Dictionary of National Biography, 1901 supplement/Blades, William

BLADES, WILLIAM (1824–1890), printer and bibliographer, the son of Joseph Blades, was born at Clapham on 5 Dec. 1824, and was educated at the Stockwell and Clapham grammar schools. He was apprenticed on 1 May 1840 at his father's printing firm of Blades & East, 11 Abchurch Lane, London. Shortly after the expiration of his apprenticeship he was admitted a partner in the business, and soon he and his brother conducted it under the style of Blades, East, & Blades. He turned his attention to the typography of the first English press, and in 1858 undertook to write an introductory note to a reprint of Caxton's edition of the 'Governayle of Helthe.' His Caxton studies were conducted in a thoroughly scientific manner. New biographical facts were discovered in searching the archives of the city of London, and, instead of blindly adopting the conclusions of Lewis, Ames, Herbert, Dibdin, and other preceding bibliographers, he personally inspected 450 volumes from Caxton's press, preserved in various public ahd private libraries, and carefully collated, compared, and classified them. Each volume was critically examined from the point of view of a practical printer, and arranged according to its letter. The career of each class of type was traced from its first use to the time when it was worn out and passed into strange hands. This inquiry was more important in his eyes than the recording of title-pages and colophons. Every dated volume thus fell into its proper class, and the year of undated volumes was fixed by its companions. Such was the way in which the story of Caxton's press was written. The first volume of the 'Life of Caxton' appeared in 1861, and the second two years later. It was only one of many books, articles, and papers devoted by Blades to the study of England's first printing-press. A notable result of his labours was to give an increased value to the Caxton editions. His careful and systematic methods had much in common with those of Henry Bradshaw [q. v., Suppl.], with whom he carried on a friendly correspondence extending over twenty-five years (G. W. Prothero, Memoir of H. Bradshaw, 1888, pp. 73-6, 99, 201, 255, 363).

Blades took a leading part in the organisation of the Caxton celebration in 1877, was a warm supporter of the Library Association founded the same year, and read papers before several of the annual meetings of that body. His 'Enemies of Books' (1881), which was the most popular of his literary productions, was a discursive account of their foes, human, insect, and elemental. In a series of articles in the 'Printers' Register ' in 1884 he supported the claims of William Nicholson (1753-1815) [q. v.] as the English inventor of the steam press against the contention of Goebel on behalf of the German, Koenig.

He was a keen and honourable man of business, ever alive to modern improvements in the mechanical part of his calling. His writings were chiefly devoted to the early history of the art of printing, and besides the books mentioned below he contributed many articles to trade journals and bibliographical periodicals. He was an ardent collector of books, pictures, prints, medals, jettons, and tokens relating to printing. He took an active share in the municipal work of his city ward (Candlewick), was a member of the council of the Printers' Pension Fund, and a liveryman of the Scriveners' Company. He died on 27 April 1890 at his residence at Sutton, Surrey, in his sixty-sixth year, leaving a widow, to whom he was married in 1862, and seven children.

He published:

  1. 'The Governayle of Helthe, reprinted from Caxton's edition,' London, 1858, 8vo.
  2. 'Moral Prouerbes; C. du Castel,' London, 1859, 4to. (These two are printed in imitation Caxton type.)
  3. 'The Life and Typography of W. Caxton, England's First Printer, with Evidence of his Typographical Connection with Colard Mansion the Printer at Bruges,' London, 1861-3, 2 vols. 4to (see also No. 12).
  4. 'A Catalogue of Books printed by or ascribed to the Press of W. Caxton,' London, 1865, sm. 4to.
  5. 'A List of Medals, Jettons, Tokens, &c., in connection with Printers and the Art of Printing,' London, 1869, 8vo (only twenty-five copies printed).
  6. 'A List of Medals struck by order of the Corporation of London,' London, 1870, 8vo (privately printed).
  7. 'How to tell a Caxton, with some hints where and how the same might be found,' London, 1870, 8vo (a guide to the collector).
  8. 'Typographical Notes,' London, 1870, 8vo (privately printed).
  9. 'Shakespere and Typography, being an attempt to show Shakespere's perscyial connection with and technical knowledge of the art of printing,' London, 1872, 8vo {ajeu d'esprit).
  10. 'Some Early Type-specimen Books of England, Holland, France, Italy, and Germany,' London, 1875, 8vo.
  11. 'Earl of Rivers: the Dictes and Sayings of the Philosophers; a facsimile reproduction of the first book printed in England,' London, 1877, 4to.
  12. 'The Biography and Typography of W. Caxton, England's first printer,' London, 1877, 8vo (No. 3 recast and issued in a more handy form, in connection with the Caxton celebration); 2nd edit. 1882.
  13. 'The Boke of Saint Albans, by Dame Juliana Berners; a facsimile,' London, 1881, 4to.
  14. 'The Enemies of Books,' London, 1881, 8vo; 2nd edit. 1881; 3rd edit. 1882; 'revised and enlarged' ('Book Lovers' Library'), 1887, 2nd edit. 1888, with illustrations, 1896; French translation, 'Les Livres et leurs Enemis,' Paris, 1883).
  15. 'Numismata Typographica; or the Medallic History of Printing, being an account of the medals, jettons, and tokens struck in commemoration of printers and the art of printing,' London, 1883, 4to (No. 5 improved and enlarged).
  16. 'An Account of the German Morality Play entitled "Depositio Comuti Typographici," as performed in the 17th and ISth Centuries,' London, 1885, 4to, with translation of the play.
  17. 'Bibliographical Miscellanies: No. 1, Signatures; No. 2, the Chained Library at Wimborne Minster; Nos. 3, 4, and 5, Books in Chains,' London, 1890, 8vo.
  18. 'The Pentateuch of Printing,' edited by T. B. Reed, London, 1891, 4to (posthumous).

[Memoir by T. B. Reed, with a list of Blades's books and articles, prefixed to Pentateuch of Printing, 1891. See also Athenæum, 3 and 10 May 1890; Academy, 3 May 1890; Times, 29 April 1890; City Press, 30 April 1890, Printers' Register (portrait), October 1899 and 6 May 1890; J. F. Kirk's Supplement to Allibone's Dictionary, 1891, i. 160.]

H. R. T.