Street View: 38 and 17 Suppl.
Address: 73 Cheapside
Thomas Tegg became an important bookseller, known for publishing reprints and remainders, but he also published original work and, in his early years, acted as auctioneer. He left a handwritten autobiography, now lost, of which sections were published by his son in 1870. The small booklet does not seem to be available online, but Henry Curwen had access to it and provides most of the information about Tegg’s early life in his A History of Booksellers, the Old and the New (1873). Curwen’s chapter on Tegg is available online here, so I will only repeat the bare essentials.
Tegg was born in 1776, his father died when he was 5 years old and his mother when he was 9. He was sent to a boarding school in Scotland and from there to an apprenticeship with a bookseller. Unfortunately, that bookseller was often drunk and abusive, so Tegg ran away. After many jobs in many places, he managed to reach London in 1796 where he found work in the bookshop of the Quakers John and Arthur Arch. When he received a legacy of £200, he decided to set up on his own, at first in partnership with J. Dalton Dewick at 6, West Moreland Buildings, Aldersgate Street, but that partnership was quickly dissolved.(1) Dewick stayed at Aldersgate Street and Thomas set up shop in St. John’s Street with one Castleman as his partner. They called their shop The Eccentric Book Warehouse, but apparently Castleman had a predilection for alcohol rather than for business, so that partnership did not last very long either.
Tegg proceeded to tour the country as an auctioneer, buying up stock and selling it on at a profit until he had raised enough money to come back to London and start all over again for himself. This time, he found a shop in Cheapside, number 111, from which he established himself well enough to be able to move in 1824 to a much larger shop at number 73. Number 73 had been built after a design by Christopher Wren for Sir William Turner who served as Lord Mayor in 1668-9. It became known as Old Mansion House.
Thomas Tegg married Mary Holland on 20 April 1800 at St. Bride’s and the couple were to have many children. At least five of the boys became booksellers; James and Samuel in Australia; Thomas junior and Henry in Dublin with Henry later going to Cape Town; and William who was to succeed his father in the Cheapside shop, but later removing the business to 12 Pancras Lane. It was a very clever move to send family members abroad to obtain a foothold in far-away places, thereby assuring an outlet for the relatively cheap reprints and remainders Tegg specialised in. Tegg had cornered the market nicely in 1825 when a financial crisis forced many publishers and booksellers who had overreached themselves to panic and sell left-over stock. Tegg swept it all up at hugely advantageous prices, such as, for instance, some of Walter Scott’s novels, which he later sold at a nice profit.(2) He wrote in his autobiography, “I was the broom that swept the booksellers’ warehouses”.
Thomas senior died in 1846, according to Curwen, “after a long and painful illness, brought on by over-exertion, mental and physical” and was buried at St. Mary’s, Wimbledon on 28 April. His youngest son Alfred Byron, a student at Pembroke College, Oxford, was buried on the same day; it is said that he was so overcome by his father’s death, that he died almost instantly after receiving the message.
Below two advertisements and some title-pages of random publications by Thomas Tegg. If you like to know more about Tegg’s publications and have access to JSTOR, I suggest you read: James J. Barnes and Patience P. Barnes, “Reassessing the Reputation of Thomas Tegg, London Publisher, 1776-1846” in Book History, Vol. 3 (2000), pp. 45-60.
[Postscript: Jenny Bakken, whose husband was the 3 x great grandson of Thomas Tegg, sent me two photographs of the Cheapside façade, which now resides in a Kent park. The building that housed Tegg’s bookshop was demolished in the 1920s, but the façade was saved in order to erect it somewhere else in London. That did not happen and in the end it ended up as a garden feature in Pines Garden, St. Margaret’s Bay, Kent. Thanks go to Jenny for letting me post the photographs and for making me realise that a tangible piece of 73 Cheapside still exist (see also the comment by John Crellin)]
(1) The London Gazette, 15 March 1800.
(2) F.A. Munby, Publishing and Bookselling (1930, reissued 1934), p. 269-271.
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