THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Untold lives blog

27 posts categorized "Rare books"

04 July 2017

Paul Fourdrinier: The Architects’ Engraver in 18th century Britain

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Born in the Netherlands in 1698, Paul Fourdrinier trained in Amsterdam before moving to London in 1720, where he established a highly successful business at Charing Cross. Although he created a wide range of illustrations and maps, he was particularly well known for his work with architects: according to George Vertue, his architectural engravings were ‘remarkable… many are very curious and neatly done’ (‘Vertue’s Notebook’, 136).

Figure 1 Paul Fourdrinier Blog
Paul Fourdrinier after Giovanni Borra, Plate XV from The Ruins of Palmyra, otherwise Tedmor, in the desart, London, 1753. British Library 74/744.f.16. Noc

During a career which lasted over thirty years, Fourdrinier worked with many of Britain’s leading architects. Because architectural books are conventionally identified as the work of the architects whose drawings they are based on, his plates have rarely been treated as a unique body of work. His work appeared in numerous publications: The Designs of Inigo Jones (published by William Kent, 1727), Robert Castell’s The Villas of the Ancients (1728), Andrea Palladio’s First Book of Architecture (rev. Colen Campbell, 1728), Fabbriche Antiche Disegnata da Andrea Palladio (published by Lord Burlington, c. 1730), Isaac Ware’s Designs of Inigo Jones and others (1731) and The Plans, Elevations and Sections, Chimney Pieces and Ceilings of Houghton in Norfolk (1735), Charles Labelye’s A Short Account of the Methods Made Use of in Laying the Foundation of the Piers of Westminster-Bridge (1739), Stephen Riou’s The Elements of Fortification (1746), James Gibbs’s Bibliotheca Radcliviana (1747), John Wood’s An Essay towards a Description of Bath (rev. edn, 1749) and A Dissertation upon the Orders of Columns (1750), Francis Price’s A Series of Particular and Useful Observations, Made with great Diligence and Care, upon that Admirable Structure, The Cathedral-Church of Salisbury (1753), Robert Wood’s The Ruins of Palmyra (1753) and The Ruins of Balbec (1757), Isaac Ware’s A Complete Body of Architecture (1755–57), William Chambers’s Designs of Chinese Buildings (1757) and A Treatise on Civil Architecture (1759), and James Stuart and Nicholas Revett’s The Antiquities of Athens (1762).

Figure 2 Paul Fourdrinier Blog

Paul Fourdrinier after William Chambers, Plate IV from Designs of Chinese Buildings, London, 1757. British Library 56.i.7. Noc

These publications encompass a tremendous range of building types and architectural styles, and in each one Fourdrinier’s exceptional talents were fundamental to the success of the project. Outstanding precision of line was required, and specific graphic conventions were deployed for depth: key tonal differentiations which represented the surfaces of elevations include ‘plain white for smooth ashlar in sunlight; flecks for rough-dressed stone in sunlight; horizontal hatching for half-shading of ashlar; cross-hatching for voids; diagonal cross-hatching for cast shadows, &c’ (Mark J. Millard, 361).

Figure 3 Paul Fourdrinier Blog
Isaac Ware drew this section of Houghton Hall and it was subsequently engraved by Fourdrinier. (Isaac Ware, ‘Transverse Section, Houghton Hall, Norfolk’, 1735. Metropolitan Museum of Art, Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1925.)

Fourdrinier’s reputation for exquisite architectural plates was such that his involvement in a project became part of its commercial appeal. His contributions were regularly highlighted in the advertisements for the different numbers of Ware’s A Complete Body of Architecture. In an advertisement published on 25 August 1756, the Gazetteer and London Daily Advertiser reported that the upcoming number not only included two of Fourdrinier’s plates, but that his work would be standard: ‘The Publick may depend that all the Plates of this Work, will for the future, be executed in the same masterly Manner.’ Today, the masterly details of Fourdrinier’s plates speak for themselves.

