richard Bird, printer, bookseller, and stationer of Coventry, on 25 March 1779. In 1789 he set up a press in a garret in Dean Street, Fetter Lane, London, and at first confined himself to jobbing work; his plant was small, and he was his own compositor and pressman, clerk and office-boy. In 1792 he printed a half-sheet of an edition of Young's ‘Night Thoughts’ and Thomas Paine's ‘Letter to Dundas.’ By the following year he had two or three presses and had produced a number of small popular volumes. His family was Roman catholic, but he attended an Anglican church. The firm of William Caslon, typefounders, had advanced 30l. to young Whittingham on commencing business, and by this time his annual bill for type, much of which he sold at a profit, came to 500l. In 1794, 1795, and 1796 he produced books of specimen types for Caslon. In 1795 he printed the title-page and preface to the second part of Paine's ‘Age of Reason’ and ‘The Tomahawk’ (27 Oct. 1795), a fiercely patriotic daily paper which was killed by the stamp duty in its hundred and thirteenth number. Whittingham is said to have been the first English printer to produce a ‘fine’ or ‘India paper’ edition in the shape of an issue of Tate and Brady's ‘Psalms’ in 1795 or 1796. This was followed by a prayer-book for John Reeves of Cecil Street, Strand. In 1797 he removed to larger premises, No. 1 Dean Street. For Heptinstall, a bookseller of Fleet Street and subsequently of Holborn, Whittingham produced editions of Boswell's ‘Johnson,’ Robertson's ‘America’ and ‘Charles V,’ and Rogers's ‘Pleasures of Memory.’ His first example of a book illustrated with woodcuts was ‘Pity's Gift: a Collection of interesting Tales,’ printed for Thomas Longman in 1798, followed by two companion volumes, ‘The Village Orphan’ and ‘The Basket Maker.’ The business increased, and he took a second house in Dean Street and became tenant of a private residence at 9 Paradise Row, Islington. In 1799 he printed Gray's ‘Poems’ ‘in a more elegant state of typography than they ever before assumed,’ and sold the whole edition to Miller of Old Bond Street, and James Scatcherd of Ave Maria Lane. This work seems to have brought the Rivingtons, John Murray, and all the leading publishers to him. He introduced the plan of printing neat and compact editions of standard authors in rivalry with the more expensive editions issued by the bookselling trade. The booksellers threatened to withdraw their patronage, but he took a room at a coffee-house and sold the books himself by auction. With John Sharpe of the Strand, and afterwards of Piccadilly, he brought out a series of the essayists, in twenty-two neat volumes, called ‘The British Classics’ (1803). Sharpe's ‘British Theatre’ was the next joint venture, and in 1805 came the ‘British Poets,’ not to be confounded with the Chiswick edition brought out some years later. In 1803 he took another workshop at 10 Union Buildings in Leather Lane, and adopted the sign of the ‘Stanhope Press,’ after the first press designed by Lord Stanhope, which he had purchased. In 1807 the whole business was transferred to Goswell Street. Two years later he started a paper-pulp manufactory at Chiswick under the superintendence of Thomas Potts. This business grew rapidly, and Whittingham found it necessary to live at Chiswick. He leased in 1810 the High House in Chiswick Mall, leaving the London business in the charge of Robert Rowland, who had been his foreman since 1798; the style of the firm was Whittingham & Rowland. The High House was fitted up as a printing office and became the famous Chiswick Press, this name being first used on an imprint of 1811. His speculations increased; he bought leasehold property, and was partner with John Arliss as stationer and bookseller at Watling Street.

Between 1810 and 1815 he was elaborating his methods as a printer of illustrated books, was ‘the first printer to develop fully the overlaying of wood engravings for book illustration,’ and was the first to print woodcuts perfectly (Warren, The Charles Whittinghams, pp. 50–2). His inks were of peculiar excellence and brilliancy. About 1814 Triphook, the bookseller, and Samuel Weller Singer [q. v.], the editor of old authors, began to use his press. An edition of the ‘Vicar of Wakefield’ (1815) is a charming specimen of this period. In 1816 he began to be ‘eminently successful in small editions of Common Prayer’ (Timperley, Encyclopædia, p. 864). He moved from the High House in 1818 to more commodious premises, College House, Chiswick Mall, which had been occupied in 1665 by Dr. Busby and the Westminster boys during the plague. From 1819 to 1821 he was associated with William Hughes in an engraving business at 12 Staining Lane, London. The well-known Chiswick edition of the ‘British Poets’ (1822), in a hundred small volumes, was planned and entirely carried out by him. In 1824 his nephew Charles (1795–1867) [q. v.], who is separately noticed, became a partner in the Chiswick Press; they dissolved partnership four years afterwards, but remained on friendly terms. Among the masterpieces of Whittingham's later period are Northcote's ‘Fables’ (1829), second series (1833), the ‘Tower Menagerie’ (1829), and companion volumes describing the birds and animals at the Zoological Gardens (1830–1). The engravings were after the drawings of William Harvey. John Thompson, Jackson, Branston, Thomas Williams, and others, worked for him as engravers. He produced a great variety of albums, keepsakes, and annuals for John Poole and Suttaby. ‘Puckle's Club’ (1834) is a fine specimen of his typography. Early in 1838 his health began to fail, and by June the nephew took over the control at Chiswick, where the uncle died on 5 Jan. 1840. He left, among other legacies, one to the Company of Stationers and one to the Printers' Pension Society, by which special pensions bearing his name were founded.

He married Mary Mead, who predeceased him. He had no children. His portrait, painted by Thomas Williams, now at Stationers' Hall, is reproduced as a frontispiece by Warren (The Charles Whittinghams).

He devoted himself to fine printing with ardour and success, and dabbled in many commercial speculations. All mechanical novelties attracted him. He was one of the first in England to use a steam engine in making the paper-pulp, and to warm his workshops with steam pipes. He never had an engine for printing, as he believed the hand press produced a better result.

[Information from Mr. B. F. Stevens. See also Warren's The Charles Whittinghams, Printers (Grolier Club), New York, 1896, where all the available facts are recorded, with many portraits, autographs, woodcuts, blocks, and other illustrations. See also Notes and Queries, 3rd ser. x. 91, 5th ser. v. 359, 8th ser. ix. 367, 414, 472; Faulkner's Hist. of Chiswick, p. 459; Nichols's Literary Anecdotes, iii. 689, and Illustrations, viii. 462, 512; Bigmore and Wyman's Bibliogr. of Printing, vol. iii.; Linton's Masters of Wood Engraving, 1889, pp. 181–2; British Bookmaker, September 1890.]

H. R. T.