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A History of The Illustrated London News by Edward B. Orme 1986*

 

Ever since its first issue on14th May 1842 Illustrated London News has provided the British public with a vivid pictorial commentary on domestic and world affairs, giving us a fascinating social history of the last 142 years. Writing in the centenary issue of 1942, the historian Arthur Bryant justifiably claimed that the 118 folio volumes covering the Victorian era were ‘probably the most important and comprehensive single historical document ever compiled’ about the period. Born in the wake of the Industrial Revolution, the ILN retained its position as the leading illustrated paper throughout the 19th century and has outlasted many of its contemporaries and rivals to prosper in the age of cinema and television. Sought after by a growing number of collectors and print dealers, the Illustrated London News now commands correspondingly high values; volumes (of six months’ issues) fetch an average price of £20-£30, with some containing sought-after material realizing up to £100 at auction.*

 

The founder of the Illustrated London News was Herbert Ingram, (a Daguerrotype of Herbert Ingrams) a bookseller, newsagent and printer from Nottingham, who acquired the necessary capital from the sale of ‘Parrs’ laxative pills. Ingram noticed that the demand for papers like the Weekly Chronicle increased dramatically on the rare occasions that they featured woodcut illustrations, so he decided that a weekly illustrated paper would sell well.

 

Only Britain had the right conditions to ensure the success of such a venture; a large population with money to spend and an expanding and reliable communications system. Under the editorship of a minor poet, John Bayle, a number of distinguished artists and engravers were collected together: John Gilbert, Birket Foster (a landscape painter) and George Weir (who used to illustrate police reports) from the former category, and E. Landells and Samuel Read from the latter. All would work at unprecedented speeds to meet their press dates. Other famous figures in the history of book and magazine illustrating who joined later included George Cruickshank, Charles Keene, John Leech and Phiz (Hablot K. Browne), the Dickens illustrator.

 

Publication of the first issue was delayed to include sketches by Gilbert of Queen Victoria’s fancy dress ball. Composed of sixteen pages and priced at 6d, the paper featured thirty-two engravings. It also had sketches of ‘an immense conflagration’ in Hamburg in which some one thousand wooden dwellings were destroyed. The editorial promised a ‘moving panorama’ of subject matter in forthcoming issues; world events, politics, the pleasures of the people; their theatres, their concerts, their galas, their races and their fairs’, ‘the pleasures of the aristocracy; their court festivals, their bals masques, their levees’ etc.

 

SENSATIONAL

From the outset the Illustrated London News distanced itself from the radical Sunday press with its sensational treatment of crime, hoping to ‘infuse a healthier tone of morality into the popular mind upon the subject of such dismal atrocities.’ In any case at the price of 6d the paper was far too much for the finances of the working class readership of the Sunday papers. Nevertheless, like its famous contemporary, Punch, the ILN was sympathetic and progressive towards social issues in its early years. In 1842 the Chartists had just delivered their second petition and there were widespread riots in the manufacturing districts of the North and Midlands. The ILN campaigned against the oppressive Poor and Factory Laws, urging that ‘we must awaken ourselves to the wretched condition of our poor fellow creatures, and probe the Empire for the means of bringing them relief.’ Herbert Ingram was also clever at promoting the new paper he gave a free copy to every member of the clergy when an issue featured an illustration of a new archbishop and prom ised a free ‘Grand Colosseum Print of London’ to readers who took the paper in the first six months. The large fold out (3ft by 6ft) revealed two views of the West End of London produced by eighteen engravers from a daguerreotype taken by M. Cladet, a pioneer photographer. In February 1981 a volume of 1842 issues with the supplement was sold for £100 in a London auction.

