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Tag Archives: Sandy and the Periodicals

“All the town’s a slide,
And all the men and women merely skaters,”

rhymes PUNCH in 1850 (with a nod towards the Bard), and indeed, 19th-century Londoners were keen skaters: when during a strong frost in January 1850 all the ornamental lakes in the parks of London froze, people turned out in their thousands to slide or skate along the ice. THE ILLUSTRATED LONDON NEWS talks of 12,000 people assembling in St. James’s Park alone to enjoy the wintry spell.

The Serpentine in Hyde Park was another favorite with skaters, and one of Richard Doyle’s illustration from “Manners and Customs of ye Englyshe” depicts the crush.

The Serpentyne durying a hard frosteApart from the bodies of water, the streets themselves often froze over, no doubt helped along by the many child workers out and about, who, PUNCH suggests, took joy in turning the main thoroughfares of London into giant slides:

Skating in Fleet StreetBut of course, Mr. Punch has already come up with a brilliant solution to this particular problem: “As slides in public thoroughfares, during the frost, are now ‘great facts,’ which the police officially recognise, there is only one thing to be desired, namely, that some little order should be observed on the foot-pavements, so as to make a slide a convenient  and rapid mode of transit. […] By the present system, under which slides are merely tolerated, and are only partially carried out, some of the public who are unprepared for them, keep tumbling about in a very awkward manner. A well-regulated routine of slides, under the control of the police, would be an understood accommodation for all, and order could easily be preserved by sending policemen up and down each series of slides at proper intervals.” 🙂

After all, tumbling about is not nice, as some of the PUNCH contributors know only too well: this little initial letter is “drawn from experience”:

What about your town? Has winter already come to where you live? (Frankfurt turned into a Winter Wonderland on Sunday, and we’ll probably get more snow toward the weekend.)

snippet from the main title page of the volume 7 of the Illustrated London News, showing a view of London, with the Tower in the background
Dear Reader,

I did it again. I went on Abebooks and bought another volume of the Illustrated London News I discovered another poor, abandoned volume of a nineteenth-century newspaper, sitting in a corner, crying piteously, so of course, I had to adopt it. I mean, how could I leave it there, out in the cold, with nobody to cherish it?!?! And so I… um… adopted it. 🙂

In truth, it’s a volume I’ve been trying to hunt down for quite some time. The last time it became available at a decent price, I waited too long and somebody snatched it up before me. But this time, I got lucky. And now it’s ALL MINE!!!

As always, it’s an utter delight to leaf through the volume. There are so many things to discover! The ads alone are extremely intriguing. (At this point in time – 1845 – ads were still text based, rather than illustrated, because of the tax on ads. I talked about this in my last post here.)

Advertisement for Dietic Pale AleDietetic pale ale? Who would have thought this was a thing!

And remember when I talked about Victorian street food? Well, it would appear that the West India pineapples that were sold in London’s streets in 1845 weren’t such a big hit…

an illustration showing a street vendor with his cart, surrounded by customers, including a few childrenIn the illustration you can see the kind of handcart from which street vendors would sell their wares. This pineapple seller has a very simple cart; those who sold soup or coffee would have had much more sophisticated carts, with heaters to keep their wares warm.

From time to time, nineteenth-century periodicals would also include sheet music – the kind of song that would have been suitable for a young woman to perform at an evening entertainment in order to show off her singing voice and her skills on the piano. These songs were often quite sentimental like this example from the issue of 25 October 1845. It’s called “My Writing Desk” – which is the place where people would have kept letters they received from family and dear friends. And this is exactly what this song is about.

a few lines of music with an illustration of a man sitting at a desk, his head on his hand, while he contemplates old letters

The first stanza reads:

My writing desk is the home of my treasure,
My desk is the shrine of my care;
Oh! all I have loved beyond measure
Have left me some dear relics there,
Have left me some dear relics there.
The dry leaves of long perish’d flowers,
Whose perfume has lingered behind,
Have made them as sweet as the hours
Those dear relics bring to my mind.


This volume is the second bi-annual volume of 1845, meaning it will most likely include a Christmas special. I haven’t yet looked because I’m kind of keeping the December issues as a special pre-holiday treat.

