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"The Copper and Steel Manufactory" of Charles Heath Yjxthryn Ledbetter The invention of steel-plate engraving, patented by AmericanJacob Perkins in 1819, created a flurry of economic activity for book illustrators during the second quarter of the nineteenth century, particularly in the new genre of literary annuals. Beautifully illustrated anthologies of poetry and prose, the annuals made the combination of literature and art a fashion that publishers risked a depressed financial market to publish in large quantities every year from 1823 when the first annual appeared, through the 1830s and 40s. The annuals created a profitable niche for talented engravers and made them as important as any element in book production. They also commodified literature and art, enabling the print revolution that became a crucial element of Victorian culture. A reviewer in the Monthly Review (1832) remarks that book illustration elevated the engraver to an artist's status and improved the overall quality of English art. Crediting the new steel-plate engraving process for reducing print prices, the reviewer notes that the process made art available to the middle class: The happy substitution of the steel for the copper plate, effaced the limits that before existed with respect to the number of perfect copies that might be taken from the same Victorian Review (2002)2 1 K. Ledbetter original . . . Prints which scarcely ten years ago could not be purchased under seven or eight shillings came to be sold for six-pence. It cannot be denied that this reduction of prices has contributed very much to diffuse a taste for the fine arts, among the middle classes of society in this country. ("Present" 380) It is ironic that literary annuals, expensive volumes designed to articulate class and old-world style for middle-class social emulation, would become a driving force for démocratisation. For its entire existence from 1828 to 1857, the Keepsake literary annual cost a guinea per volume, an extravagant gift for most middle-class households. Yet the Keepsake and other annuals enabled people to participate in the new art appreciation movement. Print sellers hawking proofs from the annuals displayed their goods on London street corners; some sold free-standing portfolio supports to display prints in one's drawing room. Art societies formed to educate the public, and new galleries, such as the National Gallery, sponsored exhibitions. According to Eleanor Jamieson: Steel engraving meant that for the first time, the finest art of the country could be reproduced at a reasonable price, and when such reproductions were diffused through the huge circulation of the annuals, they fostered in the general public an appreciation of painting never hitherto known. (26) In a review of annuals for 1 839 published in the Monthly Renew (November 1838), the writer proclaims that annuals changed the very texture of English art, commenting, "As regards the important interests both of literature and the arts it must be allowed that the Annuals have had a manifest influence" (444). He reveals the cooperative nature of the engraving business: Never before had such pictures as have filled the Annuals been published at so cheap a rate, although they cost the proprietors of them very large sums; never before had admiration been so awakened to pictorial embellishment; and never before were artists, proprietors, and purchasers so generally and multitudinously pleased; and thus all interests reciprocat22volume 28 number 2 "The Copper and Steel Manufactory" ing and repaying one another produced, though it was at one time thought a mere transient fashion, a great and, we have no doubt, a permanendy beneficial result in the history of true refinement. (444-45) Indeed, the art movement of the 1820s, 30s and 40s seemed to indicate that the beautiful new steel-plate engraved illustrations was to be a permanent wave of the future. According to Celina Fox: Prints played a key role in the movement to diffuse art to mass audiences for educational, political and commercial reasons . They were the overdy exploitable means of popularising the public instruction in art, which motivated the establishment of the National Gallery in 1824, the Schools of Design in 1836 and the decoration of the Houses of Parliament in the 1840s. They were marketable commodities on every...


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