June 1

At Manchester, England on June 1, 1839, Charles H. Timperley completed his preface to A Dictionary of Printers and Printing, an octavo containing in 1,002 pages of brevier type, a storehouse of factual information concerning the progress of the craft of printing. The authoritative bibliographers of printing, Messrs. Bigmore and Wyman, say of it, “One of the most interesting works a printer can possess; while laying no claim to originality, it is full of anecdote and historical facts!’

Indeed, Timperley went to some length in his preface to deprecate his contributions to the Mystic Art: “In April, 1828, that portion of the work which now forms the introduction, was delivered as one of two lectures before the Warwick and Leamington Literary and Scientific Institution; and the very flattering commendations then bestowed induced me to pursue the subject further, as a means both of self-instrucion and amusement for my leisure hours. . . . Not aware of the labours that others had performed, and without an assistant, I had many obstacles to contend with;and soon became well convinced, that the design I had formed was above the bibliographical acquirements of a journeyman printer.”

“My aim,” he further stated in his prefatory remarks, “has been to record, with as much fidelity as possible, the names and deeds of ancient and modem typographers, who have benefitted literature by their labours—society by their exertions—and whose conduct it would be easy to adopt, and desirable to emulate. Nor will it, I hope, be deemed presumption for having introduced the names of many of our humbler artists, whose meritorious conduct when living obtained the meed of praise; and whose honourable industry deserves to be recorded as a laudable example to the young typographer, who wishes to obtain respect from his fellow-men.”

Timperley had been apprenticed to a copperplate engraver. However he entered the army in 1810 where he soon learned that a military career gave “few opportunities for self-improvement!’ Wounded in the Battle of Waterloo, he was discharged in 1815 and returned to his trade. Disliking it, he indentured himself instead as a letterpress printer, “with the view of affording me that literary information which I so ardently desired.” His first compilation was Songs of the Press, one of the best selections ever put together of printer’s songs and poems. At the present time Timperley’s Dictionary is not readily obtainable, and the collector who runs across the volume in a second-hand bookshop may consider himself fortunate.

For a printer with such scholarly attributes, Timperley did not have a distinguished career following the publication of his dictionary, primarily because he was the victim of a 19th century con game operated by the publisher of his book. To pay his debts as a responsible employee of the publisher he consigned his entire stock of dictionaries to an auctioneer who ran off with the proceeds of the auction leaving the author heartbroken and quite destitute. He ended his career in a comparatively minor job.

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