I saw it there gleaming, jewel-like, at the end of the aisle. Miraculously still unclaimed and as yet unbought. The blogworthy book I guaranteed I would find at the Chelsea Book Fair last week. It was a safe bet: I actually ended up with three others just as interesting and blogworthy – or four, if we count the one cunningly doctored to disguise its true bibliographic status (not by the exhibitor from whom I bought it, I hasten to add – we don’t do that).
One of the other exhibitors kindly mentioned that he always liked my pieces on forgotten bookbinders – so here’s another. A copy of the first edition of John Ruskin’s Seven Lamps of Architecture (1849) – the lamps of sacrifice, truth, power, beauty, life, memory and obedience. Not a particularly scarce book and on that account perhaps not one unduly prized by booksellers, for all that it was the book which established Ruskin’s reputation – and certainly one of the most popular, important and influential books on architecture ever written. The Gothic Revival was already well-begun, but it was Ruskin who gave it its moral credo and turned it into a national movement. A book which changed the face of architecture, both civil and ecclesiastical, right across the country. A book which Marcel Proust later claimed to know by heart (he introduced the Lamp of Memory into Du Côté de Chez Swann).
Someone at least thought well enough of it at the time to have it bound in this extravagant and Italianate full vellum, with all the full regalia of labels, tooling, rules, panels and decorated turn-ins. “Bound by H. Stamper”, it says inside, very discreetly. Not a name familiar to me. No real surprise in that – there must be any number of Victorian binders I’ve never heard of. Except that, over the years, I have handled books bound by most of the really top-drawer nineteenth-century binders – Hayday, Riviere, Bedford, Morrell – the names trip off the tongue – and the design and workmanship here seemed very much to belong in that kind of elevated company.
I drew a blank on the online British Library Database of Bookbindings, but before reaching out for the old reference books I gave the name a whirl on Google. Interesting results: the Folger Shakespeare Library has a First Folio bound by the said H. Stamper, while the Bodleian has a fine armorial manuscript bound for one of the Dukes of Newcastle by the same man. Obviously on the right track. If you have the wealth and taste to own a First Folio, you are not going to give it to any old Tom, Dick or Harry to bind. And those book-loving Dukes of Newcastle were just as picky. Stamper was clearly a man of note.
Back to the reference books. Surely someone must have written him up. Ramsden, whose cut-off date is 1840, has a cautious note that H. Stamper is probably out of his period, but that there were a couple of books in the Huth Sale (1905) – another mark of distinction – with his name. Maurice Packer is slightly more forthcoming: Henry Stamper was listed in the London street directories as a bookbinder at 17 Frith Street, Soho, between 1860 and 1866 – and, significantly, his premises then passed to the celebrated William Turner Morrell (1840-1880) by 1868. No less a man than Morrell was Stamper’s successor and possibly, even probably, his pupil.
The rest of the details were readily blocked in. I have not been able to trace his birth, but it seems certain from other sources that Henry Stamper (1802?-1887) was born in Kensington in the earliest years of the nineteenth century. Probably in 1802 – at most a year either side. He married Mary Hannah Maggenis on 19th May 1834 at St. Bride, Fleet Street. Their only child, Henry George Stamper, was born in 1836 but died some months short of his tenth birthday in 1846. The Stampers were living in York Square, St. Pancras, in 1841, Henry described simply as a bookbinder. By the time they had moved to Frith Street, the appellation had changed to master bookbinder. He retired, probably at the age of sixty-five, in 1867, to Crayford in Kent, initially at Springfield Cottage, Pinnacle Hill, London Road, and later at Sarah’s Cottages. He died in his eighties in the latter part of 1887, his wife surviving him for another nine years.
But there is more to it than that. George Bayntun’s wonderful Five Hundred Years of Fine, Fancy and Frivolous Bindings catalogue carries the suggestion that in 1841 Stamper succeeded his contemporary Francis Bedford (1799-1883), “the leading English bookbinder of his time” (ODNB), as manager of the bindery founded by Charles Lewis (1786-1836), “unquestionably London’s leading binder, patronized by all the great collectors of the day” (ODNB) – the Lewis business continuing under his widow until 1854. This is entirely probable – we can well imagine the young Stamper being among the twenty-one journeymen known to have been employed by Lewis in 1823 and eventually heading the firm.
A trade-card pasted into one of John Jaffray’s scrap-books in the British Library tells us more – Stamper’s own trade-card, recording him as “H. Stamper, Bookbinder. Foreman to the late J. Clarke. 17, Frith Street, Soho Square”. And John Clarke was another of those top-drawer London binders of the period. He was the man with whom Francis Bedford went into partnership (as ‘Clarke and Bedford’) on leaving the Lewis firm in 1841, Clarke continuing alone at 61 Frith Street after the partnership was dissolved on 30th June 1850. Clarke died on 8th June 1859 leaving an estate valued at somewhere close to £4,000. His books were sold by Puttick & Simpson of Leicester Square the following year, who produced a Catalogue of the Private Library and Stock of Books of the Late Mr. John Clarke, Eminent Bookbinder, of Frith Street, Including Most of the Books Bound by Him for the Great Exhibition of 1851, with Specimens of Fine Ancient Bindings Exhibited by Him on that Occasion, a Few Mss. and Books Printed on Vellum.
What plainly happened is that after Clarke’s death and quite late in life Stamper finally decided to set up on his own at a nearby address further along Frith Street. His independent career was short – but here was a man who had certainly worked alongside Clarke, almost certainly alongside both Lewis and Bedford, and equally probably alongside Morrell. Does he deserve a place at the top table of nineteenth-century London binders? – I rather think he does.