Parker, John Henry (1806-1884)
Collection of Incoming Business Correspondence of John Henry Parker, of Oxford, England, Bookseller, Archaeologist, Author, Keeper of the Ashmolean Museum, 1840-1854

Collection of 473 incoming letters, 676 manuscript pages, mostly comprised of folding letter sheets, plus 78 pieces of related ephemera including invoices, printed advertising circulars, orders, receipts, printed and filled out form letters, etc., all dated 30 March 1840 to 9 March 1854. Almost all of the letters are written to John Henry Parker at Oxford, England.

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John Henry Parker CB (1806-1884)

            John Henry Parker CB was born on 1 March 1806. Parker was an English archaeologist and writer on architecture and publisher. He was born in London, the son of John Parker, a merchant there. He was educated at Manor House School, Chiswick, and was apprenticed in 1821 to his uncle, the Oxford bookseller Joseph Parker (1774?–1850). He succeeded to his uncle's business in 1832, and ran the firm with great success, the most important of his publications being perhaps the series of the Oxford pocket classics. He was an agent for the University Press. The business expanded in 1847 to include a printing office in Crown Yard, and a London house, which was opened at 377 Strand. Between 1847 and 1855 the firm was styled ‘John Henry Parker, Oxford and London, in 1850 a warehouse was taken in Paradise Square.

            For the prime movers of the Oxford Movement John Henry Newman, Edward Pusey, and John Keble, Parker published from 1834 numerous Tracts, writings on Anglo-Catholicism, and the libraries of the early fathers. He was strongly sympathetic to the Tractarian movement, particularly as it related to ecclesiology. He was a friend of Cardinal Newman. A local journalist recorded that concerning ‘Newman’s reply to the Protest made by the “Four Tutors” against the famous Tract &c … both the Protest and the reply were forwarded through Mr. Parker, and even after the fateful Oct. 9, 1845, when at Littlemore Dr. Newman renounced allegiance to the Anglican Church … the great Cardinal’s friendship with Mr. Parker was maintained.’ (H. Painting, “Some famous Oxford booksellers”, Oxford Chronicle, 30, Jan. 1914.)

           In 1836 he published his Glossary of Terms used in Grecian, Roman, Italian, and Gothic architecture, which, published during the Gothic Revival in England, had considerable influence in extending the movement, and supplied valuable inspiration to young architects. In 1848 he edited the fifth edition of Thomas Rickman's Gothic Architecture, and in 1849 he published a handbook based on his earlier volume entitled Introduction to the study of Gothic architecture. The completion of Hudson Turner's Domestic architecture of the Middle Ages next engaged his attention, three volumes being published (1853–60). He published Medieval Architecture of Chester in 1858 and Architectural Antiquities of the city of Wells in 1866.

           Parker was one of the chief advocates of the restoration of ecclesiastical buildings. In 1863 he and the Oxford Diocesan Architect G.E. Street revised plans for the restoration of St. Andrew's parish church, Chinnor. Parker also designed the triplet of traceried lancet windows in the chancel of St. Nicholas the Confessor, Forest Hill. His son James Parker (1832 or 1833–1912) also practiced as an architect.

            Later he devoted much attention to explorations of the history of Rome by means of excavations, and succeeded in satisfying himself of the historical truth of much usually regarded as legendary. Two volumes of his Archaeology of Rome were published at Oxford in 1874 and 1876.

            In recognition of his work Parker was decorated by King Victor Emmanuel II of Italy and received a medal from Pope Pius IX. In 1869 he endowed the keepership of the Ashmolean Museum with a sum yielding £250 a year, and under the new arrangement he was appointed the first keeper, a position he held until his death. Parker was vice-president of the Oxford Architectural Society, and of the British and American Archaeological Society of Rome, and for many years participated in the annual congresses of the Archaeological Institute. In 1871 he was nominated Companion of the Bath, or CB.

