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Tegg, Thomas (1776–1846), publisher, was born on 4 March 1776 at Wimbledon, Surrey, the son of Thomas Tegg (1740?–1781) and his wife, Hannah, née Veargitt (1747–1785). His father, a prosperous grocer, died in 1781. His mother remarried the following year, but she died shortly thereafter, in November 1785, leaving Thomas a nine-year-old orphan.

Thomas Tegg's deceased parents must have left enough money for him to attend boarding-school at Galashiels, Selkirkshire, Scotland, where he spent four happy years, due in large measure to a kindly schoolmaster. However, this pleasant period in his life altered dramatically when he became an apprentice to a tyrannical and drunken bookseller at Dalkeith, Alexander Meggett. Unable to endure his employer's abuse, he ran away, and for several years lived by his wits and hard work, taking different jobs, sometimes with booksellers, throughout the British Isles and Ireland. Just short of his twentieth birthday he decided to go to London to make his fortune in the book trade. There he won and lost several jobs before being hired by John and Arthur Arch, Quaker booksellers in Gracechurch Street.

With an unexpected legacy of £200 in 1800 Tegg found a business partner and initiated ‘Tegg and Dewick’, a bookselling business at 6 Westmorland Buildings, Aldgate. He also now felt able to marry Mary Holland (1781–1852) in St Bride's Church on 30 April that same year. Unfortunately the business failed, leaving Tegg nearly bankrupt. Nevertheless he qualified for a licence as a country auctioneer, which allowed him to travel throughout Britain buying odd lots of books to sell later at auction. His wife served as clerk and cashier. This venture proved so successful that he continued holding nightly auctions in London for many years.

Between 1801 and 1804 Tegg entered into partnership with Castleman. Their shop, the Eccentric Book Warehouse, was located at 122 St John's Street, West Smithfield, London. They not only sold books at retail, but also held auctions and published semi-lurid Gothic tales as chap-books with such titles as Albani, or, The Murder of his Child; Almagro and Claude, or, Monastic Murder Exemplified in the Dreadful Doom of an Unfortunate Nun; and Domestic Misery, or, The Victim of Seduction. In 1804 Tegg severed his connection with Castleman and went into business for himself at 111 Cheapside, premises he kept for the next twenty years. In 1824 he acquired the Old Mansion House at 73 Cheapside, the location of the firm for the rest of his life.

From the outset Tegg's publishing business, as distinct from auctions and the sale of stationery, divided itself into three main categories. He issued many reprints of books which had gone out of copyright; he purchased remainders, sometimes with the copyrights, from other publishers, and sold them at greatly reduced prices; and he produced a number of original works, often on commission. Tegg wrote:
My line is to watch the expiration of copyright and then produce to the public either current works at a cheaper rate, or to revive works of merit which have been lost to the public by the perversity of authors, by bungling of the first publishers, or by excessive price; and I have in this way disinterred a number of good books, which, in my management, have had a great sale. (Tegg, Extension of Copyright)
At a time when Dr Samuel Johnson's Dictionary was selling for 5 guineas Tegg came out with an edition at 2 guineas. He published several abridgements of Blackstone's legal Commentaries, one of which sold for as little as 4s. 6d. Other standard works he reissued included Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations; ten volumes of John Locke's works; Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy; Hooker's Ecclesiastical Polity; and the writings of Bishop Butler. In general Tegg opposed copyright, since it interfered with his reprint business. He was dismayed at the prospect of an even longer term for copyright if Sergeant Talfourd and his supporters prevailed: an extension from twenty-eight to forty-two years, or seven years beyond the life of an author, whichever was the longer term.

Authors targeted Tegg for opprobrium. Thomas Carlyle wrote to the House of Commons:
May it please your honourable house, to forbid all Thomas Teggs, and other extraneous persons … to steal from him his small winnings, for a space of sixty years, at shortest. After sixty years, unless your honourable house provides otherwise, they may begin to steal. (Parliamentary Debates, Commons, 9 Sept 1838)
Tegg lost this struggle, and copyright was extended in 1842, but by then he was resigned to watching others struggle to produce cheap reprints of standard and popular works.

A second part of Tegg's business involved acquiring and subsequently selling remainders, the dead stock of others. One of the attractions of these transactions was that the expenses were usually borne by the original publishers who had either fallen on hard times or suffered bad luck. Certainly, opportunism marked Tegg throughout his career. The panic of 1825–6 devastated publishers and printers who owned the copyrights to Sir Walter Scott's novels. Tegg predictably took advantage of this and hastened to a sale by Hurst and Robinson where he bought ‘the best of Scott's novels’ at 4d. a volume. In this instance he acquired only the leftover stock, not the copyrights.

The firm of Colburn and Bentley became one of Tegg's best sources for remainders during the turbulent years from 1829 to 1832. At the conclusion of their partnership, Tegg agreed to buy the remainders of twenty-seven works from them, among which were: Adventures of an Irish Gentleman, Adventures of Perkin Warbeck, Caleb Williams, Basil Barrington, Clarence, Country Curate, Denounced, The English at Home, The English Army in France, Gertrude, Hope Lesley, Journal of the Heart, Midsummer Medley, Mussulman, and Tales of an Indian Caliph.

