Jonas Hanway and his bookbindings

Crewe 80.20 photo of front coverCrewe 80.20 is a beautiful example of a ‘Hanway binding’, the name given to bindings specially commissioned by Jonas Hanway, an 18th century philanthropist.  Often bound in red morocco (goatskin) and decorated with distinctive tooling, these books were designed to catch the eye and to help circulate ideas and principles that were close to Hanway’s heart.  What is unique about this book is the inclusion of lines of verse written by hand on the front flyleaves  which directly relate to the ornaments on the spine and cover.  Hanway is known to have suggested or designed a number of emblematic tools which were used by his second binder, identity unknown.  The photograph below of the spine shows some of these emblematic tools:

Crewe 80.20 photo of spine

First page of MS. verse about the emblems

 

 

Click here for a full transcription of the verse

 

 

 

Portrait of Jonas Hanway
Arthur Devis [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Hanway made his money as a merchant working for the Russia Company, and the tale of his trials and adventures as a trader in Russia and Persia formed the subject of his well-received first publication, ‘An historical account of the British trade over the Caspian Sea’ (1753).  Thereafter he began to write voluminously and published 85 known books and pamphlets.  His driving force was his philanthropic interests, which ranged far and wide.  Philanthropy for Hanway was a means to help people, in a practical and efficient manner, to support themselves; he saw no use in the wasting of money on lavish social events as a form of philanthropic giving.  In 1756 he set up the Marine Society (which still exists today) to help recruit men, and later boys, to the Royal Navy; in 1758 he was elected governor of the Foundling Hospital, a children’s home which cared for and educated the destitute; through charities and societies, and his own writings, he supported numerous causes, including among others the lot of chimney sweeps and prostitutes, penal reform, and the raising of funds for people affected by a particular war or disaster; his lobbying and pamphleteering on behalf of disadvantaged children led to the passing of meaningful legislation.

A brief look at a contemporary of Hanway might shed light on why it was deemed important to distribute texts in special bindings.  Thomas Hollis, a political propagandist, used his wealth to spread the ideas of republicanism as a means of protecting and advancing English liberty.  He accomplished this by distributing suitable texts to libraries, initially in Britain and on the Continent, and later to America.  The fine bindings were designed to enable such books to stand out and the emblems that were stamped upon them to further the libertarian sentiments.  As Hollis himself wrote on the bindings of books, ‘… by long experience I have found it necessary to attend to them for other libraries, having thereby drawn notice, with preservation, on many excellent books, or curious, which, it is probable, would else have passed unheeded or neglected.’  A large number of Hollis bindings have survived, and several, among them some of Hollis’s own copies, can be found in the Wren Library’s Rothschild collection.  An example at RW.6.14 is presented below:

While Hollis left no key to the meaning of his emblems, do we have here, in the form of verse, a clue to the meaning of some of Hanway’s?

Hanway had a certain reputation for eccentricity. He was (it is said) the first man to carry an umbrella around the streets of London at a time when it was usual only for women to do so.  He wrote against tea, a drink that was still a relative novelty in England at this time, in his ‘An Essay On Tea, Considered As Pernicious To Health, Obstructing Industry, And Impoverishing The Nation: With An Account Of Its Growth And Great Consumption In These Kingdoms’, which was refuted at length by none other than Samuel Johnson, an ardent tea drinker, in his review of Hanway’s 1757 work ‘A Journal of Eight Days Journey from Portsmouth to Kingston upon Thames, With Miscellaneous Thoughts, Moral and Religious, in a Series of Letters’, in which ‘An essay on tea’ appears.  Overall, his contemporaries seem to have had a mixed opinion of Jonas Hanway: on the one hand respectful of his philanthropic work and on the other slightly disdainful of his prodigious, if turgid, writing output; he has been described as ‘one of the most indefatigable and splendid bores of English history’.

 

Sources:

Oxford DNB

Bond, W. H.  Thomas Hollis of Lincoln’s Inn (1990)

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