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In a Bind: Pratt's Qui Tams and the Bookbinders' Dilemma

Jonathan E. Hill (notes)


The BL's Jaffray Collection contains rare copies of two qui tam cases brought in 1811 and 1812 by Robert Pratt, a member of the London Society of Journeymen Bookbinders. The cases were among the last attempts to uphold the Elizabethan statute of apprentices. They offer telling insight into a trade facing radical alterations in the retail market and in labour conditions. The statute prescribed a seven year apprenticeship as the foundational qualification for admission into a broad range of skilled trades. By the end of eighteenth century the requirement was perceived as impeding the free movement of labour and the growth of new trades and skills. In the case of the bookbinders, the increase in demand for low cost bindings was rendering a statute that required bookbinders be trained to levels of skill higher than were needed over restrictive. Many employers ignored the apprenticeship requirement. It was against two such employers that Pratt brought his suits. He won his first case, but lost his second. The statute was repealed in 1814.

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