The Original Monthly Numbers of Moule's 'English Counties'

Moule's English Counties' has long been admired for its ornate maps, the lust decorative county series to be published. The recent discovery of a set of the monthly numbers, the only one of the original 10,000 known to have survived, allows the work's seven-year development to be described for the first time. Tony Campbell, who works in the British Library Map Library, examines one of the Library's more interesting recent acquisitions, answering some questions and posing others.

IN THE PREFACE to his two-volume topographical description of 1837, The English Counties Delineated, Thomas Moule admitted that at one period he had been left 'without even a hope of his labours being completed.'[1] AM those who appreciate the handsome maps with which the work is adorned are grateful that Mottle's pessimism proved unfounded. Some idea of the difficulties which gave rise to it can be inferred, however, from an investigation of Moule's book in its original serial form. The only known example of this was acquired recently by the British Library, offering the first opportunity to trace the seven-year development of Moule's best-known work.

The 1837 preface slated clearly that publication had started in May 1830, and six of the maps in the second volume bear dated imprints, proceeding at monthly intervals from 1 May to 1 October 1830, Except for this clear hint of monthly serial publication, little further was known of the work's progress despite the attentions of cartobibliographers since the beginning of this century. Separate examples of numbers XIX (Hertfordshire)[2] and XXVIII (Norfolk)[3] had been located in public collections (to which can now be added No. XXX. Suffolk)[4]: the Cheshire map (No. XXXI) was assigned to 1833, on unknown evidence, although it actually appeared in November 1832[5]; a strange gathering of the first eight maps was described in Cowling's Shropshire bibliography of 1959[6]; and an incomplete early run passed through a dealer's hands a few years ago.[7] The discovery of a complete run of the first fifty-six numbers, even if lacking the final handful, is thus of relevance to English county collectors and cartobibliographers alike.

The monthly numbers

Each number is enclosed in flimsy yellow wrappers measuring 11¼ x 9 in (28.5 x 22.5 cm). The front cover comprises a type-set title let into a wood-engraved design, bearing the joint imprint of three London booksellers. George Virtue, Simpkin & Marshall and Jennings & Chaplin. The issue number, the county name, the judicial circuit and the date would be altered when necessary, and there were to be changes of printer, but the front covers of the first and last numbers are essentially the same. The upper part of the back cover was habitually used for an index to that number's text while the rest of the page was put to varied use: prospectus, reviews, an account of progress and future plans, advertisements, and so on. Each number is the size and shape of the map, which invariably precedes the sections of text.

Publications of this kind are often referred to as 'part-works' but the terms 'number' and 'part' have different meanings. Moule announced initially that the work would 'form Six Parts ... comprised in about Forty-eight monthly Numbers'. The obvious implication, that each part was intended to contain eight numbers, seems to be contradicted by a confusing volume in the Bodleian,[8] This comprises the maps and text for the first eight numbers, bound in logical rather than publication order. These are preceded by the front cover of 'Part 1', dated 1830, with, on the reverse, the combined index for the first three counties only. The figure in the price statement. '3s[hillings] plain (even when altered from a printed '5s') tends to confirm Cowlings hypothesis that a part contained three, not eight monthly numbers, since each number was sold individually at 1s uncoloured.[9] Unfortunately, no other part covers can be traced to explain why Monmouth is bound on its own in the Bodleian volume, while the other six county maps are arranged in groups of three, and the plan of Oxford is in its rightful place.

Phased publication has long been a favoured way of simultaneously spreading out the large investment involved and attracting the non-book-buying public.[10] Charles Dickens was to use this method for his novels from 1836 onwards. Part-works were aimed at those with small incomes and the 'Critical Notices' in No. VII agree on the cheapness of Moule's English Counties. Yet the survival of just one set out of the 10,000 which Moule later claimed had been subscribed for[11] is not exceptional for works of this nature. Unless the original subscriber sustained his interest and kept the separate numbers together, safe from dirt and damage, he would not have a complete and presentable book to send off for binding at the end. The chance of a heap of numbers in their fragile wrappers withstanding the normal rigours of library use for a century and a half would be very slight. But if the numbers were ultimately redeemed, the printed wrappers – the unique distinguishing feature of the original serial publication – would usually be discarded.

It is probably fortunate, therefore, that the original recipients of this set, the 5th and 6th Viscounts Galway, by narrowly failing to complete it, caused the numbers to be left as they were issued. Because of the 5th Viscount's habit of dating the numbers on receipt, we can, in most cases, add a particular month to the year printed on the outside of the number. Hence this unique set provides for the first time a precise and reliable date for the majority of the Moule maps. Moreover, as an added bonus, each of the crisply engraved maps is set off in the attractive colours of the time, while the liner lines of the etched views are left to speak for themselves. In this way they are revealed as their creators intended, in contrast to the pale shadows found in James Barclay's Universal English Dictionary of the 1840s and 1850s.[12]

The sequence in which the maps was issued is seen clearly in the Table, three of whose central columns set down the different dating statements found on the maps or in the numbers that contain them. Moule's English Counties is arranged according to the six judicial circuits, a convenient way of linking neighbouring counties. Although this logic was adhered to up to No. XXIII (see the relevant column in the right half of the Table), delays with the London text meant that the Home Circuit was split into two sequences. This was only one of the many adjustments forced on Moule by circumstances. Even if that had not been the case, it is unlikely that anyone would have been able to deduce from the 1837 book form publication the order in which the numbers had appeared, since, having decided to start with the second volume. Moule broke off to introduce volume 1 after completing only two of its three circuits.

The engravers

Most of the maps are signed by their engravers. A glance down the column concerned shows immediately that James Bingley. William Schmollinger and John Dower were not employed simultaneously to speed up production, as might reasonably have been supposed. Nor did each entirely supplant the other. The reasons for the frequent switches of engraver remain to be fathomed. Schmollinger replaced Bingley at No. XVII but the hitter's name reappeared later. Then again, although Dower's imprint predominates towards the end, four of the maps that must have been in the final missing numbers bear Schmollinger's name.

James Bingley's elegant map of Oxfordshire is one of the most attractive in Moule's English Counties. This example from the fourth monthly number in the British Library's recently acquired set shows the map's early form before, for example, the addition of the University arms beneath the Radcliffe Camera- (By courtesy of the British Library)

The situation is further complicated by the fact that some engraver's imprints were later altered. For reasons as yet unexplained, Bingley's name was removed and Schmollinger's inserted on at least three maps (Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire and the environs of London), while the reverse occurred on two others (Hertfordshire and Warwickshire). On two more (Leiccstershire[13] and Inland Navigation, sheet 1) both Bingley and Schmollinger forms are known, although their printing sequence remains to be established. In addition, the plan of Oxford, engraved by Cleghorn, would later bear Bingley's name. Subsequently the engraver's imprints were all removed anyway. On the London plan (Schmollinger) this happened in 1834; with Gloucestershire (Bingley) and Norfolk (Schmollinger) it had occurred by 1837. It is not obvious, either, why Bingley, who had inserted his address[14] on the map of Shropshire in No. V should later add it to the already published map of Oxfordshire, hut not to his three earliest maps. By the same token, Schmollinger had been producing maps for over a year before he decided to include his address, but would later add it, apparently, to just two of his thirteen previous maps.[15]

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