 

CIRCULATION

The Illustrated London News was an instant success; the first edition sold 26,000 copies and the circulation quickly rose to 60,000 by the end of the year. In 1848 the paper despatched Constantin Guy to Paris to cover the course of the revolution (vol. 15). His sketches were worked up in London by Gavarni and, boosted by the anti-French feeling of the time, sales increased again to top 80,000 copies. In 1851 the paper managed to publish Paxton’s designs for the Great Exhibition before Prince Albert had even approved them (vol. 19). It is difficult today to appreciate the sense of optimism in 1851 which was engendered by the great advances in science and industry. Only thirty-six years previously Europe had been rent asunder by the Napoleonic wars but the spread of the railway was thought to have ‘removed a world of difficulties.., it has made us all understand one another better and obliterated the bitterness of bygone wars.’ If railways and steamships had existed in 1815, the writer speculated, Napoleon might have been a cotton spinner rather than a warmonger. Stimulated by the interest in the Great Exhibition sales rose to 130,000 a week and the funeral of the Duke of Wellington the following year resulted in a further increase to 150,000 (vol. 21). The Crimean War (1854-56/vols. 23-28) was a blow to the faith in free trade, but the Illustrated London News profited from the public’s interest. It sent six war artists to the front and engravings were also published of Roger Fenton’s photographs. To celebrate its healthy state the paper published its first colour supplement in the Christmas edition of 1856.

 

The Illustrated London News benefitted in 1855 from the lifting of the stamp tax (the duty on advertisements was abolished in 1853 and that on paper in 1861). Improvements in printing methods and communications with the development of the telegraph and the railway led to a dramatic boom in the press at the time and a 600% increase in the number of papers followed over the next twenty-five years. Despite the appearance of 168 new papers in 1855 alone, the Illustrated London News increased its circulation to 200,000 within the space of a few years.

 

With a profit of £12,000 a year, Ingram was able to buy out a new rival, the Illustrated Times. Peter Cunningham, the author of ‘Handbook to London’, wrote the paper’s first commentary ‘Town and Table Talk’, to be succeeded by Shirley Brooks (future editor of Punch) in the 1850s with ‘Nothing in the Papers’ and in 1859 by George Augustus Sala who pronounced on literature, art and current affairs in his ‘Echoes of the Week.’ The paper also featured engravings of famous contemporary paintings from the Royal Academy and other Exhibition halls. Art in the nineteenth century was popular in a sense that had not been the case previously and is not true to-day. The large colour foldout prints from the Illustrated London News and Graphic were immensely popular with the public and many found their way into frames to adorn the walls of Victorian living rooms. Tragically, in September 1860 the founder and inspiration of the paper, Herbert Ingram, was killed in a steamboat collision on Lake Michigan, along with his eldest son. (The funeral) Control of the paper passed to his widow until 1872, when Ingram’s other sons were old enough to take over as joint director. William remained the driving influence until 1900, whilst his younger brother, Charles, was managing director until his death in 1931.

 

Herbert Ingram had been acutely aware of the need to embrace the latest technology in printing methods in order to keep abreast of rivals. He had even secured his own paper mill to ensure a high quality of paper. A constant problem for the LLN was how to produce good reproductions of illustrations whilst meeting the demands of expanding circulation. The original steam-driven presses installed in 1843 could print 2000 large 8-page sheets on one side in an hour. Another press would then print the reverse side, and the finished sheets were folded and trimmed to produce the standard 16-page paper. The new rotary presses of the late 1840s and after were faster but less exact in reproducing illustrations, so for many years the ILN was printed using a combination of the old and new machines. The fast rotary presses would print one side of the magazine mostly text and the slower ‘flat bed’ press would complete the illustrations on the other side. This accounts for the characteristic format up until the 1880s of alternate pages of text and illustration. A patent Ingram press was introduced in the mid-1870s to combine the two processes. It was capable of turning out 6,500 copies an hour, but does not seem to have been entirely successful as it was demoted to printing the Penny Illustrated Paper in 1888.