Punch wrapperWhen you look at surviving copies of 19th-century periodicals (typically bound in volumes) today, you will perhaps notice a distinct lack of advertisements. Ads were printed on the wrapper (the cover) of single issues as well as on additional pages, and when periodicals were privately bound into volumes, the wrappers and the pages with ads were typically thrown away. Some magazines, like PUNCH, released annual or bi-annual volumes of their publication as special keepsakes – and these didn’t contain any ads either.

So imagine my delight when earlier today I stumbled across a volume of PUNCH on Google Books that not only consists of individual issues bound together, but has also retained most of the wrappers with ads.


The issues are all from 1874, which means that thanks to changes in taxation and technological improvements, the ads all look very different from what you would have found in periodicals in the early decades of the century. By 1874, many ads came with pictures or with interesting typography.

Ads in PUNCH, the Victorian magazineThere wasn’t any particular order to them, so Howard’s Parquet Flooring stood side by side with anchovy preparations, the latest novels (such as TAKEN AT THE FLOOD by Mary Elizabeth Braddon), or Thomson’s Unbreakable Corset Busk.

More ads from PUNCHIn the early decades of the 19th century, by contrasts, ads tended to be text only, and they were very short and to the point. The reason for this was the tax on paper and the tax on ads. The latter was a reaction to social unrest: the government believed that there was a connection between ads and politics. On the other hand, most periodicals couldn’t survive without the income from ads. Indeed, it is thought that the majority of radical publications folded due to a lack of advertisers.

As the political climate changed, the tax on ads was first reduced in 1833 and was finally abolished in 1853. The tax on paper, however, remained in place until 1861, keeping paper expensive and forcing publishers and advertisers to be economical with the space on paper. Hence, illustrated ads as seen in the examples here in this post, only started to appear with regularity after the repeal of the paper tax, and the following decades are often referred to as the Golden Age of advertising.

Ads in Punch

Ooops – I nearly forgot that it’s my turn to post today. (My excuse: I was teaching today, and when I came home I fell asleep on the couch.)

After I finished my essay for the Punch Digital Archive that I mentioned in my last post, I turned to a fun project I had thinking about for quite some time: to put together a historical archive for my own Victorian magazine, Allan’s Miscellany, complete with selected articles. Fictional reporters reporting about (mostly) real news? Yeah, that’s my kind of historical-geek-catnip. 🙂

Earlier this week, the Allan’s Miscellany digital archive finally went online, complete with very serious scholarly commentary –

Though articles were published anonymously or pseudonymously, as was the wont in the Victorian Age, the early issues of Allan’s clearly display the  influence of its charismatic editor, William MacNeil.”

– and a selection of articles from October 1839, December 1842, and April 1847. Real news!

“Visitors to Madame TUSSAUD’S elegant exhibition of waxworks will find that the collection has recently been extended to include figures of Calvin, Knox, and Luther as well as Her Majesty, in her Robes of State.”

Snarky reviews of (mostly) real books!

“The second part of Lady CHARLOTTE GUEST’s translation of the “Mabinogion” from the Welsh has just been released. While the “Literary Gazette” was thrown into raptures over the volume, we cannot help but wonder whether such old-fashioned romances as are included in the “Mabinogion” will not induce even more chivalric delusions in readers who easily fall victim to such humbug. We therefore cannot recommend Lady CHARLOTTE’s translation to young men of the gentry and the aristocracy.”

This was, of course, the perfect excuse to rummage around several Victorian magazines in search for contemporary amusements, theatrical productions, book releases, and political news. And I found the most amaaaaaaaaazing stuff!!! (she squeals.)

Like the Christmas pantomime that the guys from Punch (yes, my Punch!!!!) wrote for the Christmas season of 1842: “PUNCH’S PANTOMIME; or, Harlequin, King John, and Magna Charta,” performed at Covent Garden.

Even better than that: for the same year I also stumbled across a mention of the Glaciarium – London’s very first ice-skating rink with artificial (!!!) ice. It was installed in the Baker Street Bazaar at Portman Square, and the rink itself was surrounded by an Alpine panorama, which seems to have been partly painted and partly a scenery with rocks, little cottages and benches for visitors to explore. (The image above, however, is from Punch.) The Glaciarium was only open for two years, from 1842 to 1844. When it closed at the Baker Street Bazaar, it was apparently removed to another location, though I wasn’t able to find anything on that.

