University of Virginia Library

THE MANY EXTANT AND READILY ACCESSIBLE books signed by the printer Thomas Newcomb afford a particularly good starting point in the large and tantalizingly complicated study of printers' ornaments in the Commonwealth and Post-Restoration periods.

Newcomb was active as a printer for thirty-three years: he was the master of a large printing shop, and after the great fire became one of a handful of men who dominated London printing. Newcomb owned and employed a large assortment of ornaments which have a history of use totaling approximately fifty years, if one counts that group in use ten years before Newcomb acquired it and those which Newcomb's son used for at least seven years after his father's death. Finally, Newcomb printed well over a thousand items, a large number of them for the patentees of the King's Printing Office, but an even greater number for more than a score of stationers, including Henry Herringman, the foremost publisher of belles lettres in Post-Restoration London. Hence, one finds few prominent writers of history, science, theology, or literature in the last half of the century who had not had one or more compositions run off Newcomb's presses.

Obviously a definitive study of the many ornaments in Newcomb's thousand or more publications must await first the appearance of Mr. Wing's Short-Title Catalogue . . . 1641-1700, Volume III, and then the labors of other students. In this paper I attempt only to summarize the history of transmission of ornaments owned by Newcomb, to set down my observations on how ornaments were used in Newcomb-printed books, to offer some suggestions


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to those obliged to work with Newcomb ornaments, and, finally, to introduce bibliographers to what I believe is a fair sampling of Newcomb ornaments, factotums, and decorative initials, with an accompanying list of their occurrences.

The history of a portion of the ornaments used by Newcomb begins in 1638[1] with the emergence of John Raworth as a London printer. I have examined far fewer of his publications than those of Newcomb, but my impression is that his ornament stock was a good-sized one. He owned a wide variety of decorative initials and many large, generally attractive ornaments; he preferred initials to factotums, and used both the initials and ornaments generously, especially in folios. The clearness and completeness of impression which many of his ornaments make would suggest that the bulk of his stock was newly purchased rather than bought up from some other printer. This observation is of course only conjectural. I have not tried to trace Raworth's ornaments in the books of earlier printers.[2]

Raworth's career as a printer was cut short by his death late in July of 1646. The uninterrupted flow of religious pamphlets from the Raworth presses indicates, however, that John's widow, Ruth, assumed charge of operations at once. Her activity as a printer extends to 1648 when she married Thomas Newcomb, who had just become free of the Stationers' Company after serving a seven years' apprenticeship under Gregory Dexter.[3] Throughout her brief career Ruth Raworth used the ornaments at hand in her shop, and since the kinds of books she printed made no extraordinary demands on her ornament supply, the likelihood is that she added few or no ornaments to her late husband's collection.

Once Newcomb had married Ruth Raworth, he seems to have taken over the direction of her shop, located on Thames Street


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over against Baynard's Castle, where he remained until September of 1666 when the London fire destroyed his place of business and obliged him to seek new quarters west of the old city in the Savoy. Newcomb used enough Raworth decorations after 1666 for one to determine that Newcomb had saved his ornament collection from the flames, but after his removal to the Savoy he no longer relied on his old stock as he had done in the past. He continued to use the old Raworth ornaments, his compositors overworking a favored few until they were caked with ink and badly worn. But he replaced his Raworth factotums and a number of the old decorative initial sets with new ones, almost always bearing flower designs. These floral decorations Newcomb used with such consistency thereafter that more than any other feature of his presswork they especially characterize the books printed by him during the last thirteen years of his career. The study of Newcomb's decorations falls roughly, therefore, into two divisions: the years 1648 to 1667 when Newcomb used Raworth's stock almost exclusively, and the years 1668 to 1681 when he employed Raworth's collection in combination with his own.

Newcomb died suddenly on December 26, 1681, as one ardent conventicleer would have it, struck down by God in the king's presence for hating protestant dissenters.[4] His printing equipment, including his ornaments, and his patent rights in the King's Printing Office were inherited by his only son, Thomas Newcomb, Jr., also free of the Stationers' Company, who remained active as a printer in the Savoy until July, 1688, when Edward Jones moved into the Savoy and took over the printing of the London Gazette. Whether the son ceased printing at this point or set up shop elsewhere and continued actively in his trade is difficult to ascertain.[5] There is no question about the fact that he managed, despite the political upheaval, to maintain the right to publish some types of official documents and that he, his executrix, and his assigns continued exercising those rights well into the eighteenth century.

Equally difficult to determine is when Thomas Newcomb, Jr.,


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disposed of his ornaments and to whom he sold them. One of Newcomb's factotums appearing in Dryden's All For Love (1692) printed by Edward Jones suggests that either in 1688 or after Newcomb's death Jones got hold of some of Newcomb's stock. The appearance of two well-known Newcomb ornaments in John Macock's printing of Cowley's Works dated 1688 but advertised in the London Gazette as early as December 15, 1687, poses a problem which further research alone can solve.[6] The evidence pointing to a disturbance in the printing activities of Thomas Newcomb, Jr., about the year 1688 is sufficient, however, to warrant the conclusion that after 1687 one cannot use Newcomb ornaments to identify with certainty the printer of an unsigned book.