Recycled woodcuts, part 2

by Nick

A while ago I posted about a woodcut of a nonconformist preacher, which was reused for five different pamphlets in 1641. There I wondered whether the recycling of the woodcut could be explained by two printers, Bernard Alsop and Thomas Fawcett, trying to recoup the investment they had put into commissioning the woodcut.

There are many examples of woodcuts being recycled in this way during the 1640s and 1650s. Here for example is the frontispiece to The Wrens nest defil’d (London, 1640):

Here is a slightly different version from Articles ministred by His Majesties Commissioners (London, 1641):

This is a good example of a woodcut which was designed to be used more than once. The speech bubbles could be filled with type and modified to suit the content of each pamphlet for which the woodcut was used. In the first version, the ecclesiastical figure on the left is Bishop Wren. In the second, the figure up the ladder is John Gwin, vicar of Cople in Bedford. The bird-like noise he is making, punning on his name, is an extension of the many bird-related jokes against Wren and Finch that appear in print in the early 1640s.

Here is one of Alsop and Fawcett’s woodcuts, from A new play called Canterburie his change of diot (London, November 1641):

Shortly after being used in this way the woodcut also appeared, despite bearing little resemblance to the pamphlet’s subject matter, in A Prophecy concerning the earle of Essex (London, December 1641):

It then appeared again in The Welsh-mans propositions to the Arch-Bishop of Yorke (London, 3 August 1646):

Again it had very little to do with the pamphlet’s contents. Recycling in this way perhaps suggest that illustrations helped to sell pamphlets. In a saturated marketplace, they may have helped to catch the customer’s eye while hanging up in the book stall, and would have stood out compared to titles with densely packed text on their front page.

What is interesting about this woodcut is that it remained unused, so far as we can tell, for five years before being dug out and put to use again. It suggests that printers were happy to store woodcuts for long periods of time, in case they could be used again. Five years was by no means the shortest time a woodcut stayed on a shelf before being taken down and covered with ink once more. Below is a woodcut from the title page of A Nest of serpents discovered (London, September 1641):

Nine years later the same woodcut, slightly modified, appeared on the front of The ranters religion (London, 11 December 1650). Adamites had become Ranters:

But this was not the only time this image was reused. It also appeared on the front of A sermon preached the last fast day in Leaden-Hall Street (London, 4 March 1643):

And it appeared as well on the front of Love one another (London, 25 December 1642):

The continuity between imagined sectarian others, over nearly a decade, is not the only interesting thing about this woodcut. Another intriguing aspect is the fact that, at first sight, it does not seem to have stayed with the same printer. On the second page of A Nest of serpents is a woodcut initial of the letter T.  A similar T also appears in A sermon preached. A very similar T appears in The apprentices warning-piece (London, October 1641), whose title page declared it to be printed and sold by Henry Walker:

Meanwhile The ranters religion had a different letter T. This is the same woodcut initial used in A discovery of the notorious proceedings of William Laud (London, 15 October 1641) – also printed and sold by Henry Walker.

A Nest of serpents could, possibly, be a Walker product. The subject matter is not really something one would associate with him, but he was running an illicit press during the second half of 1641 so could have printed it for someone else purely to make money. However, A sermon preached seems unlikely given that its author was Walker’s enemy John Taylor. And The ranters religion is almost certainly not his. By 1650 Walker had made the shift into newsbook writing and was involved with editing various titles, principally Severall Proceedings.

So what is going on here? I can think of two possibilities. One is that Walker sold his stock, and by 1650 bits of his equipment were being used elsewhere. But I think it’s more likely that Walker didn’t properly “own” a press in 1641 at all, and was borrowing or buying use of one but claiming on his frontispieces that it was his.

Instead, I suspect the woodcuts all belonged to Bernard Alsop. The ranters religion was the first of many anti-Ranter pamphlets that appeared over a short period in 1650 and 1651. Alsop was responsible for many of them, which followed a similar pattern of an eight-page quarto illustrated on the front with a vivid woodcut. Here for example is the woodcut from Alsop’s The routing of the ranters (London, 19 November 1650):

Here is his woodcut from The Ranters Ranting (London, 2 December 1650). This was subsequently cut into four pieces and used to illustrate the pages of Strange Newes from Newgate (London, 21 January 1651):

Here is his The arraignment and tryall with a declaration of the Ranters (London, 17 December 1650), incidentally reusing an eight-year old woodcut from Three speeches, being such speeches as the like were never spoken in the city (London, 9 October 1642):

Given this flurry of similar anti-Ranter publications, it seems plausible that The ranters religion, with its recycled woodcut of Adamites, was also an Alsop production. As you can see, Alsop had a track record not just in making creative re-use of woodcuts, but in storing them up “just in case”. In 1641 he was, together with his partner Thomas Fawcett, one of the printers Henry Walker made extensive use of. I have traced 24 pamphlets that were definitely or probably written by Walker during 1641.By matching printers’ ornaments and type with title pages that do record names of printers, and with House of Lords archives on the prosecution of various authors and printers during 1641, I have worked out that Alsop and Fawcett were involved with at least seven of them. Walker himself claimed on title pages to have printed five more. If these were actually Alsop and Fawcett productions as well, passed off for whatever reason by Walker as his own, then it gives us an interesting insight into how Walker may have been publishing pamphlets during the early 1640s.

There are also examples of printers apparently sharing woodcuts. Here is the title woodcut from The ranters declaration (London, 17 December 1650):

This was printed by “J. C.”, probably Jane Coe. She had taken over her husband Andrew’s business after his death in 1644.

The same block gets reused six months later in The Declaration  of John Robins (London, 2 June 1651):

And yet this was printed by Robert Wood rather than Jane Coe. It then turns up with a third printer, George Horton in The Quakers dream: or the Devil’s pilgrimage in England (London, 1655):

Horton is one of the printers involved in another circulating woodcut that originated with Coe. In 1646 Coe printed A Declaration of a strange and Wonderfull Monster: Born in Kirkham Parish in Lancashire (London, 1646), with a rather wonderful woodcut:

This then turns up six years later in 1652, retooled as an anti-Ranter woodcut in George Horton’s The ranters monster (London, 30 March 1652). As you can see the quality of the block has deteriorated somewhat in the interim:

The circulation of woodcuts in this way hints at a complicated set of relationships between printers in this period. They were commercial rivals, yet they also operated within a very small world and must surely have known one another. Maybe wood blocks were lent as a favour; maybe they were rented out for a fee; maybe they were sold.