Sarah Popping (d. 1728; fl. 17101723)



  • Printer
  • Bookseller
  • Publisher

Sarah Popping, bookseller, printer, and publisher, 1710–1723; at the Black Raven / Raven in Paternoster Row.


Allison Muri, University of Saskatchewan
July 2022; rev. May 2023

As a trade publisher, Sarah Popping allowed her name to appear on the imprints of books or pamphlets and shouldered the business of distributing and selling them. This practice was sometimes employed in the book trades to mask the name of the true copyright holders of works with which it was politically or otherwise risky to be associated, and it landed her in trouble with the law on a number of occasions. Popping took over the shop of printer, bookseller, and publisher Benjamin Bragg at the Black Raven in Paternoster Row in 1710 or 11. The Black Raven, also called the Raven, was located at number 52, adjoining the shop of bookbinder Christopher Norris at the east corner of Paternoster Row and Paul's Alley, next door to Joyce Fisher & Co. (head dresser and milliner), and across the street from Paul's Coffee House on the west corner.

Popping published the Observator, a paper edited by George Ridpath, with which Daniel Defoe was also associated. Popping also published jointly with Benjamin Harris at the Golden Boar's Head in Gracechurch Street the Whig paper the Protestant Post-Boy. Her name appears on a number of imprints of works by the prominent and eccentric bookseller John Dunton. She published some works attributed to Daniel Defoe, and in 1715 A Hymn to the Mob bore Poppings' name as printer and seller.

Just embarked upon her career, Popping was named in a writ issued 28 September 1711 to detain both her and printer John Darby on account of their "publishing and vending a scandalous and seditious libel" (The Observator, no. 74, vol. 10). She was imprisoned at Newgate in October 1711 for a libel of Swift in the Protestant Post-Boy, and subsequently prosecuted from October 1711 to October 1712 for libels in the Observator and An Excellent New Song called an End to our Sorrows ("Declared Accounts: Treasury Solicitor," in Calendar of Treasury Books, Volume 26, 1712, ed. William A Shaw (London, 1954), pp. cdviii–cdxi. British History Online).

The following year, Popping was taken into custody for printing a 6-page folio reporting on the trial of proceedings against George Earl of Winton for treason, An Account of the Tryal of the Earl of Winton; Which Began on the 15th, and Ended the 19th of March, 1716.

The House of Peers had ordered that the proceedings be printed by Jacob Tonson, however, as noted at the beginning of the approved and laboriously titled publication 69 pages long, The Tryal of George Earl of Wintoun, upon the Articles of Impeachment of High Treason Exhibited Against Him by the Knights, Citizens, and Burgesses in Parliament Assembled, in the name of Themselves and of all the Commons of Great Britain, in Westminster-Hall, on Thursday the 15th, Friday the 16th, and Monday the 19th days of March 1715/16; On the Last of Which Days Judgment of High-Treason was Given against Him. Together with Several Orders of the House of Peers in Course of Time Preparatory to the Said Tryal:

In Pursuance of an Order of the House of Peers of the Twenty First Day of March 1715/16, I do appoint Jacob Tonson to Print the Tryal of George Earl of Wintoun; And do forbid any other Person Print the same


On the 13th of April, “complaint being made to the House of a printed paper intituled An Account, & c.,” the House ordered that “the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod, his Deputy or Deputies, forthwith to attach the body of the said S. Popping for printing and publishing the said Paper in breach of a Standing Order of the House.” The Gentleman Usher, Sir William Oldes, informed the House the next day “that S. Popping is taken into Custody, but is so ill that she is not in a condition to be brought to the Bar, and that a person is attending at the Door who can give an account concerning the said Paper.” 

As documented in the Curll Papers assembled by William John Thoms, Elizabeth Cape was then called in and examined upon oath, at the bar:

Unfortunately no particulars of what Elizabeth Cape told the House have been recorded: but she told them enough to implicate poor Curll and his brother bookseller, John Pemberton; for the result of her examination was, that the House ordered the Gentleman Usher to “forthwith attach the bodies of John Pemberton and Edmund Curll, Booksellers in Fleet Street, for being concerned in printing and publishing the said Paper,” and to keep them in safe Custody until further Order.” On Tuesday, the 17th April, Sarah Popping presented to the House a petition, of which the following is a copy:

“To the Right Honble The Lords Spirituall and Temporall in Parliament assembled.

