‘A DOCUMENT OF EXTRAORDINARY INTEREST’

The Report of the Committee of the House of Commons, to whom the Petition of the Royal Lustring-Company of England, was referred. Together with the Papers, Letters and Writings relating to the Smuggling Trade …

London, E. Whitlock, 1698.

Folio, pp. [4], 31, 36–114, [2]; several leaves of tables; small tear with loss in the upper blank margin of first 3 leaves, library stamps to 3 leaves; a nice, crisp copy in modern quarter cloth with brown patterned paper boards, title lettered on spine, library bookplate to rear pastedown.

£850

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The Report of the Committee of the House of Commons, to whom the Petition of the Royal Lustring-Company of England, was referred. Together with the Papers, Letters and Writings relating to the Smuggling Trade …

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First edition; a French version appeared the same year. Since its foundation in 1688, the Royal Lustring Company (importers of ‘lustrings’ or ‘alamodes’ – a fine, light, glossy, black silk) had enjoyed special monopolistic privileges which it had exploited to the full. However, by the end of 1696 its trade began to fall off, and the following year saw a sudden and dramatic change in its fortunes; sales became increasingly more difficult, and the number of looms in operation had to be slashed from over 760 to a meagre 40 or 50. ‘Under the monopoly of the charter, the company was the sole producer of lustrings in England, these fabrics could not be legally imported from France, while the duty, recently imposed, should have protected it against the competition of foreign countries. The only solution was that there had been a remarkable increase in the quantity smuggled …

‘The investigation which ensued was a very thorough one, and the report resulting from it … is a document of extraordinary interest. It contains, in the bald official precis of the evidence, the records of eye-witnesses of all those stirring episodes that are now chiefly remembered as a part of the mechanism of the tale of adventure. The escaping Jacobite stealing secretly on board the lugger, sailing from Romney Marsh … “even if there were gallows erected at every quarter-mile along the coast”: the system of passwords, ciphers and secret signals: men passing under false names and disguises: the informer screwing up his courage to risk life for the sake of reward – all these figures constituted the dramatis personæ of the enquiry. But behind and beyond such episodes lies the greatest value of the report, in so far as it reveals the prime movers, by whom the subordinates were set in motion. Thus the complete organization of a highly developed system of contraband trade is unmasked’ (Scott).

Goldsmiths’ 3496; Kress 2095; Wing E 2705; for further details on the intrigue of the smugglers, and the rest of the history of the Company, see Scott III, 73–89.

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