            In Italy one of Parker's principal projects was to compose an archive collection of photographs of the city's greatest monuments from the Renaissance era onwards. Employing local photographers the collection recorded not only Rome's greatest buildings and works, but also detailed scenes of the late 19th century archaeological excavations. He used many of these to illustrate his books. In 1893 the entire archive perished in a fire at the Palazzo Della Porta Negroni Caffarelli depriving modern archeologists of an invaluable source of material. Parker died in Oxford on 31 January 1884.

       Description of the Correspondence:

           The correspondence deals mainly with various aspects Parker's bookselling and publishing business. Typical topics are the workings of the book trade, cost of books, dealers or customers seeking rare books, inquiries when new books will be published or available, the filling of orders and invoices, information on posting them, results of inquiries, inquiries for advertisements in magazines or journals. Essentially, the letters cover virtually every aspect of bookselling and the 19th century book trade.  The letters also mention the various architectural or archaeological works that Parker wrote and published.

            Parker appears to have been a point person for many English booksellers outside of Oxford and they would write to Parker to see if he could secure various rare Classical and Religious books or new books coming on the market in Oxford. Letters from English booksellers/publishers Longman, Brown, Green, & Longmans; James M. Richardson; Williams & Norgate; H. Bailliere; Charles Dolman; David Nutt; Barthes & Lowell; John Leslie; D. Bogne; R. & A. Suttaby, and the Irish firm of Hodges & Smith, Dublin, are all represented with letterhead correspondence, plus there is correspondence from many other English booksellers and customers that fill out the collection.

             There are also letters from auctioneers that Parker does business with and correspondence with various papermakers such as Francis E. & George Venables of the Woodburn Paper Mills, near Beaconsfield; Cliefden Paper Mills near Maidenhead; and Alexander Cowan & Son, Paper Makers and Wholesale Stationers of London. There are also other letters from stationers such as the wholesale stationer Williams, Coopers, Boyle Co. of London.

            One bookseller who is a regular correspondent of Parker’s, is Charles Frederick Molini. Molini (?-1860) and his wife Elizabeth Blain, were an Anglo-Italian bookselling family, established in London as well as Florence, Italy.  Molini had a shop on Paternoster Row for many years, later moving to 17 King William Street, off the Strand, by the mid-1840s. Molini's son Frederick Fowler Molini (1818-1895) appears to have taken over the business, where it was later located at 27 King William Street after his father’s death in 1860. The firm specialized in the supply of continental books, especially French and Italian, and supplied many books to the British Museum.

            Some letters are lengthy, others are short notes combined with invoices and/or accounts and statements. The letters are dated from 1840 to 1854. The archive provides a look at workings of the English book trade in the mid-Nineteenth Century from an important bookseller, author and archaeologist. The ephemeral material includes accounts, receipts, circulars, etc.

        Examples of Letters:

"8 Willington St North

Dec. 13, 1844

Dear Sir,

I am sorry from your letter to find that you think it necessary t change your clerk because I know how very few are capable of filling the situation and how gradually only even such a person can become acquainted both with your stock and your peculiar connection to be of real assistance and benefit to you.

Of Mr. [Jeans] I do not know much while in Exeter his trade appeared from the books he had of me, to lie with the clergy - and as he had a good stock of old books - he might easily acquire a knowledge of your stock. He appears very quiet and attentive and has the look of being a good catalogue maker thus is a plodding persevering man.

If you require quickness in action or smartness in person - he will not suit you but I am writing now only from the little I have seen of him and not from an actual acquaintance with his abilities - I should judge that he was more mechanical then spiritual - to be depended on for his order - but not to be calculated on for his invention.

I will make some little enquiry on the matter among a few of [every] connection and shall be happy if I hear of one likely to suit you to inform you.

I am sir, yours truly [Alexander] Black"



7 April 1845



It is now nearly seven months since I was in Oxford anticipating an introduction to you through my kind friend the Rev'd John Wilson fellow of Holy Trinity College but unfortunately when we called you were gone from home.

