c.1736-69:  A Novel Business
HINXMAN Strays:  John HINXMAN (c.1736-1762), & Jane HINXMAN née MORGAN (c.1739->1769)

This John HINXMAN is currently (2018) a ‘stray’, i.e. with no known connections to any particular branch of the family.  Research has failed to discover his true origins, so for the moment he rests in this temporary category.  Nevertheless, his story is an interesting one.

There are few clues about John's origins.  His career indicates that he had a good education.  His purchase of a building and business in the City of York, in 1757, suggest a well-off family background.  

John was possibly the son of John HINXMAN (c.1705-1765) of Weeke near Winchester, from the Andover family, and his wife Mary GOSNEY (1705-1778), who married on 06 Oct 1735.  If this is correct, then our John was their first child, probably born around 1736, and named after his father - as was normal then, for eldest sons.  

However, other attributions are also possible.  York is a long way from Winchester, and there are no other known HINXMAN links to York at about this time.  John was the most common male name in England from 1550 to the mid-1950s, so there were plenty of babies being baptised as John - even when combined with the rare HINXMAN surname.

Whatever his origins, in about 1750 John became apprenticed to Robert DODSLEY (1704-1764) and his brother James DODSLEY (1724-1797) in London.  The DODSLEYs owned one of the foremost publishing houses of the day, and counted the famous writer Dr. Samuel JOHNSON (1709-1784) amongst their clients.  John later referred to his apprenticeship with the well-known DODSLEY brothers in his early newspaper advertisements, to impress potential customers with his credentials.

Business Startup

John HINXMAN probably completed his apprenticeship over the normal period of seven years, before opening his first bookshop. 

He bought an existing business, the property of the late John HILDYARD, at The Sign of the Bible, in Stonegate, York, on 01 Sep 1757.  The building he occupied (now number 23 Stonegate, illustrated on the left of the picture opposite) can still be seen there.  John almost certainly lived there too.  

John’s ability to purchase an existing business on a prime site, and to find the necessary start-up capital at such an early stage in his career, suggests he had significant financial backing, perhaps from wealthy parents.  He seems to have been well connected too, for in 1757 he was also admitted to the Freedom of York.  The Register of the Freemen of the City of York for that year records: 

John Hinxman, bookseller, by order.

John's new business seems to have got off to a slow start, although the DODSLEY brothers began to include him in their lists of associate booksellers from at least 1758 and they continued to collaborate with John on some jointly published works.  In 1759 John decided to clear out much of HILDYARD's old stock, by publishing and selling a large catalogue for a book sale comprising over 15,000 volumes.  

By this time he had also joined The Good Humour Club – a novel association of local gentlemen who met to share good humour, in the belief it was not only enjoyable, but good for their health and well-being. 

Illustration 1.  John HINXMAN's Bookshop (on the left) at The Sign of the Bible.  1813.  York, England.  For picture details, see footnotes.

Tristram Shandy
In May 1759, the local author Rev. Laurence STERNE (another member of The Good Humour Club) evidently asked John HINXMAN for advice on publishing his most recent work. 

STERNE had previously enjoyed a long association with the local printer and publisher Caesar WARD (1???-1759),
also a member of The Good Humour ClubIn 1739, WARD and yet another member of The Good Humour Club, Richard CHANDLER (1???-1745), had bought the York Courant newspaper.  However CHANDLER, weighed down by debts, committed suicide in 1745 - also bankrupting WARD. 

WARD's friends came to the rescue, he re-built his business, and he continued as Editor of the York Courant.
  WARD's printing shop was in Coney Street, York, with at least 2 printing presses: one of which was regularly employed for the publication of the York Courant
STERNE (though a Whig) had written for this newspaper as early as 1741.  Caesar WARD also possibly published 2 of STERNE's sermons, in 1747 (The Case of Elijah and the Widow of Xerephath), and in 1750 (The Abuses of Conscience), and had published STERNE's satirical Political Romance earlier in 1759.

However, Caesar WARD died on 24 April 1759, leaving STERNE unsure how to publish his latest works, and he then apparently approached John HINXMAN for advice. 
John was collaborating at the time with Robert & James DODSLEY in London, on the publishing of The Safety and Perpetuity of the British State by William WESTON, and it seems that John quite naturally suggested contacting the DODSLEY brothers to take on STERNE's work. 

On 23 May 1759, STERNE therefore wrote to the DODSLEYs in London, offering them the manuscript of the first 2 volumes of his proposed book – The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman – for what he thought was a reasonable sum of fifty pounds.  However, the DODSLEYs initially declined to purchase it, considering it too expensive and risky a venture. 

