Book Trade History - George Berger and his Sons 1796-1868
By Robert J. Kirkpatrick
GEORGE BERGER was a very active bookseller and publisher in the first half of the 19th century, who worked out of Holywell Street, off the Strand, and who at one point, prior to the arrival of W.H. Smith, was the largest newsagent in London (Louis James, Fiction for the Working Man, 1963). Yet, as was the case with many of his contemporaries – George Purkess, William Strange, and George Cowie, for example – very little was known about him. Until now…
George Berger was born in the summer of 1796, and baptised on 8 August 1796 at St. James’s Church, Clerkenwell. His parents were George (1768-1835) and Mary Ann (née Webb) Berger, who had married on 6 August 1795 at St. Mary’s, Lambeth. George was the first of four children, the others being William Robert (baptised 16 September 1798), Mary Ann (b. 4 September 1802), and James Henry (b. 3 November 1807).
George junior married Rachel (sometimes spelt Rachael) Camplin (born in Louth, Lincolnshire around 1801), at St. Bride’s Church, Fleet Street, on 20 July 1819. They went on to have at least eleven children: Lucretia Rachael (baptised 29 October 1820), John George (8 September 1822), Frederick Thomas (12 September 1824), Jabez Camplin (17 December 1826), Joseph Alfred (9 November 1828), Theodore Thomas (1 May 1831), Rachel Sarah (13 January 1833), George Henry (9 November 1834), James David (9 February 1837), Sarah Louisa (12 March 1843), and Lydia (April 1839).
The baptism records for the first four of these children show that George was a compositor at Printing House Lane, Blackfriars, in 1820; a printer in Fetter Lane in 1822 and 1824; and a compositor in Fetter Lane in 1826. There are no detailed records online for the baptisms of the other children, but by 1841 George was describing himself as a bookseller, living in Finchley with his wife and six of his children. He remained in Finchley for the rest of his life – in 1851 his family had been joined by his mother-in-law, Mary Camplin, described in the census as a housekeeper; and in 1861 he was living in Friern Barnet Lane, with his wife, mother-in-law, three of his daughters and a servant.
PUBLISHED. As a publisher Berger, who operated out of Holywell Street (initially at no. 42, moving to 19-20 around 1838), Strand, was particularly well-known for his “unstamped” newspapers, periodicals which carried news and should therefore have been subject to the Newspaper Tax, but which were sold as general publications. His first periodical appears to have been the Satchel; A Repository of Wit, Whimsies, and What-not, launched in March 1831 in partnership with George Purkess and which ran for nine numbers. He followed this with the English Figaro, launched in January 1832 and which survived for just two numbers; the New Entertaining Press and London Advertiser (published in partnership with George Purkess – January 1832-33); the Cab (jointly published with George Purkess and William Strange, March - July 1832); the Literary Censor (March 1832 - one number only); the Penny Novelist (August 1832 - February 1834, which included original and reprinted fiction); the Maids, Wives and Widows’ Penny Magazine and Gazette of Fashion (October 1832 - July 1833, published by Berger in Holywell Street and Westley & Co. in Bristol, and from 16 March 1833 from The Office, 49 Holywell Street); the Penny Lancet (an attempt to usurp the better-known medical journal the Lancet, launched in 1832 and priced at sixpence, whereas Berger’s shabby and dubious version was priced at one penny – it lasted for just three months); the Ladies’ Penny Gazette (October 1832 - September 1834); and the Reformer, or Schoolmaster Abroad, a political and literary miscellany (1832).
MORE. Several more, often short-lived, periodicals, covering a wide range of subjects, followed in succeeding years, including the Prodigy (August 1833, one number?); the Phrenologist (1833, one number); the Cabinet of Wonders (October 1832-?); the Literary Cyclopaedia (Jan-Feb 1834); the Advocate and Labourer’s Friend (1835, 10 numbers); Fraser’s Literary Chronicle (1835 – 26 numbers until 1836, when it was taken over by another publisher); the Oracle of Health; A Penny Journal of Medical Instruction and Amusement (1834-35, 31 numbers); the Mechanic and Chemist (1836-42); the Town and Country Literary Chronicle (1838); the Literary and Political Repository (1838, 40 numbers); the Literary World, A Journal of Popular Information and Entertainment (1839-40, 79 numbers); the American Miscellany (1840); the Penny Times (1841, one number only?); Chambers’s London Journal (1841-43, published in conjunction with several others, including William Strange); the People’s Phrenological Journal (1843-44); Captain Pidding’s Chinese Olio and Tea Talk (1844-45, 53 numbers); the Star (1843-44); and the Magazine for All the Boys (1845, one number only). One of his most successful ventures was the Ladies’ Gazette of Fashion, launched in 1842 and which was taken over by his son John George in 1868.