On that occasion I left at your shop a copy of a little work entitled "The History of the Hundred of Compton &c" for the double purpose of disposing of a few copies in Oxford and of getting the publication reviewed in the "Archaeological Journal" of which I know you are the publisher.

Dr. Buckland (to whom the book was inscribed) much wished me to see you and I have much regretted since that I had not that pleasure.

I left several with one of your assistants that in case any more copies should be required for sale they could be procured at my publisher at Reading but I believe he has heard nothing of it. 

What however I most desire is that the work should be reviewed in the Archaeological Journal and perhaps you would be kind enough to use your influence to obtain that end -


I am Sir,

Your obedient servant

William Hewett "


"Southwell, August 6th

Notts.                          1845


In you excellent publication the "Glossary of Architecture" 4th edition page 333 under the article Sedile, is a reference to Southwell Minster, as furnishing an example of five seats in the sedile.

As it stands in the glossary, the reader may be led to suppose that this is an ancient example & Southwell Minster may be quoted as an authority for sedilia with five seats. It should therefore be known, that the work in question is not of ancient date, but in fact a modern fabrication erected in plaster instead of stone. For an account of this let me refer you to the Gentleman's Magazine for 1840, August, Vol 14th New Series, Page 154. The Sedilia in question were erected about 40 years ago to supply the place of an oak screen which fell down.

The church contains some of the most beautiful & chaste specimens of early English work I have ever met with. The corbels, from which the vaultings of the roof in the choir springs, are exquisitely chaste. And the north porch is a most rich & elaborate specimen of Norman architecture. You might have obtained some excellent illustrations for your glossary from this church.

I have noticed this because I think that every person is rendering a service to the cause you have done so much to promote - when he prints out any thing, which may have escaped the observation of others

I am Sir,

Your obdt servt,

Wm. Fletcher"


"London 8 Nov 1845

Dear Sir,

I am truly sorry to hear such a poor account of business at Oxford and hope it will soon take another turn. I think you need be under no apprehension as to the ultimate sale of your architectural & archaeological publications as out of Oxford nobody seems to couple the study of such things with "Puseyism" or Popery - I think you will find I am correct in my supposition as soon as Barr is ready I hope to sell above a thousand.

Dr. Giles Books /with Not. Lath./ and from one or two things pointed out to me I have no doubt of this being full of errors or at least baring very strong marks of being hurried.

I could not get the advertisement in the Times altered but in all the others it is correct to the second copy, the exchange is a good one and many of the Beveridge will be sold separately.


I remain,

Your most Obdt Serv't

J. Whitaker"

"May 20 - 1847

22 India St.



Believing that you occasionally require a translation for the works you publish, I should feel much obliged if you would in trust me with some such work, should you in the course of the season require translation from French or German into English.  Could I have my choice, works especially of German scholars, in the Greek & Roman departments, would be acceptable, as they would come within the immediate opera of my own classical pursuits; or, in the next place, such minor translations as you might see fit to insert in any periodicals or other works you may be publishing, as these, whatever the subject they might treat of, would less encroach upon my time as a student.

As an instance of the sort of work that would be most desirable for me, I may mention philological notes to any of the classics &c. French I have spoken from infancy having lived long abroad and German I have studied in Germany. In either of these languages I should be happy to your desire to afford you a specimen of my competence as a translator.

In a fortnight I return after a residence of two years at the university of Edinburgh to the continent where (D.V.) I shall remain for four months. After that I return to Edinburgh. My services could be at your disposal at any time during the college session, but should you in the mean time have any work to execute, I should be happy to do it for you during the intervening four months.

As I leave town so soon (i.e. Edinburgh) I shall thank you to let me know at your early convenience  if I may expect any employment of the sort and I have the honor to be,



your Obedient Serv't

B. Cracroft."


See: Riddell, Richard, John Henry Parker 1806-1884, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [http:]