James Fraser, aged 67. Engraved portrait by Poole after Dighton. James Fraser.
James Fraser, aged 67. Engraved portrait by Poole after Dighton

James Fraser, aged 67. Engraved portrait by Poole after Dighton

Publisher Information: 1807.

Rare engraved portrait of James Fraser, a well-known London bookbinder, alluding to his role as one of “The Prosecuting Masters” in a late eighteenth-century labor dispute between bookbinding masters and journeymen. It may be the only print relating to social conditions in the English bookbinding industry published during this period.

In 1786 the journeymen bookbinders in London banded together to strike for a reduction of their regular work schedule from thirteen hours per day to twelve. It was illegal at this time in England for workers to form “combinations” or trade unions, and five of the striking journeymen were tried and sentenced to two years in prison. Despite this setback, the bookbinders’ strike was ultimately successful, and the masters ended up accepting the journeymen’s demands.

Fraser had been one of the last bookbinding masters to hold out against the workmen, but his experience of the strike led him afterwards to draw up a “Plan for reconciling the differences between the masters and journeymen bookbinders,” a copy of which he is holding in the present portrait. On the table next to Fraser are books titled “Estimates in Bookbinding,” “Memoirs of Mr. Pitt” and “Anecdotes of Lord Nelson”; a letter headed “Mr. James Fraser, Book Binder”; and a copy of “The Oracle” newspaper dated 28 May 1802. The British Bookmaker 5 (1892): 119-121.

Book Id: 44794

Price: $750.00

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