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  • Heads Up:Anglo-Indian Newspaper Mastheads
  • Priti Joshi (bio)

On 26 march 1853, Household Words carried a lighthearted essay entitled "Starting a Paper in India." The piece, by John Lang¸ recounts the mishaps—drunken pressmen, a compositor devoured by a crocodile, the short supply of the capital letter "H"—that afflicted the editor as he set up shop in the plains of India in the mid-1840s. Despite its jaunty tone, the essay focuses on practical matters: labour and the presses, types, inking rollers, and chases needed to produce a paper. Content—"my leaders . . . my local intelligence, my correspondence, my literature, poetry" (96)—is mentioned only glancingly. In its attention to material details, the essay echoes the preoccupations of book history, which has trained us to look beyond textual to physical features of the book.1 Peter Brooker and Andrew Thacker, extending such concerns to serials, argue that "periodical codes," such as "page layout, typefaces, price, size of volume, . . . periodicity of publication, . . . use of illustrations, . . . use and placement of advertisements, quality of paper and binding," are not ancillary to a periodical's meaning, but central to it (6).

This brief essay attends to one physical feature—the masthead—of English-language newspapers of India, using it as a vehicle to shed light on the colonial news business in mid-century. From a vast array of newspapers,2 I have selected roughly a dozen, primarily of the Bengal Presidency between 1830 and 1860. My sample includes dailies and bi- and tri-weeklies; newspapers that were Anglo-Indian owned and edited, Indian owned and edited, and of mixed ownership; ones that were establishment-leaning, liberal, and oppositional; and newspapers that were metropolitan and provincial.3 [End Page 173] "Masthead," deriving from the nautical, is a fitting metaphor for the head or banner of a newspaper. The term, according to the OED, refers to two aspects of a newspaper: "The title, motto, or similar device, of a newspaper or journal, printed . . . usually at the top of the first page" and "the section in a newspaper or journal . . . giving information relating to the publication, such as the owner's name, a list of the editors, etc." ("Masthead, def. N2").4 In nineteenth-century newspapers, the latter, the publication data, is generally found at the tail end of the paper, undercutting the sense of "leading with." This tension, whereby the same term serves for both head and tail, fore and aft, captures the divergent purposes these parts of a newspaper serve. In my sample, the two types of masthead sections illuminate distinct aspects of Indian newspapers: title mastheads—or nameplates5—point to a circuit of relations and signal global cosmopolitanism, while publishing mastheads—or endcaps—are rooted in place, even as they point to narratives of mobility that are cosmopolitan as well, if more locally so.

A newspaper's title-masthead serves both an identificatory and a branding function. Laurel Brake argues that it is one of two sites of "graphic and verbal diversity" in a newspaper (15; the other is advertisements); Brian Maidment and Aled Jones add that graphic devices in a newspaper's masthead—a lamp, sun, all-seeing eye—"often ideographically reinforce[s] the organ's title" (402). Readers will be familiar with the Times's graphic, the royal arms wedged between "The" and "Times," an image used by dozens of British newspapers. In the case of Indian newspapers, however, with two exceptions, all newspapers examined lack images in their masthead. Only John Bull and the Bombay Gazette sported an emblem—the royal arms—and only for a brief time. In 1833, the Tory John Bull was purchased by Dwarkanath Tagore and rebranded as the Whig Englishman (Chanda 70)—sans graphic; the Bombay Gazette lost its emblem sometime between 1841 and 1857. The reason for the near absence of graphics is unclear. Though the newspapers were densely textual, with little white space, images were not entirely lacking; they were primarily inserted in advertisements, particularly those for global brands such as Lee & Perrin's Worcestershire sauce or Holloway's pills. This last suggests that the inclusion—or absence—of graphics in mastheads (and letterpress, too) was cost related.

If the majority...


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pp. 173-178
Launched on MUSE
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