Grace's Guide

British Industrial History

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Virtue and Co

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of 19, 20, and 21 Thavies Inn, Holborn Circus, London, EC1. Telephone: Clerkenwell 3175

Publishers and printers of engravings.

1794 George Virtue (1794–1868), publisher, was born on 20 April in Polwarth, Berwickshire, the third son of Robert Virtue, cart-hirer, and his wife, Hellen McDougal.

1826 He married Helen Sprent on 25 May, having established himself at Ivy Lane, London, in the ‘numbers trade’, selling extensive works in parts by subscription.

1829 His son, James Sprent Virtue (1829–1892) was born on 18 May, at 26 Ivy Lane, Paternoster Row, London, the second of George and Helen's six children.

1834 His first major success was Alexander Fletcher's Guide to Family Devotion (1834) but it was as a publisher of illustrated books, employing the best artists and engravers, that he made his reputation.

A series of steel-engraved topographical books sold widely at home and abroad. As the market for expensive ‘view books’ declined during the 1840s, George Virtue turned his attention to art publishing.

c1843 At the age of fourteen James Virtue was apprenticed to his father.

1848 Young James Virtue was sent to the New York branch of the business. George Virtue acquired the moribund Art Union and transformed it into the lavishly illustrated Art Journal, which did much to promote the art of the engraver and raise standards of public taste. It was to prove one of the nineteenth century's most important art periodicals and has been an invaluable source of information for art historians of the period.

At this time George entered into partnership with Arthur Hall and Co and founded his own printing works at 294 City Road, London. The firm became self-sufficient in printing, engraving, and bookbinding, and provided such services for other publishers. He was active in the City of London as a deputy for Farringdon Within, a member of the court of the Stationers' Company and a director of the Great Central Gas Consumers' Company.

By 1851 James Virtue was head of a firm with offices across North America.

1855 An attack of paralysis led to George's retirement from business to Oatlands Park, Surrey. Apart from a visit to London in 1850 to be admitted a liveryman of the Stationers' Company, James Virtue had remained in the United States until he returned to England to succeed his father.

Under James' proprietorship the Art Journal continued to prosper, distinguished by series of engravings of important collections such as the Royal Gallery (1855–61) and the Turner Gallery (1860–65), illustrated catalogues of international exhibitions, and monographs on contemporary artists.

1856 A keen sportsman, James Virtue became a founder member of the London Rowing Club, serving as treasurer and vice-president. For several years he donated the annual prize of a sculler's boat for novice rowers.

c.1861 John Weale's "Rudimentary Series", comprising more than 130 scientific and technical works, generally written by eminent men, was acquired by James Sprent Virtue.

1862 The partnership with Hall was dissolved and James established a second company with his elder brother, George Henry, at 1 Amen Corner, London.

1866 This firm closed after the george Henry's death.

1867 James founded the monthly magazine, St Paul's, with Anthony Trollope as editor. He married Jane Elizabeth Shirreff (b. 1841/2) on 20 November; she eventually survived him.

1868 George Virtue died on 8 December, of an apoplectic fit while dining at 7 Porchester Square, London, home of his son-in-law James Cotter Morison, and was buried at St Mary's, Walton-on-Thames, on 14 December. His wife survived him.

1869 The monthly magazine failed to meet commercial expectations and in May it was transferred to Strahan and Co, where James acted as printer and chief creditor.

1873 He eventually took control of the firm's management and, with Strahan's other creditors, formed the partnership Virtue, Spalding and Daldy.

1875 The firm became a limited company with James as major shareholder and chairman of the board.

1878 Virtue and Co was put into liquidation together with Daldy, Isbister and Co as the 2 firms were in practice treated as one[1]

1879 New company formed James Virtue and Co to take over the business of Virtue and Co; Mr Daldy was connected with this company[2]

Following his father's example, James continued to publish illustrated books of distinction, particularly editions of the Bible, Shakespeare, and topographical works. However, his commitment to expensive production standards led to periodic financial problems and a difficult legacy for his successors.

1892 James Sprent Virtue died of heart disease on 29 March, at his London home, 3 Prince's Mansions, Victoria Street, and was buried on 2 April at St Mary's, Walton-on-Thames.

1929 Listed Exhibitor - British Industries Fair. Publishers of Standard and Technical Books and Signed Artists' Proof Mezzotints and Etchings. (Stand No. R.111) [3]


See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. The Times, Aug 31, 1878
  2. The Times, Mar 08, 1879
  3. 1929 British Industries Fair Page 173