University of Virginia Library

In their excellent Dictionaries of the British book trade from 1668 to 1775 H. R. Plomer and G. H. Bushnell have provided reliable reference books for all students. Such sturdy foundations can be built upon, however, by the use of sources of information not previously examined or considered relevant. This was abundantly proved by John Alden in his article 'Pills and Publishing: Some Notes on the English Book Trade, 1660-1715'.[1] The new sources of information which he used were the advertisements for medicines and nostrums which once formed an important part of booksellers' wares.

The present article provides information about Scottish printers and booksellers from 1668 to 1775, supplemental to that in the Dictionaries. Four sources of new material were utilised: the business papers of a prominent Edinburgh bookseller; an account-book of a University library; the local collection formed by a 19th-century bibliophile, and the much read books of a public library of a small Scottish town. Any synthesis into a single list of information derived from such diverse sources obviously requires some preliminary account of their nature and scope.

The first source was the papers of Thomas Ruddiman (1674-1757), printer, controversialist and Keeper of the Advocates' Library.[2] One volume (MS 762) contains a number of inventories of the wealth and possessions of Ruddiman. Amongst the assets are lists of debts owing to Ruddiman which contain the names of a large number of booksellers who bought books from him — alongside customers who were not engaged in the trade. We quote one of these lists as a specimen:

List of Debts owing to Mr Thomas Ruddiman Keeper of the Advocates


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Library contain'd in his Leger for Books sold by him preceeding 1 Janry 1736. (MS 762 p. 7)

1.  John Learmont Schoolmaster at Borrowstounness  -- 
2.  John Mair Mert. in Aberdeen  10 
3.  Andrew Martin Bookseller in Edr  14  -- 
4.  Alexr Beck Bookseller in Perth  19  -- 
5.  Arthur Armstrong Bookseller in Kelso  17 
6.  John Aitken Bookseller in Edr  --  -- 
7.  William Gray Bookbinder there  17 
8.  Mr Alexr Walker Schoolmaster at Abdr 
9.  John Finlayson Mert. in Stirling  --  16 
10.  Gideon Crawford Bookr in Edinr 
11.  Mr George Reid Schoolmaster in Bamff  19 
12.  James Watson in Kinross  --  10 
13.  George Paton in Linlithgow  --  10 
14.  Mr James Robertson Minister in Edr 
15.  James Brown Bookseller in Glasgow  --  14  -- 
16.  John Stedman Bookbinder in Kirkcaldy, to be onposted  --  -- 
17.  Alexr Mitchel Mert. in Perth  12 
18.  Mr James McEwan Minister at Moffat  10 
19.  David Randie Bookseller in Edinr about  --  -- 
20.  Alexr Mc Ulloch Archbedel of St. Andrews  -- 
21.  John Lidel in Falkirk  -- 
22.  Andrew Stalker Bookseller in Glasgow  --  11 
23.  Mistris Maclean in Glasgow  16  10 
24.  Baillie Gavin Hamilton Bookseller in Edinr  13 
25.  Mr William Monro Bookseller there 
69  -- 
But supposing that the & 22 Articles will be lost, which amount in all to  19  10 
There will remain of Debt that may be good  61  -- 
Thos Ruddiman 

The volume contains other lists dated 1736 and 1739 similar to that above. After 1739 Ruddiman ceased to list debts for books as these were marked in his ledger (note on MS p. 21). The Inventories continue down to 1750, however, and there are one or two further references to booksellers in connection with bonds, and 'bills and tickets'.

A second Ruddiman volume (MS 763) has provided less information for the present study, but would be of very considerable interest to a student of Ruddiman as a printer. It is a ledger book containing,


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on the left-hand pages, weekly lists of printing expenses and other disbursements from 1712 onwards. These detail the printing tasks on which Ruddiman was engaged. In the case of large works, the signatures of the sections printed in the week in question are usually given. The right-hand pages contain notes of receipts but many are blank. One such page is filled with 'Debts for Books sold by Thomas Ruddiman this 19 May 1736'. This duplicates in the main the list already given but there are some discrepancies.[3] Also in this volume are statements of agreements between Thomas Ruddiman, his brother Walter and Robert Fleming in 1723, (fol. 132) and between Thomas Ruddiman and Robert Freebairn in 1736 (fol. 72). They reveal that Ruddiman's business associations were more complex than has hitherto been recorded.

The General Book of Disbursements of Edinburgh University Library was the second source used. It was started in 1693 but unfortunately continues only until 1719. A MS of 43 pages, it contains detailed statements of accounts paid for books and MSS for binding, for freight, for postage and for shelving, along with some miscellaneous purchases of pictures and other objects. Such items as drink-money for servants and the cost of new scales and weights to guard against light money are all faithfully recorded as having been disbursed. Perhaps the most mysterious entry of all is one in the year 1696 where fourpence was expended 'for carying over a Greenland Boat' (MS p. 7). In the first three or four years the Disbursements book was also used as a receipt book and booksellers appended their signatures to paid accounts. But this practice is not continued. An example of a set of more typical entries follows: (MS p. 21).