In 1834 John Murray reluctantly concluded that he had to dispose of the remaining volumes of his Family Library, and so turned to Thomas Tegg. In what became the largest outlay of his career, Tegg paid £8000 for 355,000 volumes of the library. According to their agreement, Tegg did not acquire the copyrights of the Murray volumes, but he did get all the leftover bound stock; the stereotype plates; woodcuts; copies bound in boards; and copies in quires.

In addition to reprinting out-of-copyright books and selling remainders, Tegg became a major publisher of new books. Some were little more than extended pamphlets, while others were multi-volume editions. When news reached London of Horatio Nelson's death at Trafalgar in 1805, Tegg hastily commissioned someone to do a biography with a woodcut portrait, 5000 copies of which were sold for 6d. each. Tegg also produced 4000 copies of a life of Napoleon Bonaparte at 6d. Both were at the low end of the price scale, whereas his monumental London Encyclopedia (1825), in twenty-two super royal octavo volumes, commanded many guineas.

Representative samples among his entirely new publications include: Collection of Gothic Tales and Romances (1811); Comic Song Book (1817); A New Chronology, or, Historical Companion (1811); Handbook for Emigrants (1839); Present for Apprentices (2nd edn, 1848); and Treasury of Wit and Anecdote (1842).

Thomas Tegg was the head of a large family of twelve children, and did what he could to further the business interests of his sons. Two of them, James and Samuel, emigrated to Australia in 1834 and established bookstores in Sydney and Hobart Town. Besides selling books, they published original Australian works and distributed new books imported from their father in London. Thomas was uncertain which, if any, of his sons would want to continue his publishing enterprise, especially after James died unexpectedly in Australia in 1845. William Tegg (1816–1895), publisher, was born in Cheapside on 29 May 1816. He was articled to an engraver before joining his father's firm. In his will Thomas provided that William could select £5000 worth of books from the firm's stock prior to the rest being sold at auction. With this legacy William decided to carry on the business, although on a more modest scale and without the flamboyance of the founder.

Throughout his life Thomas Tegg took great pride in his accomplishments and would not let others forget his humble origins. He characterized himself as ‘the broom that swept the booksellers' warehouses’, and boasted in 1838, ‘I have published more books, and sold them at a cheaper rate, than any bookseller in Britain’ (letter to the editor of The Times). His reputation, on the other hand, rested on his exploitation of the reprint and remainder trade. To appreciate Tegg's achievement it is instructive to compare his publishing output with that of a major firm like that of George Routledge. After fifty years in business from 1836 to 1888, Routledge estimated that he had issued approximately 5000 works, an average of two every week. Similarly, Tegg claimed to have published 4000 titles after forty years (1800–40), also averaging two volumes per week. An even more revealing comparison is their respective net worth at the time of their deaths: Routledge's estate had a value of £80,000, while Tegg's amounted to £90,000.

Thomas Tegg died in Wimbledon on 21 April 1846 while his youngest son, twenty-year-old Alfred Byron Tegg, was at Pembroke College, Oxford. According to the Gentleman's Magazine, Alfred ‘was so affected by the shock of his father's death, that his own followed shortly after, and their bodies were deposited on the same day on the grandfather's coffin in Wimbledon churchyard’ (GM).

Tegg's obituary reiterated the theme of his hard-won success: ‘Mr. Tegg's early career was one of struggling and difficulty, and his life presents a striking illustration of how much can be accomplished by perseverance and earnestness of purpose’ (GM).

In 1847 William moved the firm to 12 Pancras Lane, London. Three years later it was relocated to 85 Queen Street where it remained until 1860, when it returned to 12 Pancras Lane for another twenty-three years. William continued the practice of reprinting standard works, buying up remainders, and commissioning new publications, particularly schoolbooks, children's literature, humour, reference works, and practical manuals. He borrowed the pseudonym Peter Parley to write books for the young, and his series Talks with Animals ran through twelve editions. From 1854 to 1875 he was a member of the common council of the City of London.

In 1883 William moved to 12 Doughty Street, and retired from the business in 1890. He died in London on 23 December 1895 and was survived by his wife, Mary Ann.

James J. Barnes and Patience P. Barnes

Sources  

DNB · J. J. Barnes and P. P. Barnes, ‘Reassessing the reputation of Thomas Tegg, London publisher, 1776–1846’, Book History, 3 (2000), 45–60 · Memoir of the late Thomas Tegg: abridged from his autobiography by permission of his son, William Tegg (1870) · GM, 2nd ser., 25 (1846), 650 · H. Curwen, A history of booksellers, the old and the new (1873) · R. A. Gettmann, A Victorian publisher: a study of the Bentley papers (1970) · S. Bennett, ‘John Murray's Family Library and the cheapening of books in early nineteenth-century Britain’, Studies in Bibliography, 29 (1976), 139–76 · Boase, Mod. Eng. biog., 3.907 · P. A. H. Brown, London publishers and printers, c.1800–1870 (1982) · Publishers' Circular, 64 (4 Jan 1896), 6 · private information (2004) [Michael Crellin; Gwen Crellin, a descendant of the Tegg family] · T. Tegg, Extension of copyright (1840), 1 [letter to Lord John Russell in pamphlet form] · Parliamentary debates, Commons, 42 (9 Sept 1838), 1072

Archives  

BL, corresp. with William Hone, Add. MSS 40120, 40856, 41071, passim · JRL, Methodist Archives and Research Centre, letters, mostly to James Everett


Wealth at death  

under £90,000: 20 Aug 1847, will