SERIALS. He also issued a small number of sensational penny-part serials and similar works, such as The Annals of Crime, and New Newgate Calendar (1833-34, 53 numbers); Tales of the Wars, or Naval and Military Chronicles (by R.J. Stapleton, in three volumes, 1836 onwards); Tales of Chivalry, or Perils by Flood and Field (1838); The Bravo of Venice; A Romance (by M.G. Lewis, 1839); Stuart Sharpe; A Romance (by Paul Eaton, 1839); and The Peer and the Blacksmith and The Miser’s Son (both by R. Bedingfield, and issued in partnership with R. Thompson and William Strange, 1844).
In 1839 he was granted a printing licence for a press at 1 Bell Yard, St. Mary le Strand, and after 1845 he seems to have all but abandoned periodical publishing – the only journals traced which carry his imprint after this date are the Operative, launched in January 1851 and taken over by George Vickers in early 1852; the Voice of the Stars, an astrology magazine which had just one issue in 1862; and Change for a Penny, launched in 1864 and which consisted of novels and romances – length of run not known. He advertised the launch of Kidd’s London Journal in December 1851, although this seems never to have appeared (and should not be confused with an earlier – 1835 – periodical with the same title).
In or around 1864 he moved his business premises from 19 Holywell Street to 12 Newcastle Street, Strand. He died on 1 February 1868, at Friern House, Friern Barnet Lane, Finchley, leaving an estate worth just under £9,000 (around £700,000 in today’s terms).
LEGAL MATTERS. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Berger, despite sailing close to the wind and deliberately flouting the Newspaper Tax legislation, avoided bankruptcy and, with one notable exception, seems to have stayed out of the courts. The exception was a case brought by Charles Dickens in January 1844, when Berger, as a bookseller, was the subject of an injunction to stop him selling Parley’s Illuminated Library, published by Richard Egan Lee and John Haddock, and which was running a pastiche of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. (Lee and Haddock, who became liable for Dickens’s costs, immediately became bankrupt, leaving Dickens nursing a substantial loss.)
Of George Berger’s two brothers, one, William Robert, became a printer. He married Mary Connell in 1840 and settled in Westminster, where he died, childless, on 26 November 1858. George’s other brother, James Henry, became a carpenter, at the time of the 1841 census living in Clerkenwell. What happened to him after that is not known.
PUBLISHING SONS. Three of George Berger’s sons followed him into the printing, publishing and bookselling trades.
JOHN GEORGE BERGER. The most successful was John George Berger. He married Maria Tubby (born 13 August 1831 in Tottenham, North London, the daughter of Robert Tubby, a carpenter) at St. Clement Dane’s, Westminster, on 24 December 1844, and later moved to Islington. At the time of the 1851 census he was living at 7 Bride Street, Islington, described as a bookseller, alongside his wife, two children (John, aged 5, and Maria, aged 3), and a servant. Ten years later he was at 2 Belitha Terrace, Islington, now describing himself as a publisher, having had a third child, Charlotte, then aged 8, and still employing a servant. By 1871, the family had moved to 37 Tufnell Park Road, Islington.
In 1868 John George took over his father’s business at 12 Newcastle Street, where he remained until 1878. Amongst his publications were The Bible Story Book (1868, printed by his father at Holywell Street); Berger’s Universal System of Shorthand (1868); How to Make Money Easily, or Modern Modes of Making a Fortune (1870?); the Ladies Companion (1871, one number only?); The New Principia, or True System of Astronomy (1872); Your Future Foretold, or The Whole Art of Astrology (1875); Russia; Its Present, Past and Future Policy (1877); and the Court Magazine (1877, one number only?). On 16 July 1878 he was declared bankrupt (London Gazette, 19 July 1878), and was not discharged until late 1880. After this, he found enough money to emigrate to America with his wife and daughter Charlotte, and in 1881 he was living at 73 Henry Street, Brooklyn, described as a commission merchant. Maria died in England (at 1 Hartford Road, Bexley, Kent, on 12 July 1882; John died in Brooklyn on 18 June 1892.