Jocelyn Anderson
Courtauld Institute of Art

Further reading:
Eileen Harris and Nicholas Savage, British Architectural Books and Writers, 1556 – 1785, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990.
The Mark J. Millard Architectural Collection, Volume II: British Books Seventeenth through Nineteenth Centuries, Washington: National Gallery of Art, 1998.
‘Vertue’s Note Book B.4 [British Museum Add. MS. 23,079]’, The Volume of the Walpole Society 22 (1933): 87 – 142.

For more from Dr Jocelyn Anderson see our new topography visual art resource Picturing Places -
The Gardens at Kew
18th-century country house guidebooks: tools for interpretation and souvenirs 
Country houses and The Copper Plate Magazine 

 

29 June 2017

One green bottle… Jan Sobota’s book binding

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Good news! We have recently acquired this for the Library:

Sobota1

“A hip flask?” you may ask, incredulously.  Well, yes and no.

Let me explain.

What you’re actually looking at is a modern book binding by a man called Jan Sobota.  Sobota was born in Czechoslovakia in 1939 and grew up there during the Communist occupation.  He studied under a famous designer bookbinder called Karel Silenger in Pilzen and graduated from the School of Applied Arts in Prague in 1957.  In 1969 he was awarded the title of “Master of Applied Arts” in bookbinding and restoration by the Czech Minister of Culture.  Sobota died in 2012.

The restrictions of the Communist regime meant that Sobota couldn’t follow international developments in the fields of art and design for many years.  He struggled with a lack of inspiration until these restrictions were lifted and ideas came trickling, or rather flooding, in.  This was when Sobota started experimenting with creating book objects like the one we’ve just acquired for the Library.  These are three-dimensional, almost sculptural bindings that transform a book into a unique piece of art.  The book itself is housed securely inside the protective sculpture that also serves as a highly experimental, innovative way of expressing its contents.

So what book is contained within this object?  It’s a Czech translation of a book, first published in 1954, about an extraordinary ocean crossing.  Alain Bombard became famous in 1952 for allegedly drifting in a 15-foot rubber boat across the Atlantic, from the Canary Islands to Barbados, in 65 days.  He did this without provisions and relied solely upon fish, salt water and fluids squeezed from raw fish (disgusting, I know) to survive.

The flask itself is made from olive-green, crushed morocco (leather made from goatskin) and Alain Bombard’s initials are embossed on the front.  A note is tucked inside saying that it was made in 1979.  There is even a brown leather cork in the neck at the top of the bottle.

Why did Sobota choose this bottle shaped binding for Alain Bombard’s book?  Perhaps Sobota is wryly suggesting that Bombard should have brought something a little stronger along on his voyage.  It would have broken up the diet of salt water, fish and fish juices at least.  But maybe Sobota is being more whimsical than that.  Could it symbolise a traditional message in a bottle?  After all, Bombard was essentially stranded at sea for 65 days.  My favourite interpretation, however, is that Sobota believed Bombard must have been extremely inebriated to come up with such an insane idea in the first place!

Maddy Smith
Curator, Printed Heritage Collections

For more fascinating book-objects by Sobota - Jan Sobota

 

22 June 2017

The King’s Architect and the ‘Architect King’

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n 1757 the Swedish-born Scot, William Chambers (1723–1796) was appointed as architectural tutor to the future king, George III. Chambers’ job was to teach the young heir the principles of classical architecture, but together they also designed and built several real buildings too. The King’s Topographical Collection, assembled by George and later given to the nation, now resides at the British Library and includes views of a number of the buildings born out of their partnership, many of which can now be seen at Picturing Places, the British Library’s brand new online encyclopaedia of all things topographical.

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John Spyers’ view of Richmond Observatory. Maps K.Top.41.16.r. Noc

One of those views is featured in my article about the little-known draughtsman, John Spyers. For 20 years Spyers worked for the most famous of all British gardeners, Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, before turning his hand to topographical art and selling two albums of his drawings to the Russian Empress Catherine the Great for a very large number of roubles. A handful of original views by Spyers are preserved in the King’s Topographical Collection. One shows the Royal Observatory in Richmond Gardens, which was designed by Chambers and completed in time for the King to observe the much-anticipated transit of Venus in 1769. While the view’s poorly-drawn sheep are clear evidence of Spyers’ authorship, the drawing was formerly unattributed until an exhibition and conference at Hampton Court Palace in 2016 drew attention to the overlooked draughtsman.