  • 13 July 1703 pd then to Mr David freebairn Bookseller for Lamy his concordantia del harmonia Evangelica 4to.Tit. 15 00- 0
  • to Geo. Mosman for Kennets lives of ye greek poets 8vo 03-00 -0
  • to John Vallange for Tillotsons posthumous sermons 9. 10. 11. 12 14-00 -0
The Disbursement book reveals that the library bought books from private individuals as well as from the booksellers and that various people were commissioned to buy books on its behalf at auctions. There are also records of purchases from London and from Holland.


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This valuable record was not restarted until 1762 and in the later lists no booksellers' names are given.[4]

The third source is of a different nature altogether. It deals specifically with the printing and publishing activities of Dundee, the Scottish seaport city, and consists both of books and of secondary MS material. A. C. Lamb, a Dundee bibliophile, gifted his large collection of books of local interest to the city library. The collection was used by a Dundee journalist, T. Y. Miller, in his investigations of Dundee printers and booksellers and he in turn gave to the library his MS papers dealing with the subject. Two points should be noticed about the Lamb collection and the T. Y. Miller MSS. They carry our knowledge of Dundee publishing up to the end of the 19th Century and thus the bulk of the material they contain is untouched here. Secondly, Miller published two short journalistic accounts of Dundee printing and bookselling.[5] Neither of these is comparable to his MS papers either for completeness or accuracy.

The writers of this paper felt that it would be valuable if the material derived from the above three sources could be supplemented — and in some cases corroborated—from the imprints and colophons of actual copies of books published within their period. They decided to examine a small collection from this point of view. It seemed unwise to comb the collections of a big University Library, for it would be almost inevitable that much of the work would merely repeat Plomer and Bushnell. Accordingly the fourth source of information chosen was the collection of books formerly belonging to the now defunct McIntosh Public Library of Dunkeld in Perthshire.[6] Its inaccessibility made it unlikely that it had ever been systematically examined by any historian of the book trade. The books numbered roughly 2000 and belonged to the period 1680 to 1830. A large proportion of them, including a rather impressive collection of early 18th Century pamphlets printed in London, lay outside the scope of this investigation. But the residue was significant and it is noteworthy that although the MS sources used were of very considerable interest they provided


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much less material than the McIntosh collection. The McIntosh Library had its origin in a collection of books donated in 1811 by the Rev. Donald McIntosh, a priest of the Scottish Episcopal Church and one of the last of the non-jurant clergymen.[7]

The third and fourth of these sources were by far the easier to handle and presented no great problems of interpretation. But the two primary manuscript sources had to be used with considerable care in view of the aims of the investigation, which were :-

1. To record the names, place of business and limits of activity of booksellers and printers NOT previously recorded by Bushnell and Plomer. Such additional entries followed the pattern of a normal Dictionary entry. Forty new names were found and listed.[8]

2. To supplement existing entries in the Dictionaries and to correct any errors noted. Such supplementation was confined to detail normally found in a Dictionary entry, and can be summarised as follows. (a) Extension of known dates of activity. (b) Extension of previous knowledge of type of activity. If, for example, a man was previously known as a bookseller, evidence that he was also a bookbinder was noted. (c) Addresses and places of business previously unrecorded. (d) Evidence of partnerships and contracts with other booksellers and publishers.

Where new names are included from the two primary MS sources it has been done only where the person concerned is described as a bookseller, stationer etc. Occasionally there is confirmation from another source that a person not so described was in fact a bookseller. For example, George Paton of Linlithgow appears in Ruddiman's lists without any indication of his profession, but we know he was, from the imprint of an examined book. It would be tempting in many cases to assume that a person who owed Ruddiman money or who sold books to Edinburgh University Library was a professional bookseller, but never safe to do so. "Alexdr Mc Ulloch, Archbedel of St. Andrews", in the Ruddiman list quoted is a case in point. One of his successors in the post of Archbeadle to the University, Patrick Bower, is known to have also been bookseller to the University.[9] And we know there was a Wm McCulloch, Archbeadle of St. Andrews, who acted in 1738 as the agent appointed by the University to receive on their behalf the


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copyright books to which it was entitled from the Keeper of Stationers Hall.[10] Ruddiman himself was a University agent for the receipt of copyright books. But the evidence is not conclusive. The University disbursement book material has the added difficulty that the city in which the bookseller operated is not given. Edinburgh would be the natural place and this can be confirmed for many of the names. But in the case of one or two it has been assumed. The assumption is indicated in the lists. Some additional material from other sources has been added and in these cases the locus of the book or MS examined has been given in the actual entry. There are 70 entries supplying supplementary material which added to the 40 new entries give a total of 110.