STERNE then decided to finance the publication of Volumes I and II himself, and asked his friend John HINXMAN to publish the work for him.  Analysis of the paper and watermarks of these first editions suggests that the printing was in fact carried out by Ann WARD (c.1715-1789).  This was Caesar WARD's widow, who took over her deceased husband's business and ran it very ably until her own death in 1789.

The initial print run of 200 copies of Volumes I and II was evidently completed by late November.  They were first advertised in the York Courant newspaper on 11 December, prior to their publication on 18 Dec 1759.  Here is a transcript of the 18 Dec 1760 advert:

This day was published,
Printed on a superfine writing paper, and a new Let-
ter, in two Volumes, Price 5s. neatly bound,


York, printed for and sold by John Hinxman (Suc-
cessor to the late Mr. Hildyard) Bookseller in Stone-
gate: J. Dodsley in Pallmall and M. Cooper in Pater-
noster-row, London: and by all the Booksellers.

Illustration 2.  Blue Stained Glass Plaque at The Sign of the Bible.  2018.  For picture details see footnotes below.

An almost exactly similar advertisement was also published in the York Courant newspaper (still being printed on Caesar & Ann WARD's printing press in York) in Feb 1760. 

STERNE's novel turned out to be a business coup for John HINXMAN.  The books became instant, sensational bestsellers, clearing over 100 copies a day from the very start.  They are still revered as t
he most modern, imaginative and funny of all the key early English novels, and as a milestone in the history of book-publishing.  Such was their popularity that the 6th edition was published in 1767, only 7 years after the initial launch.  

However, John HINXMAN did not retain this publishing contract for long.  The DODSLEY brothers soon realised the books were becoming a publishing phenomenon, and it seems they quickly offered to pay STERNE for the publishing rights after all.  So in April 1760, only 3 months after the first edition, it was the DODSLEYs in London who published the second edition of volumes I and II, and they subsequently published the additional volumes III-IX as well. 

The 9 volumes of 'Tristram Shandy' have been republished in many different versions since then, but the rarest versions remain the first editions of Volumes I and II, published by John HINXMAN in York, which are particularly scarce and valuable.  A complete set of first editions of all 9 Volumes, including the Volumes I and II published by John HINXMAN, is currently (2018) on sale for £19,721.

There seems to have been no hard feelings between John HINXMAN and the DODSLEY brothers, as they collaborated on a further 9 titles from 1759 to 1764, including the 1761 publication of Fables for Grown Gentlemen by John HALL-STEVENSON (1718-1785).  But John's loss of this significant business to his London colleagues and competitors may have influenced his growing resolve to move to the capital himself.  Meanwhile, he returned to his book sales.  John's initial 1759 book sale was evidently a success, for he held four more auctions in 1760 (three in York and one in Leeds), and a further sale in 1761.  He also began to advertise in The London Chronicle (although he was still based in York), which suggests that his business was growing and that he was planning to move to the capital.


John's focus was indeed swinging back to London, for on 09 Nov 1761 John HINXMAN married Jane MORGAN, in the church of St. Vedast, Foster Lane, London. 

John is described in the Marriage Register as a bachelor, still residing in York, while Jane was a spinster, residing at Paternoster Row in the Parish of St. Michael Le Querne.  The old church of this latter parish, largely to the north-east of Paternoster Row, had been destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666, and was never rebuilt – so the wedding had to be in another, nearby church.


Their wedding venue, the church of St. Vedast, was just a stone’s throw from Paternoster Row.  This street, adjacent to St Paul’s Cathedral, remained the principal London location for booksellers and publishers for centuries, until it was destroyed by German bombing during World War II.  It has since been rebuilt, but is no longer a focus for publishing houses. 

From her address, it seems likely that Jane’s family were also in the publishing business, and that John met Jane while he was apprenticed nearby (c.1750-1757), or when visiting the DODSLEY brothers on business matters.

Jane must have had wealthy parents, as she brought with her a large dowry of £10,000.  This was a very sizeable sum, equivalent to at least £1.2M now (2014).  John moved rapidly: in December 1761 he sold his York business; bought the bookselling and publishing business of the late Thomas COOPER, situated at The Globe, Paternoster Row; and moved to London.

John now possessed established premises in a prime site, at the heart of London’s – indeed Great Britain’s – book industry, plus a large stock of books and copyrights.  His business seems to have prospered, and in 1762 he was already publishing, advertising and selling books upon a wide range of topics.  These included humour, ethics, criminology, poetry, religion, mythology, directories, and especially politics.

Illustration 3.  Title Page of a Pamphlet printed for John HINXMAN.  1762.  For picture details, see footnotes.

However, the good times did not last.  Later that year, it was announced by The London Magazine that ‘Mr. John HINXMAN, bookseller, in Paternoster Row’, had died on 09 Nov 1762.  It was only 8 months since he and Jane had married, and John had been struck down just as his career really began to blossom.  The cause of his death is not recorded, but they seem to have had no children. Jane was left a widow, shocked and alone.

