The Dublin Book Trade 1801– 1850
By: Charles Benson
Tucked away in the recesses of Trinity College’s Old Library, a small team of scholar-librarians in the 1960s created what became a laboratory for the close study of the evolution of the Irish book. The key figures were Mary Pollard, whose publications transformed eighteenth-century Irish book history, and her successor Charles Benson. Early death prevented his masterpiece, a study of the post-Union Irish book trade, from being published until now.
In an era of rising literacy and the opening up of civil society, demand for print in Ireland rose sharply after 1800 and took many forms. Benson’s study illuminates this diversity, explores the new technologies of production, and documents the working life of all engaged in the craft. It reveals the scale and sophistication of the Dublin book trade by the 1840s, one that was very different from the family businesses that had dominated Pollard’s world. The foundations for a modern publishing industry had now been laid.
‘[Bensen’s] doctoral thesis “The Dublin Book Trade, 1801-1850” (TCD, 2000) is a pioneering work of primary scholarship. It includes an invaluable “Dictionary of the Dublin Book Trade, 1801-1850”, the development of which Charles returned to, on his retirement. This gives details of 5,280 persons or firms, and includes fascinating details about all aspects of Irish printing and bookselling: among the colourful individuals can be found practitioners of medical electricity, sellers of musical instruments, forgers of bank notes – and at least one printer known as “an incorrigible tippler”.’ – The Irish Times
Charles Benson (1946–2018) was an outstanding bibliographer and scholar of international repute. A leading authority on the 19th-century Irish book trade, he suceeeded the legendary Mary Pollard in the role of Keeper in 1988. His 23-year tenure as Keeper was marked by his vision of the early printed collections in the library as a key resource for scholars, for students, and for the public.