- Print Culture, Marketing, and Thomas Stothard’s Illustrations for The Royal Engagement Pocket Atlas, 1779–1826
This article will offer an account of a now very rare late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century pocket diary-cum-almanac, which was targeted at a multifarious audience largely from the middling ranks of British society: The Royal Engagement Pocket Atlas. As a contribution to the history of the ephemeral book, it briefly sketches the variety of illustrated pocket books in the 1790s and then examines both the marketing strategies employed by its publisher and the importance of book illustration—particularly the vignettes of Thomas Stothard—in the formation of a canon of literary texts at the end of the eighteenth century. My central concern is to investigate the ideologically representative meanings of Stothard’s illustrative paratexts and relate them to proliferating cultures of consumerism. Focusing on the genesis, fashioning, and long “life” of the Royal Engagement Pocket Atlas, the article will explore both the interpretive narratives of the printed designs and the cultural phenomenon of the almanac among the middle and upper classes as an ephemeral, but desirable product belonging to the expanding world of eighteenth-century print culture.
A practically unexplored market for pocket diaries for the middle and upper classes emerged in the last three decades of the eighteenth century, which offered a new product, the so-called “pocket-book.” Containing not only calendar and diary pages but material for instruction, ruled [End Page 27] memorandum pages, and “cash accounts” as well, these books (of up to 150 pages in length) were fashionable late eighteenth-century middle-class accessories. The pocket book is a hybrid genre that incorporates features from such earlier genres as the almanac offering information on important dates of the year but also including information that is more directly aimed at the middle classes. The replacement of the astrological pages, weather forecasts, and agricultural advice with ruled pages to be used as diaries positioned the pocket book as a publication for the professional and middle classes, as well as the aristocracy. In the course of the genre’s history in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, special class-specific sections reflecting the different needs, interests, and concerns of the users of these pocket books were introduced. The books’ diary sections—now ornately embellished with engraved illustrations—derived primarily from more functional pocket and memorandum books such as The Universal Cash Book and Newcastle Pocket Diary which was declared to be “Suited to Every Gentleman’s and Tradesman’s Business” and sold at one shilling sixpence in the 1770s. Although the titles of these publications frequently designate themselves as “almanacs,” only the cheapest among them still carried the extensive material relating to prophecies, astrology, and the seasonal cycle that characterised earlier almanacs, which were first advertised and issued by the Stationers’ Company in the seventeenth century and would remain popular into the nineteenth.1 The pocket book, exemplified by the carefully illustrated Royal Engagement Pocket Atlas, by way of contrast, was not aimed to be an instrument of business or astrology, but an object of consumer pleasure and device for social engagement.
The pocket diary as an ephemeral print cultural genre has not yet received much systematic scholarly attention, although Jenny Batchelor has insightfully examined a related genre, the pocket book for women.2 The neglect of the pocket diary in general by scholars can be explained by the scarcity of surviving copies with only a few scattered across collections in Britain and North America. No major research collection holds a complete or even near complete run of any of these ephemeral publications nor is there even a catalog or source that has compiled all the individual copies held in the world’s archives and libraries. The English Short Title Catalog (ESTC), for example, is missing some of the copies I have traced. WorldCat has records of eleven different copies of the Pocket Atlas,3 while Copac references a further seven.4 I have two different volumes in my possession—the atlases for 1810 and 1825—and have traced two more in archives in the United Kingdom.5 Owing to the scarcity of copies of the...