My recent blog on the history of the OUP shone my focus on Dr John Fell, a 17th century scholar who did more than any [aside from Laud] to establish the reputation of that institution.
Curious to know more I pulled out another fine volume from my shelves, not seen for many years: The Oxford University Press and the Spread of Learning by Nicholas Barker [1978, mine being the 1978 reprint]. In this it is written of Peter de Walpergen that he was sourced from Holland by Fell (strictly speaking through an agent) as the latter was seeking a craftsman who could cut punches, since hitherto Fell had been purchasing the best type he could lay his hands on from Europe – see Updike, vol II, p.95.
What intrigues me is the tantalising tit-bit given by Barker about the character of de Walpergen: ‘His stay in Oxford, where he died in 1703, was punctuated by troubles, financial and other; his taste for “low company” embarrassed Fell. But he was a good engraver’ (p.18). Low company: what do those two words mask? I wish we had more.
I then turned to the magisterial volume on Fell, Morison’s John Fell: The University Press and the Fell Types, a volume I am proud to own. This is printed entirely in Fell, and was set up by hand, limited to 1000 volumes. It is simply staggering in its beauty and if you have the opportunity to purchase a copy do not hesitate: To the bibliophile it is like owning a Bugatti. [Barker says this book was published on 12 October 1967, the day after the author’s death. Morison worked 40 years on the text: ‘It is probably the last book on this scale in which the Fell types will be used throughout for the actual printing, and it marks an epoch in the Press’s life’, p. 60.]
Returning to point. Morison adds of this punch cutter: that he came to Oxford in or about 1675/76; worked in Christ Church, where Fell was Dean, and received an annual salary of £36, rising to £40. [An inexact measure sourced at random from Dr G… suggests this is equivalent to between £5000 and £1.3m in today’s terms!]
Morison notes: ‘He offended the Bishop by selling punches, which he had said he had cut on holidays, to the London type founders Head and Andrews, Fell contending that De Walpergen had no right to work for anyone but him’ (p.71). Well, proof positive he had financial worries.
Of further interest: de Walpergen may have been born in Frankfurt, while Barker adds he had travelled to the East Indies too – an impressive CV.
De Walpergen was important in giving the Press many fine founts, as shown here so, I attest, can be forgiven for a bit of ‘low life’ company from time to time. After all genius needs recreation.
Note: I did not have Moxon readily to hand when I wrote this entry last night. Having found him under a pile of other books there is some additional information about our man Walpergen. For those interested the source is: Mechanick Exercises on the Whole Art of Printing, Moxon, J [edited Davis, H and Carter, H], 1978. Dover Publications, New York: 376-377.