Isabella “Tibby” Tinkler (1701 or 1702-1794), an Eighteenth-Century Bookseller of Richmond, Yorkshire.

Fig. 1. Aquatint portrait of Isabella “Tibby” Tinkler in her bookshop in Richmond, Yorkshire. Original print in the collection of the Grolier Club Library.

Members and visitors to the Grolier Club in recent months may have noticed our Librarian’s display of portraits of women authors, collectors, typographers, and booksellers in the elegant Regency breakfront on the 5th floor, donated by Club member, Ellen Michelson in 2018. Included in the display are the distinctive portraits of Isabella “Tibby” Tinkler (1701 or 1702-1794) and Theodora de Verdion (1744-1802), two eighteenth-century booksellers in England who worked outside the main London trade. Their biographies are not easily found, but their personalities emanate from their portraits, making us wonder who they were. We don’t know much, but we’ll introduce you to these two booksellers in this and a following blog post. First, we’ll meet Tibby Tinkler.

In a posthumous aquatint portrait by Yorkshire artist, George Cuitt (1743-1818), Isabella “Tibby” Tinkler stares straight at us as if we just walked into her bookshop (fig. 1).[1] She may have been the first bookseller, and possibly stationer, of Richmond.[2] The British Book Trade Index records her as “Tinkler,” bookseller of Richmond, Yorkshire, with a trading date of 1771, but she probably lived in Richmond for at least 23 years, passing away “6th Octr. 1794, Aged 92” according to the portrait’s inscription (fig. 2).[3]

Cuitt depicts Tinkler in old age, but with a demeanor that expresses vitality. She has a cane to the side, wears a bonnet and scarf tied around her head, and has long wrinkles on her face and hands. She has her sleeves pushed above her elbows, showing off strong forearms as she takes a drag from her pipe. A nineteenth-century author describes her, as seen in this portrait, as having “a heavy masculine face, and but for her garments might have been mistaken for a man,” but her sharp acuity is her most noticeable feature.[4] She’s pulling up her hem as if to get up to greet us, while her expression looks a little skeptical that we’ll buy anything.

Fig. 2. The inscription in this copy might have manuscript over the printed inscription. It is the same text as the printed inscription in the Rijksmuseum copy, but with slight differences in the letterforms.
Original print in the collection of the Grolier Club Library.

Richmond locals remembered Tinkler for generations afterward as a knowledgeable bookseller who knew more about books’ “histories, mysteries, and prices current, &c.” than many of her peers.[5] Unfortunately, we don’t know how she learned her trade. Where did she learn bookselling, if in fact she was the first in Richmond? Who did she learn from—was she like many other women of the period who learned or inherited the trade from a male family member? Or did she set out for a career on her own? It is a loss not to know how she became a professional bookseller, as Cuitt portrays her, surrounded by books—on her lap, on shelves behind her, and to the table on her right. Cuitt also includes knitting next to her, and whether he included it merely as a touch of verité or not, it emphasizes her gender in a period when women did not typically work in male-dominated trades.

Isabella Tinkler must have been a well-remembered and well-loved figure for these prints to have been produced, and they remained sought-after in Richmond nearly a century after her death, with restrikes taken around 1888.[6] Her business continued after her death, succeeded by Matthew Bell, whose son George Bell became a prominent London publisher, but her place in the Richmond community seems to have contributed more to her legacy than the business itself.[7]

By Scott Ellwood

Correction: An earlier version of this post included in n. 4 a reference to a possible contemporary description of Isabella Tinkler by John Byng (1743-1813) in his journal, A Tour to the North, [27 May – 17 July] 1792, but Byng did not, in fact, mention Isabella Tinkler. We thank Simon Alderson for following up on this reference in Byng’s Torrington Diaries and providing us with the correction; see comment below.


[1] George Cuitt the elder is not described as a printmaker in ULAN or Benezit; however, while his son, also George Cuitt (1779-1854), worked as an etcher, it seems more likely that the elder artist produced this aquatint based on their respective ages in 1794.

[2] Henry Speight, “Chapter III: Richmond Worthies,” Romantic Richmondshire. Being a Complete Account of the History, Antiquities and Scenery of the Picturesque Valleys of the Swale and Yore (London: Elliot Stock, 1897), pp. 79-88 (85-86).  See also H. Ecroyd Smith, “Richmond Pictorial Journals,” J. Horsefall Turner ed. Yorkshire Bibliographer 1 (1888), pp. 229-230 (230).

[3]TINKLER, —,” British Book Trade Index.

[4] Speight, Romantic Richmondshire, p. 86.

[5] Speight, Romantic Richmondshire, p. 85.

[6]Notices of New Books,” Yorkshire Bibliographer 1 (1888), pp. 89-103 (91).

[7] H. Ecroyd Smith, “Bells, Publishers,” Yorkshire Bibliographer 1 (1888), p. 231; Speight, “Chapter III: Richmond Worthies,” Romantic Richmondshire, p. 86;and Alexis Weedon, “Bell Family (per. 1814-1968),” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 23 Sept 2004, web.

5 thoughts on “Isabella “Tibby” Tinkler (1701 or 1702-1794), an Eighteenth-Century Bookseller of Richmond, Yorkshire.

  1. I have a copy of the Torrington Diaries on my shelves, so thought I’d see what he had to say about Tinkler. However, the entry describing his sojourn in Richmond in June 1792 seems to contain no ‘word picture’ or indeed any other mention of Tinkler. He does mention calling in at a ‘civil shop’ in the marketplace, “half perfumer, half bookseller’, but describes the bookseller later as a ‘he’ — “Then I resorted to my friend the bookseller, and went over Todds (York) Catalogue; and glad I was to find that nothing therein would have tempted so choice a collector as myself: he recommended me to seek a Mr Cuit, a painter of merit, who took sketches of this country…” And Byng does visit Mr Cuit, “a poor, civil kind of man” (vol.3 pp.64-65). The reference to a ‘word picture’ of Tinkler seems to be mistaken.


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