Feature of the month: an almanac, whist and coffee houses

A Pocket Book, Containing Severall Choice Collections in Aritmetick, Astronomy, Geometry Surveying, Dialling, Navigation, Astrology. Geography, Measuring, Gageing
John Seller
[London]: J. Seller, [1677?]
[Q.M.L.] L [Seller]

John Seller (d. 1697) was a maker of navigational instruments and a seller of maps and charts, who in 1671 was appointed hydrographer to the king and proposed the production of maritime atlases printed in England. In addition to producing maritime atlases, famously The English Pilot, he wrote several textbooks and nautical almanacs. A Pocket Book is a small octavo containing miscellaneous information, much of it to do with weights, measurements, the tides, and so forth – the headings enumerated on the title page – but including a table of the reigns of the kings of England, from William the Conqueror to the monarch at the time of writing, Charles II. Some maps are also included.

Because almanacs are small, ephemeral publications, their survival rate is low, and the Senate House Library copy is one of only three copies in the United Kingdom recorded on ESTC (the others being in the Bodleian Library and at St John’s College, Cambridge); a further four copies are recorded in America. The catalogue card for the Senate House copy, presumably created in 1929 (when the book came to the Library) or in the early 1930s, records: “defaced by MS notes of a former owner”. An eighteenth-century former owner’s notes – those of one William Newport, who has written his name on the title page and elsewhere — are certainly prominent: the various tables and the maps are printed on side of the paper only, and the blank pages are filled with notes, which also adorn the flyleaves. Some printed pages further contain some later pencilled arithmetical calculations. But the attitude to the notes has changed. Precisely on account of them, the book was chosen to illustrate a course on provenance taught as part of the London Rare Books School in 2015. Unusual is that Newport has ruled lines for the notes. Concerning the content, the notes begin with a list of “the moste remarkable & the beste” London coffee houses, by name and location. The other full-page notes are headed: “A short Treatise on the Game of Whist” and comprise instructions on how to play that game: “When you Lead: begin with the Beste Suite in your hand …”: was Newport perhaps taking the book to coffee houses and playing cards there?

 

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