As a boy, James Lackington (1746-1815) worked as a meat pieman. As an adult, he became one of the most successful booksellers in all of London. If you were looking for literature in the late 18th-century, you would have made your way to No. 32 Finsbury Place South in the southeast corner of Finsbury Square. At that corner, you would check to see if the flag on the huge circular dome of the Temple of the Muses was flying. That way, you knew if Lackington was in residence inside his remarkable bookshop. Books were sold for cash, at prices listed in Lackington’s annual printed catalogues, such as A Catalogue of Books, for the Year 1803, Containing Eight Hundred Thousand Volumes in all Languages and Classes of Learning, the Whole of which are Marked at Low Prices, for Ready Money, and are Warrented Complete. (Rare Books, Ex 2005-0187N). After Lackington’s death, his son continued the business until the shop burned down in 1841.
A sketch of Lackington’s bookshop was originally created by Thomas Shepherd as an illustration to James Elmes, Metropolitan Improvements; or London in the Nineteenth Century: Displayed in a Series of Engravings… by Mr. Thos. H. Shepherd (London: Jones and Co., 1828). (Rare Books (Ex) 1465.323.11). Shepherd’s original is now in the collection of the Guildhall Library. William Wallis reproduced that scene in an etching, which can be found in several formats, with and without color. The print was published in The Repository of Arts, Literature, Commerce, Manufactures, Fashions and Politics. London: R. Ackermann, 1809-1815 (Graphic Arts Collection 2006-3077N)