Biographical and bibliographical information on the book trades
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16 January 2007

Lapthorne Introduction

Exeter Working Papers in British Book Trade History; 11
Book trade references in the Lapthorne-Coffin correspondence 1683-1697
edited by Michael Treadwell and Ian Maxted.

Introduction. Lapthorne's letters 1683, 1687, 1688, 1689, 1690, 1691, 1692, 1693, 1694, 1695, 1696, 1697, 1698, 1699
Book trade letters other than those from Lapthorne
Extracts from auction sale catalogues
Extracts from the Portledge Library sale catalogue, 1801
Index of books mentioned
Index of book trade personnel mentioned

Editor's introduction

During his researches into the later seventeenth century London book trades Professor Michael Treadwell had become aware of the extensive correspondence between Richard Lapthorne in London and Richard Coffin of Portledge in the parish of Alwington in north Devon. Extracts from this correspondence had been published in the Fifth report of the Historical Manuscript Commission (H.M.S.O, 1876) pp. 378-386 and a supposedly complete edition was published by Jonathan Cape as The Portledge papers under the editorship of Russell J. Kerr and Ida Coffin Duncan in 1926. When examining the papers during a study visit to Exeter in 1996 Michael Treadwell realised firstly the extent to which book trade references had been omitted by Kerr and Duncan and secondly the immense importance of the complete correspondence for historians of the book. He started to augment the printed edition with transcripts from the original manuscripts in the Devon Record Office but did not have sufficient time to complete the task. His paper "Richard Lapthorne and the London retail book trade, 1683-1697" was published in The book trade and its customers, 1450-1900 and there he announced (p.221 note 40) "I hope eventually to publish a fully annotated and indexed edition of the entire bibliographical portion of the Lapthorne correspondence." In 1999 he was about to leave for Exeter to complete the transcription when he suffered a fatal heart attack.

His extensive and meticulous notes were found amongst his papers and passed to me. This series of files represents an attempt to complete this task. I cannot claim Michael Treadwell's extensive knowledge of the London book trade of the late 17th century, I lack his immense industry and painstaking attention to detail; what I can lay claim to is easy access to the original manuscripts and a wish to complete this task as a tribute to the work of a friend who was such a major contributor to the scholarly study of British book trade history.

The work has been made available as it progresses so that this project can benefit from the comments of specialists who may have better access to source materials in London and elsewhere and a fuller background knowledge than myself. I can be contacted by e-mail at

Ian Maxted
October 2000

Postscript. Since this introduction was written there have been long gaps when my attention was directed to other projects. After my retirement the data was removed from the Devon County Council website onto the Exeter Working Papers website in 2007, but with little editing. In 2021 I noticed by chance a manuscript (reference 2610M/F/2) forming part of a miscellaneous deposit, possibly linked to the surveyor and antiquary William Chapple, in what is now the Devon Heritage Centre, housing the former Exeter City archive and book collections. This bears the title "A recapitulation of the remarkable occurrences conteined in Mr Lapthornes letters from the 30th 10ber 1690." A volume of 68 pages, it continues until 26 August 1699, four months before Coffin's death on 25 December 1699. It is a transcript, topped and tailed but otherwise quite complete, of the letters Lapthorne had written, including several instances where the original letters had been lost and, more importantly, continuing the correspondence for another two years. Much of the book trade information, including accounts, has been included, and work is currently in hand to transcribe and include this new material.
Ian Maxted
January 2022

Fragment of manuscript introduction by Michael Treadwell

The facts are that it is not certain when the corrrespondence began, but that three letters survive from the earliest period, those of 20 and 27 June 1683 and 21 May 1685. These are of at least equal interest to the rest and seem in fact to have been omitted because they are all damaged with loss of text which makes them difficult reading. As for the letters of the main 1687-1697 sequence, 405 of those which survive are included, but a further eight are not, and the claim that "omissions are limited to a few unimportant passages" is simply false - unless one accepts the editors' implied judgment that news of books is unimportant. To take an admittedly dramatic example, the letter with which the 1928 edition begins, that of 10 December 1687, consists in print of a total of 110 words. However more than 400 words concerning two different book auction sales, and including a list of all the books bought for Coffin at one of those sales, together with the prices paid, have been silently omitted. Similarly every single one of the more than a dozen bills submitted to Coffin by Lapthorne, either as part of a letter or enclosed in one, are also omitted, though they comprise fascinating lists, not only of books and periodicals, but of other items purchased for Coffin or his family. Examples could be multiplied, but these are perhaps enough to convey the fact that the printed versions of Lapthorn'es letters severely misrepresent the degree to which the correspondence is preoccupied with books and the book trade.