“The humble Petition of Sarah Popping,


“That your Petitioner is heartily sorry to have incurred Your Lordships displeasure, but hopes from Your Lordships known Justice to obteyne your generous pardon when Your Lordships are acquainted with her case, which is as follows:

“Your Lordships Petitioner knew nothing of her name being put to the Lord Wintoun's Trial, which has justly offended Your Lordships, nor knew of its being sent to be published by her untill after it was brought to her house.

“That being ill at the time it came, your Petitioner's sister, who is not acquainted with such things, had published it before your Petitioner knew anything of it.

“Your Lordships Petitioner and her Sister have fully declared all they know about the Booksellers concerned in it, and it being usual in such cases to discharge the publisher upon the discovery of the Bookseller,

“Your Petitioner most humbly begs Your Lordships favor that shee may be discharged without fees, Her condition and the profitts shee has by publication not being able to bear it.

“And yr Petr shall pray, & c.


This petition having been read, and the House being informed that Curll and Pemberton were also in custody, ordered them all three to be brought to the bar at one o'clock on the following day. The business was, however, adjourned from day to day until Thursday the 26th April, when we find the following entry on the Journals:

“Sarah Popping, a Publisher, and John Pemberton and Edmund Curll, Booksellers, were (according to Order) brought to the Bar, and severally examined touching the printed Paper, intituled, 'An Account of the Trial of the Earl of Winton.'

“ As was also Elizabeth Cape examined upon Oath, in relation to the same Matter.

“And, they being withdrawn, the following Orders were made:

“Ordered, That the said Sarah Popping and John Pemberton be forthwith discharged out of Custody, without paying any Fees; and that the said Edmund Curll be continued in the Custody he is now in.

“Ordered, That Daniel Bridge, a Printer, in Paternoster Row, do attend this House tomorrow, to give an Account concerning the printing of the aforementioned Paper.”

On Wednesday the 2nd of May, Daniel Bridge, a printer in Paternoster Row, attending (according to order), was called in and examined touching the printing of the Earl of Wintoun's trial, and having acquainted the House “That he received the Copy thereof from Edmund Curll, a Bookseller in Fleet Street, and owned he printed the same,” he was forthwith ordered into the custody of Black Rod. (38–40)

—Curll Papers: Stray Notes on the Life and Publications of Edmund Curll assembled by William John Thoms, 1879.

Curll and Daniel Bridge ultimately received a reprimand from the Lord Chancellor for their offence, and were ordered to be discharged with fees. 

Apparently it was an eventful year for Cull and Popping both. On 28 March 1716, Alexander Pope surreptitiously administered an emetic to Curii as punishment for his unauthorized publishing of Court Poems. Within a few days, Pope's Full and True Account of a Horrid and Barbarous Revenge by Poison on the Body of Mr. Edmund Curll, Bookseller, in which Pope described administrating the emetic and its unpleasant outcome, listed five publishers on its title page, all of whom were known to be collaborators with Curll: James Roberts, John Morphew, Rebecca Burleigh, John Baker, and Sarah Popping. On 31 May 1716, the Flying Post advertised the publication on that day of John Dennis' anonymous libel against Alexander Pope A True Character of Mr. Pope, a pamphlet written in retaliation, also issued by Popping. Her name would be mentioned several times in association with the publication in Pope's Dunciad Variorum (1729).

