John Whittaker's edition of the Magna Carta, printed in gold in 1816 to commemorate the 600th anniversary of the signing, "one of the most ambitious publishing ventures of the nineteenth century" (John Maggs) View larger
John Whittaker's edition of the Magna Carta, printed in gold in 1816 to commemorate the 600th anniversary of the signing, "one of the most ambitious publishing ventures of the nineteenth century" (John Maggs)
Magna Carta

Magna Carta Regis Johannis, XV. Die Junii Anno Regni XVII. A.D. MCCXV

London, John Whittaker, 1816
The handsome Magna Charta printed in gold by Whittaker. In 1812, the Westminster bookbinder John Whittaker ingeniously adapted the process of stereotyping to print in burnished gold. He circulated a prospectus and specimens, and in 1816 published the present work in celebration of the 600th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta. The stereotypes were imposed on a range of materials (paper, vellum, and satin mounted on paper) of varying colours (white, red, and purple), and of varying dimensions. “Special” copies were produced by adding illumination in gold and colours, with varying degrees of elaboration: borders, incorporating the heraldic insignia of the Barons; portraits; coats of arms of the recipients, etc. The number of leaves in the book varies: many copies, printed on paper, vellum, and also satin, contain a title and eleven leaves, comprising the text of the Magna Carta (12 leaves in total, as here); some copies include an additional page, containing the names of the Barons (13 leaves in total), and a few have in addition a dedication to the Prince Regent, a sub-title and the text of the treaty (Conventio inter Regem Iohannem et Barones) in which the king surrendered the City of London (17 leaves in total). Copies further enhanced by additional dedication leaves bearing the arms of the original owner also are recorded.
Subjects
Book illustration - Artists, British - Harris (John, the elder), 1767-1832
Book illustration - Artists, British - Harris (John, the younger), 1791-1873
History, British - Magna Charta
Authors/Creators
Whittaker, John, active 1816
Artists/Illustrators
Harris, John, the elder, 1767-1832
Harris, John, the younger, 1791-1873
Printers/Publishers
Whittaker, John, active 1816
Other names
Selenka, Philipp, 1803-1850
Whittaker, John, c. 1780-1831

Magna Carta

Magna Carta Regis Johannis, xv. Die Junii Anno Regni xvii. a.d. mccxv.

London, John Whittaker, 1816

folio (428 × 335 mm), (12) ff. letterpress, printed in gold on thick card (rectos only), unsigned and unpaginated, comprising: title (transcribed above) decorated by regalia painted in colours, and eleven leaves of text, of which the first is illuminated by an initial j.

Occasional spotting; edges of the binding lightly rubbed.

bound in contemporary green morocco, covers decorated in gilt; by Philipp Selenka (engraved ticket, printed on white paper, Gebunden bei Ph. Selenka in Wiesbaden)

The handsome Magna Carta printed in gold by Whittaker. In 1812, the Westminster bookbinder, John Whittaker (c. 1780–1831), ingeniously adapted the process of stereotyping to print in burnished gold.1 He circulated a prospectus and speci­mens,2 and in 1816 published the present work in celebration of the sixth-hundredth anniver­sary of the signing of the Magna Carta. Whittaker thereafter practically abandoned his inven­tion: just one other was book printed by him using the same technique.3

The stereotypes were imposed on a range of materials (paper, vellum, and satin mounted on paper) of varying colours (white, red, and purple), and of varying dimensions (folio: c. 440 × 345 mm; and imperial folio: c. 600 × 435 mm). ‘Special’ copies were produced by adding illumination in gold and colours, with varying degrees of elaboration: borders, incorporat­ing the heraldic insignia of the Barons; portraits; coats of arms of the recipients, etc.4 Plain copies were published at ten guineas, and the most highly decorated ‘reached a cost of two hundred and fifty guineas’.5

The number of leaves in the book varies: many copies, printed on paper, vellum, and also satin,6 contain a title and eleven leaves, comprising the text of the Magna Carta (i.e. 12 leaves in total); some apparently include ‘an additional page, containing the names of those Barons whose arms were painted in the large edition’ (i.e. 13 leaves);7 while others contain in addition a dedication to the Prince Regent, a sub-title and the text of the treaty (Conven­tio inter Regem Iohannem et Barones) in which the king surrendered the City of London (i.e. 17 leaves).8 Still larger copies with additional portraits (King John, King John with the Barons, the Prince Regent) and with dedication leaves bearing the arms of the original owner are recorded.