Jane initially continued the bookselling and publishing, and sold off the York business to discharge John’s debts.  The coincidence of having the same initials as John allowed her to maintain business continuity, advertising under the name of J. HINXMAN of Paternoster-row, London.   Jane seems to have been accepted – and indeed supported – by John’s old mentors, R. & J. DODSLEY, plus many other bookselling and publishing associates, as her business continued to be advertised jointly with them.  No doubt they felt sorry for her.

But by 26 Apr 1764, Jane had had enough.  She wound up the business, and auctioned off the remaining books and copyrights.  The firm of J. HINXMAN, Booksellers and Publishers, based in York from 1757 to 1762, and London from 1761 to 1764, ceased to exist.

After a decent interval of more than 6 years following John’s death, Jane HINXMAN (nee MORGAN), re-married.  On 21 Mar 1769, she wedded William KIRKBY at the church of St. Augustine, Watling Street, London.  Nothing more is currently known of Jane's further life, and both Jane and John currently remain 'strays'.

Any further information on the origins and lives of this stray HINXMAN couple will be gratefully received.

Illustration 4.  John HINXMAN's Name & Business Address.  1762.  For picture details, see footnotes.

  • Bill CLEGHORN.  Consulted Feb 2018.  Newspapers: The York CourantWebsite: Good Humour.  Webpage URL:  http://goodhumour.laurencesternetrust.org.uk/exhibition/newspapers/
  • Editor: A useful overview of the history of the York Courant.
  • Lewis P. CURTIS.  Sep 1932.  The First Printer of Tristram Shandy.  PMLA.  Volume 47.  Pages 777-789.
  • Lewis P. CURTIS.  1935.  Letters of Laurence Sterne.  Pages 74, 80, & 85.  Oxford, England.
  • Editor:  3 letters containing clues to the publishing date of the first edition of Tristram Shandy. 
  • John M. YOKLAVICH.  Jun 1948.  Notes on the Early Editions of Tristram Shandy.  PMLA.  Volume 63.  Number 2.  Pages 508-519.  Modern Language Association.  Webpage URL:  http://users.clas.ufl.edu/burt/sterneshakespeareshelley/EarlyEditionsTristramShandy.pdf
  • Editor:  A useful summary of the evidence regarding the publication of Volumes I & II.
  • Unidentified Editor.  1900.  Register of the Freemen of the City of York.  Volume 2, 1559-1759.  Andrews & Co.  Durham, England.
  • Editor:  The reference to John HINXMAN in the year 30 Geo. II (1757) can be found under:  Admissions to the Freedom of York: 16-32 George II (1742-59).  Pages 262-28.
Next . . .
  • Click on HINXMAN Authors for more about John HINXMAN's sale catalogue of 15,000 books, published in 1759.
  • Click on Blue Plaque for a York Civic Trust webpage, providing more background about Laurence STERNE and the genesis of Tristram Shandy.
  • Visit John HINXMAN's shop (no longer a bookshop, but still with the original sign) at The Sign of the Bible, 23 Stonegate, York YO1 8AW, England.
Webpage version 2019.1.  First version 2015.
Webpage copyright © Richard HINXMAN, 2015.

1.  John HINXMAN's Bookshop (on the left) at The Sign of the Bible
Monochrome etching.  Henry CAVE.  Stonegate.  1813.  Found in:  Henry CAVE (1779-1836).  1813.  Antiquities of York.  York, England.

2.  Blue Stained Glass Plaque at The Sign of the Bible
Digital colour photograph.  Unidentified author.  Nov 2018.  Stained Glass Plaque for Laurence STERNE.  Website of the York Civic Trust.  URL:  https://yorkcivictrust.co.uk/heritage/civic-trust-plaques/laurence-sterne-1713-1768.

Original:  Stained glass plaque.  Created by Barley Studios.  2018.  'Tristram Shandy'.  Commissioned by York Civic Trust, in partnership with the Laurence Sterne Trust.  Displayed at The Sign of the Bible, 23 Stonegate, York YO1 8AW, England.  See https://yorkcivictrust.co.uk/stained-glass-plaque-for-laurence-sterne.

3.  Title Page of a Pamphlet printed for John HINXMAN
An early example of a pamphlet printed for John & Jane's new business in Paternoster Row, London, soon after John moved there from York in late 1761.

Original:  Anonymous.  1762. 
An Answer to the Observations on the Papers relative to the Rupture with Spain..  Title page of pamphlet.  Printed for John HINXMAN.  The Globe, Paternoster-row, London, England. 
Collection of Richard HINXMAN.  Public domain.  See Terms of Use.

4.  John HINXMAN's Name & Business Address
Detail from the title page above.  Public domain.  See Terms of Use.