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Design for a Register for the Weather by James Adam. Maps K.Top.41.16.s. Noc

The Royal Observatory is one of the many buildings that illustrate George III’s fervent interests in science and the arts. Another related building is encountered in Peter Barber’s article on the Scottish architect, Robert Adam. Like the Observatory, the design for a weather register by Robert’s partner and brother James was also intended for Richmond. But although it is undoubtedly very elegant, for unknown reasons it was never built – probably to the delight of William Chambers as Robert Adam was one of his great rivals, even though they shared the title of ‘Joint Architect to the King’.

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The Great Pagoda, from Chambers’ Plans, Elevations, Sections…56.i.3 Noc

Adam never completed any major works for the King, whereas Chambers was far more successful in this respect. The majority of his private royal commissions appeared at Richmond’s neighbour, Kew Gardens, between 1760 and 1763. (The present-day Kew Gardens encompasses both parts of the royal estate, although at the time the two gardens were separated by a thoroughfare known as ‘Love’s Lane’.) Chambers designed and built more than 20 follies and seats in a multitude of styles to ornament the gardens – a ‘Turkish’ Mosque, a ‘Moorish’ Alhambra, a ‘Chinese’ Pagoda and a ‘Gothic’ Temple among them. The full story is told in Jocelyn Anderson’s article, which looks at Chambers’ publication, Plans, Elevations, Sections and Perspective Views of the Gardens and Buildings at Kew in Surry (1763). George III’s own copy of this book is today owned by the British Library.

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Restoration of the Great Pagoda begins… © Historic Royal Palaces

The Great Pagoda in Kew Gardens is currently being restored by Historic Royal Palaces, who are returning the building to its original appearance complete with 80 glowering dragons. The restored building will be open to the public from mid-2018. In much the same way Picturing Places brings into the open hundreds of items from George III’s personal collection of topographical art, with both projects offering further insights into the tastes and patronage of this fascinating and cultured monarch.

Tom Drysdale
Archivist (Curators' Team), Historic Royal Palaces

 

07 June 2017

Three men and a boy (and a coal mine…)

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In 1735, three men and a boy from an unassuming village near Bristol made the headlines. As one cheaply printed broadside says, “amongst the many and various accounts which have been given us of accidents happening to mankind, nothing has occur’d more particular for many years than the following account from Bristol”.

ThreeMenAndABoy

A full and true account of the wonderfull deliverance of three men and a boy. Bristol, c.1780.

Joseph Smith, 69, Edward Peacock, Abraham Peacock (his son) and Thomas Hemings of Mangotsfield worked in an old coal mine near Two Mile Hill in Kings Wood. In the early 18th century, coalfields were divided into ‘liberties’. Aristocratic families owned these liberties and leased the mining rights to master colliers, the so-called ‘adventurers of the coal mines’. This particular mine was owned by the Chester family and run by one Joseph Jefferies. 

On this fateful day a “prodigious torrent of water burst out of the veins”, spelling “nigh immediate death” for the miners. Their candles were extinguished instantly and the mine began to flood. As the water rose, the men scrabbled for higher ground until they found a “hatchin”, a local term meaning a “high slant from whence coal has been dug”.

They huddled together on this ledge, in the darkness, for 10 days and 19 hours. They divvied up a bit of beef and a crust of bread between themselves and drunk their last drops of water. As the days passed, desperation forced them into “drinking their own urine”, chewing on coal chips and even “a piece of shoe”.

Why did it take so long for the miners to be rescued? Well, the colliers on the surface tried several times to go down into the mine and rescue their “unfortunate brethren” but they suspected a “black damp in the work”. Black damp is a noxious mixture of poisonous gas that eliminates oxygen from the atmosphere, causing suffocation. It’s common in mines and, nowadays, there are safety measures in place to combat this but in the early 18th century there were none.

Eventually, a last ditch rescue attempt was successful. The rescuers apparently carried down a “quantity of burning coals” and “draughted the damp” so they could reach the miners. The writer of this broadside declares that, “what with the heat of the place they were in, and the nauseous fumes of their bodies, their want of water and meat during so long a time,” the survival of the miners must be considered “nothing else but a surprising miracle”.