JOSEPH ALFRED BERGER. Another son, Joseph Alfred Berger, also became a publisher and bookseller. Born in 1828, he was still living with his father at the time of the 1851 census, described as a bookseller. Two years later, on 20 October 1853, he married Louisa Elizabeth Weslake in Chipping Barnet, Hertfordshire. In 1861 they were living at 2 Claremont Street, Islington, with Joseph described as a publisher. They had one son, named Joseph too, in 1857, and they were able to employ a servant.
Joseph had premises at 6 Queen’s Head Passage, Newgate Street, off Paternoster Row, where he operated as both a bookseller and publisher. In June 1858 he was declared bankrupt (London Gazette, 18 June 1858). After being discharged in October 1858, he entered into a partnership with Walter Levy Molyneux, as Advertising Agents and Newspaper Proprietors, at 188 Strand and 13 Catherine Street, although this was short-lived and dissolved by mutual consent on 9 November 1861 (London Gazette, 12 November 1861). Shortly afterwards, the Bankruptcy Court assigned all their estate and effects to a group of trustees.
ACTIVITY. As a publisher, Joseph was not very active. His first publications, all issued in 1858, appear to have been two volumes of the Complete Works of Shakespeare by Samuel Phelps Esq, with steel engravings by Hablot K. Browne, The Discussion at Exeter Hall on the Sunday Question, and The Life, Trial and Death of Felice Orsini (the story of the Italian revolutionary who was executed after attempting to assassinate Napoleon III in January 1858). Rather more likely to appeal to a wider readership was the Household Physician, launched in 1858 (length of run not known), and a reissue in 22 numbers of The New Mysteries of London, illustrated by Hablot K. Browne, which appeared (three years after its original publication by E. Griffiths) in 1860, carrying his address of 13 Catherine Street; The Secret Societies of Paris, or The Conspirators (date not known); and The Lady Detective (1864). In 1863 he took over the London Herald, which had been established in 1861. In May 1865 he was accused of a breach of copyright by Dion Boucicault, a playwright, after he began a plagiarism of Boucicault’s play Arrah-na-Pogue, or The Wicklow Wedding, in the Herald. The play, published and performed for the first time in Dublin in 1864, where Boucicault also registered the copyright, was altered and added-to before its first performance in London, at the Princess’s Theatre in Oxford Street on 22 March 1865, with the copyright being registered at Stationers’ Hall on the same day. On 29 April 1865 the London Herald began a serialisation of a novel with the same title as the play and an identical plot. Boucicault wrote to Berger complaining of piracy and asked him to discontinue publication, but a second instalment appeared in the next number of the Herald.
Berger responded to a subsequent solicitor’s letter by pointing out “From the fact of our having to go to press several weeks in advance it would be next to impossible to withdraw the tale now.” He went on to suggest that Boucicault would benefit from the extra publicity. He added that it had long been the custom to produce novels based on successful dramas and vice versa, and any offence to Boucicault was unintentional and unforeseen. Boucicault’s solicitors wouldn’t budge, however, so Berger ordered that story’s immediate cessation.
Unfortunately, this was too late to stop a further number of the Herald being published with a further instalment on 6 May 1865. Boucicault’s solicitor’s therefore sought an injunction, with the matter eventually being settled out of court (papers relating to the case held at the National Archives).
The costs of the settlement appear to have stretched Berger too far, as later that year he found himself in a debtors’ prison, and was declared bankrupt again on 23 June that year (London Gazette, 4 July 1865). His debts totalled £17,634 (over £1.4 million in today’s terms), although his creditors had seized property worth £11,560 (Times, 7 October 1865).
