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The Earliest Subscriber to an English Woodworking Magazine  

06/02/2009 - Well Sort of Anyway

A good bit about what we know about the 17th century comes from the diary of Samuel Pepys (pronounced "peeps") (1633 - 1703). Pepys kept a diary from 1660- 1669 and along with lots of minutia of what he ate, what he did during the day, which women he flirted with, and other things, he wrote a bit about woodworking.

In his diary he routinely refers to various remodeling projects and talks about the "joyners" who worked on the projects.

"Up betimes and set some joyners on work to new lay my floor in our wardrobe, which I intend to make a room for musique." August 3, 1663

"To my office, where I stood by and saw Symson the joyner do several things, little jobbs, to the rendering of my closet handsome and the setting up of some neat plates that Burston has for my money made me, and so home to dinner, and then with my wife, mother, and Mercer in one boat, and I in another, down to Woolwich. " May 29th 1665

Professionally he was one of the first and most important of the secretaries of the Admiralty and is credited for forming the modern British Navy. However his background was humble. The son of a weaver who caught the eye of a cousin - the Earl of Sandwich - who paid for his education and made him his secretary, Pepys got his job when the earl was one of the group that helped restore Charles ll to the throne. Pepys would have felt that manual labor wasn't something to be done by a gentleman such as he, but he certainly would have had some closer association with tradesman than a person who was born to the manor and he certainly enjoyed designing and managing the constant remodeling of his home.

You can read the diary here.

Pepy's also loved books and refers in the diary of buying books and other things from Joseph Moxon who was a major London publisher of the time.

"It being washing day, we had a good pie baked of a leg of mutton; and then to my office, and then abroad, and among other places to Moxon's, and there bought a payre of globes cost me 3l. 10s., with which I am well pleased, I buying them principally for my wife, who has a mind to understand them, and I shall take pleasure to teach her. But here I saw his great window in his dining room, where there is the two Terrestrial Hemispheres, so painted as I never saw in my life, and nobly done and to good purpose, done by his own hand." September 8,1663

Moxon's Mechanick Exercises is the first book in English on woodworking (and other crafts) and was originally published by as a series in an edition of 500 copies starting in 1677. Selling a book chapter by chapter by subscription made a lot of sense because this way you could gauge the audience before you had committed to typesetting and printing the entire book, which would have been an incredibly expensive project. The diary stops before Mechanical Exercises was published but it makes a lot of sense that Pepys would step up and subscribe.

After Pepys died his entire library was donated to Magdalene College at Cambridge where today the Pepys library sits stored in a case commissioned by Pepy's. A case for the first time specifically designed to store books. The first bookcase. In the library is Pepys' copy of Moxon's Mechanick Exercises.

My only question is how many postcards did Pepys get telling he had to renew NOW for a limited time only to get a preferred subscription rate!

Tags:Historical Subjects
Comments: 2
06/25/2009wood working
Sounds like he would be the kind of guy who would be very into
social networking websites, where he could tell everyone "what
he ate, what he did during the day, which women he flirted
with" and perhaps share a few wood working tips! :)
08/19/2009Gary Roberts
At one point Moxon threatened to dump all the printed pages into the trash if people did not pre-order enough copies to make Mechanick Exercises worth his while! I take it he was not of the quiet, unassuming British personality type.
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