garden, library

January 10, 2011

Temple of the Muses

By: Toon

William Wallis (fl.1816-1855) after Thomas Hosmer Shepherd (1793-1864), Temple of the Muses, Finsbury Square. London: Jones & Co., 1828. Etching and aquatint with added hand-coloring.

From 1778 to 1798 James Lackington, the bookseller, had a shop at No. 32, Finsbury Place South in the southeast corner of Finsbury Square called "The Temple of the Muses". The shop had a frontage of 140 feet and was one of the sights of London. On top of the building was a dome with a flagpole, which flew a flag when Mr. Lackington was in residence. In the middle of the shop was a huge circular counter around which, it was said, a coach and six could have been driven, so large were the premises. A wide staircase led to the "lounging rooms" and the first of a series of galleries with bookshelves. The books became shabbier and cheaper as one ascended. This, the first large book emporium was the pioneer of Remaindering, buying up bulk stock from elsewhere at a bargain price and selling cheap. Every one of the thousands of books in the shop was marked with its lowest price and numbered according to a printed catalogue. In 1792, Lackington estimated his profits for the year to be about £5000. At this period, he issued more than three thousand catalogues ("A Catalogue of Books, in All Languages, and Classes of Learning, for the Years 1806-7, Now Selling for Ready Money, at the Low Prices Affixed, Warranted Complete, by Lackington, Allen, & Co. Temple of the Muses, Finsbury Square, London.") every year. In 1793 Lackington sold a fourth part of his business to Robert Allen who had been brought up in the shop. The firm of Lackington, Allen and Co. became one of the largest in the book trade, selling upwards of 100,000 volumes yearly at their very extensive premises.

As a boy, James Lackington (1746-1815) worked as a meat pieman. As an adult, he became one of the most successful booksellers in all of London. If you were looking for literature in the late 18th-century, you would have made your way to No. 32 Finsbury Place South in the southeast corner of Finsbury Square. At that corner, you would check to see if the flag on the huge circular dome of the Temple of the Muses was flying. That way, you knew if Lackington was in residence inside his remarkable bookshop. Books were sold for cash, at prices listed in Lackington’s annual printed catalogues, such as A Catalogue of Books, for the Year 1803, Containing Eight Hundred Thousand Volumes in all Languages and Classes of Learning, the Whole of which are Marked at Low Prices, for Ready Money, and are Warrented Complete. (Rare Books, Ex 2005-0187N). After Lackington’s death, his son continued the business until the shop burned down in 1841.

A sketch of Lackington’s bookshop was originally created by Thomas Shepherd as an illustration to James Elmes, Metropolitan Improvements; or London in the Nineteenth Century: Displayed in a Series of Engravings… by Mr. Thos. H. Shepherd (London: Jones and Co., 1828). (Rare Books (Ex) 1465.323.11). Shepherd’s original is now in the collection of the Guildhall Library. William Wallis reproduced that scene in an etching, which can be found in several formats, with and without color. The print was published in The Repository of Arts, Literature, Commerce, Manufactures, Fashions and Politics. London: R. Ackermann, 1809-1815 (Graphic Arts Collection 2006-3077N)