So what happened next? A long spell in hospital? Early retirement? Nope! These miners were made of tougher stuff than that. They received some “comfortable refreshment”, walked to their respective homes and faded into obscurity as local printers found another melodramatic story to report. And that was the end of that!

Maddy Smith
Curator, Printed Heritage Collections

 

11 May 2017

A Carnival on the Water: the Frost Fair of 1683

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The frost fair held on the iced-over River Thames in 1814 that recently featured in Doctor Who may have been the last, but it was the fair held during the Great Frost of 1683 that got the ball rolling with this famous tradition.

In the winter of 1683, the River Thames was iced over for two months.  Winters in the 17th century were more extreme than they are today – the frost of 1683 was the worst ever recorded and the ice reached a thickness of eleven inches in London.  The frozen river made shipping impossible and so Londoners would take to the ice-covered river for trade, travel and, eventually, entertainment.  The first recorded frost fair on the Thames took place in 1608, but this was pretty low key.  The festivities really took off in 1683 with the frost fair featuring all manner of stalls, entertainments and activities.

The two-month fair was indeed a spectacle and people flocked to see it.  Broadsides and flyers were hastily printed, advertising the fair as “Great Britain’s wonder” or “London’s admiration”.  They claimed that “men and beasts, coaches and carts, went as frequently [on the river] as boats were wont to pass before”.

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British Library C.20.f.2 (161) Noc

 

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British Library C.20.f.2 (159)   Noc

One broadside, titled Wonders on the Deep, captures the festivities in a fantastically detailed, labelled woodcut of the frost fair itself:

WondersOnTheDeepWoodcut
British Library C.20.f.2 (161) Noc

The fair is framed by the unmistakable outlines of London Bridge and the Tower of London.  On the ice itself an avenue of booths and stalls sprang up, stretching from the Temple to Southwark.  Scattered on strong ice everywhere did these “blanketed, boarded, matted booths appear”, where you could buy all sorts of wares from silver cups to gingerbread and roast beef.  Alternatively, you could stop at a coffee-house booth (number 1 on the illustration) or drop into a tavern.  A print shop, too, was established on the iced-over river so that printing was seen by members of the public often for the first time (number 9).   As if this wasn’t enough, an agog visitor would have seen sailing boats being dragged along the ice on wheels, bull and bear baiting (number 16), ice skating and fox hunting (number 34) all on the River Thames.

And for the more hardcore frost fair-goers out there, it also got a little more unusual.  Amidst more familiar entertainments, there appears to have been a booth with an injured phoenix inside (number 4) and other novelties with their meaning lost to us today, such as a “tory booth”  (number 3) or the “Dutch chear sliding round” (number 17). 

In February, after two months, the ice finally melted and the revelries came to an end.  The frost fair of 1683 established a precedent for future fairs, but no other frost was as lasting.  The last fair in 1814 only lasted for four days yet Londoners still managed to lead an elephant across the frozen Thames below Blackfriars Bridge in that time span.  It’s clear that, whether held in the 17th or 19th century, the frost fair was the pinnacle of seasonal cheer, spectacle and revelry – a “carnival on the water”, as described by John Evelyn in his diaries during the fair of 1683.

Maddy Smith
Curator, Printed Heritage Collections

See also Printing on Ice

 

27 April 2017

Picturing Places - Taking a wider view?

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Think of the British Library’s collections - it is probably books rather than prints and drawings which come to mind.  Think of Gainsborough, Constable or Turner:  do you picture Sublime, imaginary paintings rather than ‘topographical’, place-specific prints and drawings?

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33.h.7.: Peter Fabris, The eruption of Vesuvius, from Supplement to the Campi Phelgraei (1779) Noc

Picturing Places, a new free online resource launched today by the British Library, aims to widen perceptions of both the British Library’s holdings and topographical art.

