Samuel Mearne



Old Library C.1.17. The Book of Common-Prayer and administration of sacraments…  London: printed by his Ma[jes]ties printers, [1669].

The Book of Common Prayer is a well known text of the Anglican Communion.  This edition from 1669 is notable due to the significant number of clues to its history provided by its binding, bookplates and additional notes pasted inside.  This blog post will focus on this bibliographic information, especially the binding of the book and what it can tell us.


Front pastedown of Old Library C.1.17.

On the front pastedown of the book (the paper which lines the book’s inside covers) is a quotation by Cyril Davenport regarding Samuel Mearne, King Charles II’s book binder, describing Mearne’s style of work which corresponds to the binding on this particular book.  Samuel Mearne (1624–1683) is the best known binder of this period and has been described by David Pearson as ‘long celebrated as the greatest name in English Restoration bookbinding’.  As well as Samuel Mearne being the bookbinder to the King, his son Charles was also granted to the posts of bookbinder, bookseller and stationer to the monarch.  The restoration of the monarchy in 1660 is seen as the beginning of a ‘golden age’ in English bookbinding, in which Mearne was a figurehead.  He is known as the chief exponent of the ‘Cottage Style’ or ‘Cottage Roof’ design, described by John Carter as ‘A style of decoration in which the top and bottom of the rectangular panel, which itself will be filled with smaller ornaments in a variety of rich designs, slope away from a broken centre, thus producing a sort of gabled effect’.  For examples of this ‘Cottage Roof’ style, see the British Library’s Database of Bookbindings.


Detail from binding of Old Library C.1.17

The two Cs back to back between palm leaves, Charles II’s cypher, is a good indication that this book has been bound by Mearne: the tools to create these designs in the leather were used exclusively by him.  The book is highly likely to have been used in worship at Charles II’s chapel at Whitehall.  The chapel was refurnished regularly, and the prayer books would be replaced, leaving the old ones to be taken away by regular chapel-goers who had been using them.  The binding of the chapel prayer books formed a large proportion of Mearne’s workload, in addition to binding other books destined for the Royal Library.


Front cover of Old Library C.1.17

The book is bound in dyed red goatskin.  Goatskin, which can be dyed in a range of colours, is both flexible and hard wearing, making it an ideal material for book binding.  It is often referred to in bibliographical circles by its country of export, such as ‘Turkey leather’ or ‘Morocco’.  However, to avoid doubt about the geographic origin of the leather, it is now standard practice to describe this type of leather for book binding as ‘goatskin’.  There is evidence of metal clasps which would have been attached to the goatskin-covered boards to keep the book closed, but unfortunately these have been lost.

The large bookplate on the front pastedown is a Latin inscription describing Doctor Daubigny Turberville, an alumnus of Oriel College Oxford, donating this book to his Alma Mater.  Another bookplate confirms that the book was once part of Oriel College’s collection.  There is also a hand-written inscription at the top of the pastedown stating that the book was donated to Magdalene by a Dr. Charles Newman in 1966.  In the rear of the volume, there is some correspondence from the 1960s between librarians from Magdalene and Oriel regarding how it might have left Oriel College library to be in the possession of Dr. Charles Newman.  One theory that the librarian of Oriel presents is that Dr. Turberville presented a number of the Books of Common Prayer to the college chapel, and when the Prayer Books were replaced in 1776 some copies were then moved to the college library, of which this copy would have been one.  There is no record of this copy in Oriel’s records after 1884, and so perhaps the decision was made soon after this date for it to be sold as duplicate library stock.

A likely reason that it was eventually donated to Magdalene by Dr. Charles Newman in 1966, (as shown by the handwritten inscription at the top of the pastedown) is the Pepysian association with the book.  Doctor Turberville was Samuel Pepys’ eye specialist, who is mentioned towards the end of Pepys’ diary at a time when Pepys feared he was going blind.  Turberville was an oculist with a very good reputation: the scientist Robert Boyle recommended him to Pepys.  Pepys notes in his diary on the 29th June 1668, ‘I stop at Dr Turbervilles and there did receive a direction for some physic, and also a glass of something to drop into my eyes; who gives me hopes that I may do well.’  Pepys was most likely suffering with a strain on the eyes caused by working with candlelight, rather than the beginnings of a more serious problem with his vision.

Dr. Charles Newman, the final private individual to own the book, was an alumnus of Magdalene College.   A physician by training, he became a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians and took the office of Harveian Librarian at the College.  He worked extensively on the history of the RCP library and took a great interest in the history of medicine, which would explain his ownership of this particular book.

By Catherine Sutherland

Deputy Librarian, Pepys Library and Special Collections



Carter, John, Nicolas Barker, and Simran Thadani. John Carter’s ABC for Book Collectors. Ninth edition. New Castle, Delaware: Oak Knoll Press, 2016.

Nixon, Howard M. English Restoration Bookbindings: Samuel Mearne and His Contemporaries. London: Published for the British Library Board by British Museum Publications Ltd, 1974.

Pearson, David. English Bookbinding Styles, 1450-1800: A Handbook. New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Press, 2014.

Pepys, Samuel, Robert Latham (ed), and William Matthews (ed). The Diary of Samuel Pepys: A New and Complete Transcription. London: Bell, 1971.

Bookbinding in the British Isles: Sixteenth to the Twentieth Century. Catalogue / Maggs Bros, 1212.1996. London, 1996.

‘Cyril Davenport – Samuel Mearne, Binder to King Charles II First Edition | Bauman Rare Books’. Accessed 25 January 2017.

‘Munks Roll Details for Charles Edward Newman’. Accessed 25 January 2017.

Thanks also to the staff at the Royal Collection Trust, Windsor Castle, for further information supplied.

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