Popping's role in a case brought before the House of Lords in April 1717, as in the above-mentioned case, demonstrates the protection available to her as a publisher professing no knowledge of the text that appeared in the published material that she distributed. On the 5th of April Popping (seller of the Flying Post), along with Robert Tookey (printer of the Flying Post) and John Baker (publisher of the St. James's Post and St. James's Evening Post), was ordered to appear before the House concerning complaints that had been made about paragraphs published in the papers. Thomas Walker, author of the St. James's Post and St. James's Evening Post), appeared to testify on behalf of Baker, who was near death. The offending paragraph in the Flying Post concerned "two excise men lately discharged from their employment for being disaffected to the present government; one or both of them in Yorkshire a certain prelate has thought fit to grant them ordination, named Parry and Carter [MS. Min. (55) has 'a northern prelate.']" (The Manuscripts of the House of Lords, Volume 12, p. 365). Upon examination under oath, Popping testified "that she is the publisher of the Flying Post, and that [it] is printed by Tookey; that she knows nothing of the particular paragraph complained of, and never reads the paper, but Tookey sends them to her and she only gives them out; can't tell who writes the paper for Tookey but has heard that George Ridpath does, and has heard Tookey say so, but can't tell how long since; and sometimes Ridpath's clerk brings them to Tookey, but knows nothing of this particular paragraph of her own knowledge." Tookey then testified that he believed the Flying Post in question had been printed by him, but "can't say the paragraph is true, but that 'twas taken out of the St. James's Post and they had no other authority for it and that 'tis usual to borrow paragraphs of one another, that the word 'northern' is printed by the meer mistake of the letter setter and could swear it is not in the copy sent to the press; that Ridpath or his clark [Steven Watley] always write the paper." Ridpath and Whatley in turn were called to testify, whereupon Ridley claimed he knew nothing of the word "northern" until he saw it in print. Tookey, RIdpath, Whatley, and Walker were all taken into custody—Walker for contempt in writing and publishing the St. James's Post, and St. James's Evening Post; Tookey for contempt in printing the Flying Post, and Ridpath and Whatley as authors of the paper ("House of Lords Journal Volume 20: 6 April 1717," in Journal of the House of Lords: Volume 20, 1714-1717 (London, 1767–1830), pp. 439–440. British History Online.).

Ridpath, Tookey, and Whatley subsequently petitioned the House, declaring that "Their grief at showing contempt towards H.L. is 'unexpressible.' They declare that ... 'we had not the least designe to reflect upon any member of the reverend bench of bishops as if they could be thought capable of giveing sacred orders to men turned out of the excise for disaffection to his most sacred Majesty King George, but naturally supposed that one of the Pretender's titular prelates in North or South Britain who are professed enemies to the referend bench, might be so wickedly officious ... And this your lordships' Petitioners humbly offer to publish in the Flying Post for vindicating the reverend bench if your lordships think fit'" (The Manuscripts of the House of Lords, 367). Walker requested pardon separately. All were discharged with fees, unlike Popping who withdrew after her testimony and was not further involved in the examinations or charges.

Popping remained at the Black Raven in Paternoster Row next door to Joyce Fisher & Co. until 1725. Her house was empty in 1726. She was buried near to her former premises on November 11, 1728, in the parish of St. Botolph without Aldersgate.

A Dictionary of the Printers and Booksellers who were at Work in England, Scotland and Ireland from 1668 to 1725, by Henry Plomer (1922)

POPPING (SARAH), printer and bookseller in London, Raven, Paternoster Row, 1713–23. Printer and publisher for a time, of the Observator (1711, &c.) In 1716 Mrs. Popping was one of the publishers of Pope's satire on Edmund Curll. [Esdaile, p. 289.] In this year she also published Dennis's True Character of Mr. P[ope] and his Writings. Her name was in the imprint to Curll's pirated edition of An Account of the Trial of the Earl of Winton, also in 1716, for which she was taken into custody for breach of privilege, but was discharged. [W.J. Thoms, Curll Papers, pp. 37–9.] In 1723 she advertised Dunton's Upon this Moment depends Eternity, but it is believed not to have appeared. [Nichols, Lit. Anecd. V. 83.]

Notes & Queries "London Booksellers Series" (1931–2)

POPPING, SARAH. Widow of J. Popping, of the Black Raven in Paternoster Row. She first comes into notice in 1711, when, with several others of her profession, she was committed to Newgate for publishing The Protestant Post Boy. In 1716 she was associated with Curll in the publication of 'An Account of the Trial of Lord Winton,' and with him was summoned for breach of privilege, but was acquitted. This was only one of a whole series of accounts of famous trials which she issued from time Ito time. In 1720 she held the monopoly for the sale of the London Gazette, while in 1716 she published Dunton's 'Recantations.' She is last heard of in 1723.

—Frederick T. Wood, 26 September 1931