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Maps K.Top.14.83.e.: Anonymous, Interior view of the east end of Netley Abbey near Southampton (about 1790-1810) Noc

Rather than seeing topography as marginal compared to the landscapes in oils or watercolours by the canon of ‘great artists’ or more imaginative and Sublime images, Picturing Places celebrates images of specific places in the graphic arts, sparking a lively debate around nationhood, identity, and cultural value.

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Add MS 36489 C 2

Add MS 36486 C: George Scharf, Panorama of Ratisbon (Regensburg) (1845) Noc

The British Library holds the world’s most extensive and important collection of British topographic materials: from handwritten notes by antiquarians to rare first editions, extra-illustrated books and unique compilations of plates, text and drawings by named collectors, the British Library is a treasure trove for anyone with an interest in the intersections between place, art, representation and history.  The full extent and depth of the collections are only now being properly recognised and explored. 

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Add MS 15546, f.101: Samuel Hieronymus Grimm, A service in Bath Abbey (1788) Noc

Picturing Places explores the Library’s extensive holdings of landscape imagery and showcases works of art by well-known artists such as J.M.W. Turner alongside images by a multitude of lesser-known figures.  Only a few have ever been seen or published before, as historically, the British Library’s prints and drawings have been overlooked by scholars.  The material in these extensive collections reflect the scholarly and artistic practices of earlier eras when images and texts would have been seen as more closely equivalent.  They have been neglected due both to the overwhelming volume of material and the perception of their relative ‘insignificance’ in the context of a national library where text has always taken precedence. 

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746.e.2.: Robert Wallis after JMW Turner, Stonehenge, from Picturesque Views in England and Wales (1829) Noc

While landscape images have often been treated as accurate records of place, this website reveals for the first time the many different stories involved – about travel and empire, science and exploration, the imagination, history and observation.

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Add MS 15509, f.11: John Cleveley, junior, The ruins of Killaru, Islay (1772) Noc

Picturing Places is an outcome of a current British Library research project, Transforming Topography, which we began in 2013 with a research workshop sponsored by the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art.   We have partnered with other institutions such as the Royal Collection and British Museum and with academics worldwide.  93 authors representing emerging and established experts in fields such as art history, history, cultural geography and geography are currently involved, and we have 108 essays now being processed for publication.  Films from the Library’s 2016 Transforming Topography conference exploring the depiction of place are also available, providing revelatory insights about the history of landscape imagery.

Keep an eye on Picturing Places and  @bl_prints for updates as the project progresses.

Felicity Myrone
Lead Curator, Western Prints & Drawings

 

25 April 2017

William Close - “one deserving of remembrance”

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How does one describe a surgeon, apothecary, hydraulic engineer, inventor, antiquarian, musician, artist, author and editor who was also responsible for saving the lives of the children of his village?  However,  'a little slender man, very clever, but rather changeable... and one who devoted himself assiduously to his professional duties’  is the only contemporary comment which remains of Dr William Close (1797-1813).

The Furness peninsula at the turn of the 19th century provided an interesting environment for a man with Dr Close’s enquiring mind, and he supervised the medical welfare of a variety of people in that region, including agricultural labourers, miners, and factory workers.

Infectious diseases were inevitably rife, and the young were particularly vulnerable, so in 1799, only three years after the development of the vaccine against smallpox, Close inoculated all the poor children of the nearby village of Rampside at his own expense (despite not being a wealthy man).  Within five years, small pox was duly eradicated from the area.

Close 1

 This image is copied from one of Close’s engravings of Furness Abbey used to decorate the cover of The Antiquities of Furness.

Close was also interested in the history of his neighbourhood and was keen to record and preserve local landmarks for future generations. He illustrated and supplemented Thomas West’s The Antiquities of Furness (1805) from his house at 2 Castle Street, Dalton in Furness.  The building is now marked by a blue plaque

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 Plate indicating the improvements to trumpets suggested by Close reproduced from the Proceedings of the Barrow Naturalists Field Club.

Music, in particular the improvement of brass instruments, was another of Close’s passions.  Volume XVIII of Proceedings of The Barrow Naturalists’ Field Club gives a thorough account of his progress (though this perhaps somewhat over-estimates the lure of such a topic!).