Our copy contains the engraved ticket of the bookbinder Philipp Selenka (1803–1850) of Wiesbaden, brother of Johann Jacob Selenka (1801–1871), Hofbuchbinder in Braunschweig.9

1. C.H. Timperley, Dictionary of Printers and Printing (London 1839), p.844.

2. T.H. Horne, Introduction to the Study of Bibliography (London 1814), i, p.225: ‘Mr. W. has issued proposals for an edition of Magna Charta, (from the original MS. deposited in the British Museum), to be executed after his improved method, on royal purple satin, and on superfine vellum paper: the specimens we have seen are truly superb, and reflect the highest honour on the artist’.

3. Ceremonial of the coronation of His Most Sacred Majesty King George the Fourth in the Abbey of St. Peter, Westminster: including the names of the archbishops, bishops, peers, knights, and principal officers who assisted in that magnificent ceremony (West Minster: Printed by John Whittaker, 1822). On its production, see John Johnson, Typographia, or The printers' instructor (London 1824), ii, p.547; Harold Miller, ‘John Whittaker’s Ceremonial of the coronation of His most sacred majesty King George the Fourth’ in American Book Collector 7 (December 1986), pp.17–23; Royal Treasures, A Golden Jubilee Celebration, edited by Jane Roberts, published to accompany the exhibition at the Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace, May 2002 to January 2003 (London 2002), pp.382–385 nos. 333–334.

4. This decoration, once attributed to Thomas Willement, seems to have been added by John Harris, father (1767–1832) and son (1791–1873), the latter an employee of Whittaker from 1815 until about 1820; see Philip Weimerskirch, ‘John Harris, 1767–1832: Memoir by His Son, John Harris, 1791–1873’ in The Book Collector 42 (1993), pp.245–252; and Janet Ing Freeman, ‘John Harris 1791–1873’ in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online edition, May 2006).

5. W.T. Lowndes, The bibliographer's manual of English literature, edited by H.G. Bohn (London 1861), vi, p.1450. ‘Special’ copies are noted by T.F. Dibdin, The Bibliographical Decameron (London 1817), ii, pp.416–417; Joseph Basile Bernard van Praet, Catalogue de livres imprimés sur vélin (Paris 1824), iii, p.96 no. 163; and Van Praet, Catalogue des livres imprimés sur vélin de la Biblio­thèque du roi (Paris 1828), vi, pp.172–177 no. 169 bis. The Spencer copy is given an extended discussion in Dibdin’s Aedes Althorpiana (London 1822), i, pp.207–223.

6. Cambridge, ma, Harvard University, Houghton Library, Typ 805.16.5490 (local opac: ‘printed in letters of gold, on royal purple satin’, ‘[12] leaves; 43 cm.’). Six other copies are elsewhere in Harvard Libraries.

7. Richard Thomson, An Historical Essay on the Magna Charta of King John (London 1829), pp.458–460.

8. See the discussion of the five copies of the book in the Wormsley Library: Bryan Maggs, ‘John Whittaker’s edition of the Magna carta, its printing, and his bindings on the Wormsley copies’ in For the love of the binding: studies in bookbinding history presented to Mirjam Foot, edited by David Pearson (London & New Castle, de 2000), pp.271–275; also The Wormsley Library: A Personal Selection by Sir Paul Getty, k.b.e, edited by H. George Fletcher (second edition, London 2007), p.180 no. 74.

9. Two bindings by Philipp Selenka in the Fürstlich Waldecksche Hofbibliothek, Arolsen, are descri­bed by Rudolf-Alexander Schütte and Konrad Wiedemann, Einbandkunst vom frühmittelalter bis Jugend­stil aus den Bibliotheken in Kassel und Arolsen, Universitätsbibliothek Kassel (Kassel 2002), p.54 no. 68 and Abb. 51 and no. 70. He was a specialist ‘Portefeuillear­beiter’; see Hektor Rössler, Ausführli­cher Bericht über die von dem Gewerbverein für das Großher­zogthum Hessen im Jahre 1842 veran­staltete Allgemeine deutsche Industrie-Ausstellung zu Mainz (Darmstadt 1843), p.240.

Top