Still – an ice-skating rink with artificial ice in 1842? That find pleased my inner historical geek to no end! 🙂

What about you? What kind of news would you be looking for when rummaging through old magazines? Book reviews? News about the Queen? The latest fashion trends?

A picture of Sandra Schwab's desk with a volume of PUNCH
My creative work has currently been interrupted – most pleasantly so, I might add! – by my academic work: I have been invited to contribute an essay about a background topic (“Themes of Medievalism in Punch“) to Cengage’s new digital Punch Historical Archive. For this I have also been given access to the archive itself, and it’s – oh my gosh! – fantastic! Not only can you do full text searches across all volumes of Punch from 1841 to 1992, but to make this even better, the large cuts (= the big political cartoons) and the social cuts (=smaller cartoons) have also been indexed. *swoons*

But it gets even better: one of my friends from Liverpool John Moores University, Clare Horrocks, is transcribing the contributors’ ledgers of Punch, and her findings will be incorporated into the archive. This is really important work because for much of the nineteenth century, writing for periodicals was done either anonymously or pseudonymously. So, as was pointed out in an article in a recent issue of American Libraries, Clare’s work helps us to solve questions of authorship and attribution:

Early findings from the project have revealed articles written by William Makepeace Thackeray and P. G. Wodehouse that were previously unattributed. And while Charles Dickens himself never wrote for the magazine, his son Charles Dickens Jr. is known to have contributed a number of articles, which this project expects to uncover.

Yet as awesome as the digital archive is, in certain points it cannot replace leafing through the actual volumes: smaller illustrations like initial letters have not been indexed (and I would imagine that this would actually be a rather impossible task given the vast numbers of itty-bitty illustrations in Punch). Moreover, leafing through volumes and looking at images can reveal certain themes that you would not notice otherwise.

I found this out when I checked initial letters in different volumes from the 1850s, 60s, and 70s (in search for medieval themes, of course!) (or rather, I wanted to pinpoint when medieval themes vanished from the initial letters). And while I was leafing through the 1873 volume, looking for itty-bitty knights, I suddenly noticed an abundance of pet dogs in the social cuts.

Now, it’s not as if dogs hadn’t appeared before 1873: Mr. Punch himself, after all, is accompanied by his dog Toby; in the 1840s Richard Doyle fell into the habit of adding little Toby-ish doggies to many of his drawings; and in social cuts dealing with country sports you can often find hunting dogs. But the many, many pet dogs of 1873 is not something that you see in the 1840s. Clearly, some of the artists who worked for Punch in the 1870s must have been dog lovers.

Like George du Maurier:

a cartoon from PUNCH by George du Maurier a cartoon from PUNCH by George du Maurier(Or perhaps, he just wanted to poke fun at bourgeois ladies and their pet dogs.)

And then, there is GB, whose dogs are truly delightful:

a cartoon from PUNCH by Georgina Bowers a cartoon from PUNCH by Georgina Bowers
And do you know what else is truly delightful about GB? GB is a woman!!! The initials stand for Georgina Bowers. In his History of Punch (1895) Spielmann calls her “[b]y far the most important lady artist who ever worked for Punch […],” and continues,

Miss Bowers was a humorist, with very clear and happy notions as to what fun should be, and how it should be transferred to a picture. Her long career began in 1866, and thenceforward, working with undiminished energy, she executed hundreds of initials and vignettes as well as “socials,” devoting herself in chief part to hunting and flirting subjects.

Of course, being a woman, she had to be shown the proper way of doing illustrations for the magazine *snort*: “It was John Leech [Punch‘s chief artist] who set her on the track; Mark Lemon [Punch‘s first editor], to whom she took her drawings, encouraged her, and with help from Mr. Swain [the engraver] she progressed.” (Oh, Mr. Spielmann! *shakes head sadly*)

Georgina worked for the magazine for ten years until differences with a new editor made her resign. But she seems to have continued to work as an illustrator for many more years.

Isn’t that a lovely find?

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