Editorial notes by Ian Maxted

The transcripts in these letters are normally confined to extracts relating to books and the book trades, together with sections which shed personal light on Lapthorne, Coffin and their families. The general news and gossip, of which a good representation appears in the printed edition, have been omitted, except where letters which have been entirely omitted have been transcribed in toto.

The transcripts have been taken from Michael Treadwell's computer files. Some of his transcripts were taken from the printed edition and in other places only brief notes were made, pending a further visit. The transcripts have been amended to mark them up with HTML tags and links. They are being progressively checked against the originals and, as this is done, opportunity is being taken to note the original line breaks and some of Lapthorne's more significant deletions. All editorial interpolations are enclosed in [square brackets]. This includes the supply of missing text, explanatory notes and link references to books and book trade personnel. Books are referred to in hyperlinks by a letter and two numbers e.g. [D15] and members of the book trades by three letters e.g. [LIT]. Context should normally show how brackets are being employed. The only exception to the use of brackets is for contractions, which are expanded in italic, e.g. mention. No attempt has been made to reproduce superscript text and Lapthorne's punctuation is erratic and diffcult to decipher. In the case of bills and other tabular material, an attempt has been made to preserve the original layout, as far as this can be done with HTML marking up.

Portledge Records in Devon Record Office

Z19/40/3 Letter Book A Lapthorne correspondence 1683-1691
Z19/40/4 Letter Book B Lapthorne correspondence 1691-1693
Z19/40/5 Letter Book C Lapthorne correspondence 1693-1696
Z19/40/6 Letter Book D Lapthorne correspondence 1696-1697 and other miscellaneous letters

The above four volumes contain the letters from which extracts have been taken. They are fixed with stamp edging into large ledgers faced on the left hand side of each opening by generally accurate and complete transcripts. Professor Woolf states that some letters appear to have been assigned to the wrong year. The preface in volume 1 ends: Many of these letters are much defaced & in places wholly illegible from damp - In a few instances, where the meaning of the sentence is very clear, I have ventured to insert, in brackets, the words which appear to be missing. In all other respects they have been copied verbatim from the originals.
Russell J Kerr Junr
Janry 27th 1898

Z19/40/7 Letter Book E letters from the Prideaux family 1673-1706
Z19/40/8a Letter Book containing letters by the Coffin family
Z19/40/8b Folders of letters extracted from 8a
Folder 5: Z19/40/8/62, 63, 64 1682-83 Walter Dight to Richard Coffin
Folder 6: Z19/40/8/53 1682 Moses Pitts to Richard Coffin
Folder 5: Z19/40/8/73A 1686-87 John Prince to Richard Coffin
Z19/8/5 Shelf-list of Coffin's library c1684

Contains inserted note of Henry Thomas Riley, 13th August 1874: "This catalogue of the Library at Portledge is in the hand writing of Richard Coffin Esqre born in 1622 died in 1699. - The date of the catalogue is probably about 1683. Richard Coffin was Sheriff of Devon A D 1685. He was buried at Alwington Church the 4th of January 1700."

The first entry is: "Rec from my cosen Henry Langsford ye 27th May 1684 seven Manuscript Bookes and seven coffer manuscript papers or bookes"
There is a list of loans - all with dates in 1684. This catalogue was not used in this project but has been analysed by Professor Daniel Woolf.

Z19/8/6-7 Catalogues of the Library 1851 and 1853. Presumably the library as reconstituted after the 1801 sale.
Z19/34/5-6 Heraldic and genealogical material. Include alphabetical listings of family names accompanied by coats of arms
2610M/F/2 A recapitulation of the remarkable occurrences conteined in Mr Lapthornes letters from the 30th 10ber 1690" until 26 August 1699. A recent discovery, mentioned above.
Estate records include:
DRO Exeter: Deposited deeds (DD)38001-39170
DRO Barnstaple. Deposit 63/4

This page last updated 23 Jan 2022
© Michael Treadwell, Ian Maxted, 2001.