Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Letts, Thomas

LETTS, THOMAS (1803–1873), inventor of ‘Letts's Diaries,’ son of John Letts, a London bookbinder, by his wife Susan Spicer, was born at Stockwell, London, in 1803. He was educated at Dr. Crosby's school at Greenwich, and then apprenticed to his father's business. On his father's retirement about 1835 he continued to carry on the business, but devoted himself specially to the manufacture of diaries. Ruled diaries existed long before Letts's time, but he improved them and adapted them to a variety of requirements. By 1839 no less than twenty-eight varieties of the ordinary diary were issued, ranging from foolscap folio, one day to a page, to the small pocket diary of a few inches in size each way. Letts also issued interest tables, medical diaries, office calendars, parliamentary registers and guides, ledgers, log-books, clerical diaries, and washing-books (cf. Brit. Mus. Cat.) The sale gradually increased to several hundred thousands annually, and Letts erected large factories at New Cross. He acquired a property at Chale, Isle of Wight, and in 1864, on the occasion of the Shakespeare tercentenary, he erected a small Doric temple in the neighbouring woods as a memorial to the poet. This is still to be seen from the road above St. Catherine's Point. Letts died at Granville Park, Blackheath, on 8 Aug. 1873, and was buried in Norwood cemetery. He married, first, in 1837 Harriet Cory, by whom he had three sons and a daughter, and on her death Emma Horwood Barry, by whom he had seven children. Shortly after Letts's death the business was turned into a limited liability company, but in 1885 the company went into liquidation, and the entire diary business was purchased by Messrs. Cassell & Co. Thackeray, in his ‘Roundabout Papers,’ No. 18, first published in the ‘Cornhill Magazine’ for January 1862, made ‘Letts's Diary’ the text of a New-year's sermon. He declared his preference for ‘one of your No. 12 diaries, three shillings cloth boards; silk limp, gilt edges, three and six; French morocco, tuck ditto, four and six.’

[Information kindly supplied by Thomas Alton Letts, esq., of New York.]

T. S.