COPYRIGHT DISPUTE. Berger was again involved in a copyright dispute in May 1867, along with Edward Griffiths, both named as proprietor and publisher respectively of the London Herald. Its number dated 6 May 1867 contained the opening three chapters of John Hazel’s Vengeance, written by William Stephens Hayward. The publisher John Maxwell, of 4 Shoe Lane, immediately entered a writ for breach of copyright, claiming that Hayward had written the story in or just before 1864, and had sold the manuscript and copyright (for £30) to Maxwell on 21 June 1865, although Maxwell had to publish it. The original Bill of Complaint stated that Berger and Griffiths had “by some irregular means obtained possession of the manuscript, although this was later crossed out and replaced with “The manuscript of the said tale was by mistake handed to the defendants”. Berger responded to a subsequent solicitor’s letter by saying that had paid Hayward for writing the story (National Archives). Berger amended this story when the case was heard at the Vice Chancellor’s Court on 13 May 1867 – his solicitor stated that Maxwell “was the agent of a receiver in a suit, and had purchased the manuscript and handed it over the receiver, from whom [Berger] had purchased it.” (Times, 14 May 1867). The outcome of the case is not known.
Berger was still in business at 13 Catherine Street in 1868 – in September of that year he advertised the fact that he had bought the copyright and stereotype plates of The Percy Anecdotes (a lengthy series of stories and snippets of information, originally published in 1821-23 by T. Boys of Ludgate Hill) from the executors of his father’s estate, and announced plans to sell the work in 20 fortnightly volumes. Whether or not all 20 volumes were published is not known – at least one other edition, issued by Frederick Warne & Co., was on the market at the same time. It is, however, likely that the project was curtailed, as testified by yet another appearance in the Bankruptcy Court in January 1869 (London Gazette, 29 January 1869).
Joseph’s wife had died in 1864, being buried in Camden on 9 February, and there is no further trace of Joseph in the online genealogy records after this date. He is credited with two more publications dated around 1868/1870 – Secrets of the River and Strange Journeys, both written by Bracebridge Hemyng – and the London Herald was still listed at 13 Catherine Street in 1870. But in 1871 it had gone, and nothing further about Joseph Alfred Berger is known.
THEODORE THOMAS BERGER. A third son, Theodore Thomas Berger, born in 1831, also became a bookseller for a while, described as such in the 1851 census when he was living with his father in Finchley. However, after taking a degree at King’s College, London in 1854, he was ordained a Deacon in 1856 and took holy orders the following year in Manchester. Between 1856 and 1861 he was a curate in Salford. He then took a post as a curate in Bolton. In 1863 he married Eliza Jane Knowles, and he was appointed vicar of St. James’s Church, Bolton in 1871. Eliza died in 1885, and he married again, in Hastings in 1889, his second wife being Janet Hope. She died in 1893, and Theodore subsequently married Alma Rosslewin Ellis (a widow) in London in 1895 and immediately moving to Wiveton, Norfolk, where he had been appointed Rector. However, this marriage did not last – by 1901 they were living apart and Theodore was being looked after by his sister Lydia, acting as his housekeeper. For her part, Alma became a hotel proprietor (at the Wiverton Hotel, Queen’s Gate, Kensington) and then a tea shop proprietor at 161 New Bond Street, until she was declared bankrupt in March 1904 (London Gazette, 22 March 1904).
Theodore wrote several tracts, essays and books during his lifetime, mostly on religion. He died on 21 August 1907 in Norfolk, after being thrown from his trap when his horse was alarmed by a car. He left an estate worth £6,656 (around £615,000 in today’s terms).
Of George Berger’s other sons, three died in childhood: Jabez, born in 1826, died in 1828; George Henry, born in 1834, died in 1843; and James David, born in 1837, died in 1838. Of Frederick Thomas, born in 1824, absolutely nothing is known.
ROBERT J. KIRKPATRICK is the author From the Penny Dreadful to the Ha’Penny Dreadfuller. A Bibliographic History of the Boys' Periodical in Britain, 1762 – 1950, published at Oak Knoll Press in 2013, and of Bullies, Beaks and Flannelled Fools: An Annotated Bibliography of Boys School Fiction, 1742 – 2000. He is also a long-standing member of the Children's Books History Society, and a regular contributor to the Society's newsletter as well as to newsletters from other literary societies.
Posted on Yesterday’s Papers, presented here by permission of the author. Pictures: Yesterday’s Papers.