Circulating Library Catalogue – Thurnam’s of Carlisle

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An uncommon example of a circulating library catalogue – Thurnam’s of Carlisle 1827, Parts I-XIX, a total of nearly two thousand works, a decent sized circulating library if we compare this to the figures listed in Allan’s ‘A Nation of Readers’ (Table 4.1) – parts were added to the catalogue as new books became available; John Turton had a copy of Thurnam’s catalogue to part XXVI in a 2013 catalogue.

Thurnam’s ‘let out to read’ books at £1, 1s a year; 12s half a year, 7s a quarter, 4s a month, or by single volume at 1d each evening, though “the proprietor will sometimes be necessitated to charge a trifle additional for expensive works”.

The books are mainly fiction, which led to worries about the influence of circulating libraries, indeed the chapter on circulating libraries in Allan is titled ‘Inlets of Vice and Debauchery’, opening with a wonderful quote by Cooke, “how many young people, especially girls, often procure, and sometimes in a secret manner, books of so evil a tendency, that not only their time is most shamefully wasted, but their morals and manners tainted and warped for the remainder of their lives”.

For an excellent overview of book clubs, reading societies, subscription libraries, circulating libraries and early public libraries, see David Allan, A Nation of Readers – The Circulating Library in Georgian England (2008)

Circulating library advert


An attractive advert for the circulating library of Samuel Simms of Bath, here found as a wrapper covering a copy of Vox Stellarum for 1827. Simms offered all sorts of book related products and services as you can see from this wrapper, including bookbinding . Ramsden notes Samuel Simms at North Parade as early as 1801 (Ramsden – Bookbinders Outside London, page 149)

John Payne – Bookseller Label


A handsome mid-late eighteenth century booksellers label, John Payne ‘at the Feathers in Paternoster Row’. One of the larger examples (100mm x 70mm) in size, attractively engraved. The BBTI shows Payne as working between 1744-1787, at four different addresses all on Paternoster Row. He was at 15 Paternoster Row between 1752 and 1758, then at ‘Pope’s Head’, followed by the Feathers and finally at 54 Paternoster Row.

Raven, in his ‘The Business of Books’, notes that Payne, who was a friend of Dr. Johnson’s, moved to the Feathers in 1765 and moved to 54 Paternoster Row in ‘about’ 1767 – Confusingly there was another John Payne in Paternoster Row, the business partner of Joseph Johnson who later published Paine, Godwin and Wollstonecraft.

Circulating Library Labels

As well as bookseller labels, I am also very keen on circulating library labels and yes, I know I should get out more. These are obviously best left in (and on) the books involved as they are a good source of provenance, but often they arrive here already removed.


Circulating libraries lent books, pamphlets, newspapers etc to customers for a fee and prospered largely between the mid-eighteenth and mid-nineteenth century. They often offered other book-related trades and products like printing, bookbinding and book selling, but also slightly more unusual things like medicine, perfumes and umbrellas (see below).

Probably the nicest example I have is stuck onto the outside of the covers, and the only one I have seen which has a ‘front’ and a ‘back’, though it is unlikely to have been intended as such.



The ‘front’ of the above example from Bettison’s of Leamington does appear in the Papantonio Collection which forms the basis of the excellent book by Charlotte A. Stewart-Murphy, “A History of British Circulating Libraries”, published by the Bird & Bull Press in 1992 (see Plate VI), but the ‘back’ does not.

The Stewart-Murphy book mentioned above is probably the best introduction to circulating libraries and their labels, Scottish circulating libraries are brilliantly served by Keith Manley’s, “Books, Borrowers and Shareholders”, though, alas, no illustrations are provided of the actual labels



Zetetic Books are delighted to be a distributor for a collaboration between the designer Eric Andersen and the ‘wordmonger’ Martin Robinson.

‘Epitomes’, recently launched in Zurich, was “fifty years in the writing and two years in the making … It is both an anachorism and an anachronism. It is a combined production of words and images, of printing and design”, an ‘anti-book’ where the reader is invited to “become a participant in the labour of thought and composition”.

There is a short introductory piece about the work at the link below

[000294] Andersen, Eric, Robinson, Martin and Robinson, Thomas (Ed). Diagrams, Telegrams, Calligrams, Ideograms are All Epitomes. ill. Andersen, Eric. Zurich: 2014. First Edition. 4to. Unbound in Box. Very Good+. Fifty printed loose sheets inside the publishers box, thirty-nine single sheets, eleven double size and folded.

New, as issued.



One of the collections here at Zetetic HQ is of what we like to call biblio-ephemera, or book related ephemera; including a half-hearted bookmark collection and quite a few bookplates, binders tickets, booksellers billheads and bookseller trade cards.

Our primary interest, however, are bookseller labels. Rickards in his excellent Encyclopaedia of Ephemera describes them as “in effect a miniature trade card … generally printed in black on a thin colour-tinted paper … and in a variety of shapes” (see below)


There are several books and websites devoted to collecting them, the best is (then click on the link to the ‘Gallery of Book Trade Labels’), the site has hundreds of pictures of examples and also has a good bibliography on the subject, as well as several other web links



I have used this image of a book shop before (in a previous life), but I do like the description – particularly the bookseller selleth books, which certainly isn’t the case much of the time. I don’t know where the page comes from, presumably an edition of the ‘Book of Trades’. The woodcut bears some resemblance to life here at Zetetic HQ, though I have more books on the floor…

New year, new job, new website, new blog…

Well here we go again, back to self-employment…

Welcome to the new website, the first one I’ve built (with quite a few issues to iron out, but hopefully still useable). The page indexes don’t work, so if you want to look at the stock please use the ‘product categories’ to the left (effectively the book catalogues), rather than the page numbers at the foot of the stock page. I hope to able to work out how to standardise the product box sizes as well, so it looks a bit cleaner, but haven’t been able to work it out yet…

I hope to use the blog to introduce items of interest, aspects of bibliophilia and anything else which I decide I must share…

We have a Facebook page – so feel free to like us 🙂

(The page indexes now work!)