Close was clearly a polymath, his interests ranging from methods of improving the permanency of black ink to the development of safer types of explosives and land drainage technology.  He gave evidence of his research in the form of detailed letters to journals of various kinds.

Sadly this far-seeing man died of tuberculosis on Sunday 27 June 1813, aged just 38.

P J M Marks
Curator of Bookbindings, Early Printed Collections

Further reading:
Damian Gardner-Thorpe, Christopher Gardner-Thorpe and John Pearn ‘William Close (1775-1813): medicine, music, ink and engines in the Lake District’ in Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 2004 Dec; 97(12): 599–602. 

Picturing Places - English Landscape Bindings by Philippa Marks

30 March 2017

'Vogue' and virtuous virgins: a reflection on the history of the fashion magazine

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Dedicated followers of fashion might not appreciate that the history of the magazines they avidly consume can be traced back to the Elizabethan age.  Fashion mags can tell us a lot more besides what’s trending this season. They are significant culturally complex documents and an agent for interdisciplinary analysis.

Magazines dedicated exclusively to fashion grew out of the more traditional ‘women’s magazines’.  As early as the 1600s, The Treasure of Hidden Secrets was addressed to ‘gentlewomen, honest matrons and virtuous virgins’.  The publication offered readers treatises about urine and how to cure consumption with ‘snails and worms boiled in beer’ to avoid the plague!

  Treasurie of hidden secrets

John Partridge, The treasurie of hidden secrets View online

Gazettes, ladies’ diaries, almanacs and mini pocket pamphlets with colour plates fed female readers’ interest from the reign of Queen Anne onwards.  In 1732 bookseller Edward Cave first used the term ‘magazine’.  Arguably the ‘fashion magazine’ started in France under Louis XIV.  The Mercure Galant featured illustrated plates recording what was being worn by the aristocracy – a useful source of information for dressmakers outside the court.

  Female Spectator 2The  Female Spectator  - The first magazine written by and published for women by Eliza Haywood. It ran for two years from 1744 to 1746. P.P.5251.ga.             

These early publications didn’t have snappy one word names.  The Ladies magazine or Entertaining companion for the fair sex, for their use and entertainment regularly featured fashion pages and sometimes illustrations by William Blake.  The Ladies Monthly Magazine or Cabinet of Fashion offered tips on gowns, hairdressing and fur muffs!

During the Georgian era retail therapy accelerated and lavishly illustrated magazines targeted specifically at women began to be mass published.  Fashion plates were bigger with detailed descriptions.  Advertising revenue could fund higher quality reproduction and new styles of graphic illustrations.

The emergence of the department store provided a social space for women consumers.  Fashion spreads started to feature women involved in leisure pursuits.  Women were brought out of the private sphere of the home as wife or daughter; magazines and fashion provided escapism.  Yet editorials were still paternalistic often criticizing emerging modes of femininity.  A woman’s duty was still to dress for a man, and her role was to reflect the social standing of the family through her clothing, which was of course paid for by the man. 

Gallery of Fashion

Gallery of Fashion is one of the earliest UK fashion magazines, famous during the Regency period. It was published in monthly issues from 1794 to 1803.  C.106.k.16. View online

The Ladies World was edited by Oscar Wilde and in 1886 he changed the name to Women’s World.  He believed that the content should be educational and include more fiction.  Cheaper publications included little fashion, with poor woodcut graphics.  In 1891 a fashion periodical called Forget Me Not aimed at working class women hit the shelves.

Advances in technology, printing, and paper-making in the 20th century resulted in an explosion of magazine production.  Fashion plates moved from woodcuts, engraving and lithographs to photography.  Periods of significant social change brought a flood of magazines.  Women’s magazines reflect radical social change - the birth of teenager was a new market to be tapped.

Vogue cover

 Cover of American Vogue, September 1957. Proquest's  database 'The Vogue Archive' is available in all British Library reading rooms.

Many magazines are now closing as we see the rise of social media including blogging and vlogging.  But some fashion magazines seem sure survivors.  In 1916 an American fashion publication was imported into Britain for the first time.  Vogue is now the most frequently ordered magazine at the British Library!

Rachel Brett
Humanities Reference Specialist