 

PHOTOGRAPHS

Photographs started to appear before the Crimean War but it was many years before a satisfactory method of reproducing them was found. In 1860 the ILN published its first illustration produced by photographing a sketch directly onto wood, but the method was rarely used until the 1880s. Known today as the ‘line block’ method, this process involved photographing the drawing straight onto a light sensitive plate and then etching away the white space with acid. Many of the sketches with the caption ‘from a facsimile of a sketch’, appearing in the 1880s, were reproduced in this fashion and containing the artist’s scribbled notes to the engraver. Advances were being made all the time and the half-tone process, a way of reproducing photographs directly onto paper through the use of a screen of dots (used for the first time by the ILN in 1887) was the all-important breakthrough which made it easy to reproduce illustrations in papers and magazines.

 

MARRIAGE

The Illustrated London News probably reached its peak circulation in 1863 when the issue marking the marriage of the Prince of Wales, with sketches by John Gilbert, sold no less than 310,000 copies, some 80 tons of paper (see 1863, vol. 42, issues 1193 & 1196). Meanwhile various other illustrated papers had sprung up throughout Europe and America: L’Illustration (1843) in France; Leslie’s Illustrated Paper (1855) in America; and the Penny Illustrated Paper(1861), the Graphic (1869) and the Pictorial World (1874) in Britain. The most serious challenge came from the Graphic which had been founded by a former engraver for the ILN, William Lusan Thomas, just in time to profit from the public interest in the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71). Despite increasing competition from the penny dailies, the decades of the 1870s and 1880s were in many ways the heyday of the ILN and Graphic, and for today’s collector they offer a tremendous range of interesting topics. Hardly a month went by without a war being waged some where in the world and the Illustrated London News was quick to capitalise on the public interest in these campaigns. Five war artists (or ‘specials’, as they were known) represented the LLN in the Franco/Prussian War (1870-71, vols. 57 & 58) including William Simpson, and Jules Pelcoq, who sent despatches from besieged Paris by balloon. A steady succession of colonial campaigns followed in the pages of the ILN:

the Ashanti expedition (1873-74, vols. 63 & 64); the Russo-Turkish War (1877-78, vols. 70 & 71); the Ninth Kaffir War (1878, vol. 73); the Afghan War (1878-79, vols. 7 2-74); the Zulu War (1879, vols. 74 & 75); the First Boer War (1881, vol. 78); the Egyptian Campaign (1882, vol. 80); and the operations in the Sudan (1884-85, vols. 84-86). Melton Prior, perhaps the most famous of the ILN’s war artists, covered a total of 24 campaigns during his career.

 

In addition to the wars of the period the Illustrated London News reported on a variety of world and domestic events. In 1876, artists accompanied the Prince of Wales on a tour of India a succession of tiger hunts and durbars (1876, vol. 68), and in 1877 Melton Prior was on hand to provide sketches of the newly discovered ruins of Mycenae, (1877, vol. 70). A perusal of the ILN for the 1870s and 80s also reveals a high frequency of railway accidents, colliery explosions and fires due to inadequate safety standards and the inflammable building materials used at the time. For example: in 1879 the Birmingham Free Library was badly gutted by a fire started by a workman engaged in thawing the external water pipes. Lost in the blaze was a large part of a valuable Shakespeare collection, (1879, vol. 75). In May 1884 the ILN carried the headline ‘Earthquake in Essex’. One householder in the Colchester area reported a shock in a series of undulations, accompanied by a twisting motion; the furniture and other articles in the house appearing to perform a gyrating movement, and the whole series of shocks... lasting about half a minute’ (1884, vol. 84 issue 2350). From time to time the paper also ran a series of sketches on particular topics. In the late 1870s for example, there were a number of fine sketches of ‘English Cathedrals’ by Samuel Read (RA) and in 1886 several pictures of ‘English Homes’, like Warwick Castle (1886, vol. 88).

 

FORMAT

The late 1880s and 1890s saw several important changes to the format and subject matter of the illustrated London News in response to developments in the press and changes in the nature of the economy as a whole. Spearheaded by the Daily Telegraph in the 1850s a new cheap press had grown up incorporating much of the lighter tone and wider appeal of the Sunday press. When the Daily Mail appeared in 1896, its circulation of 400,000 was nearly greater than all the penny papers put together and in the same year the Lloyds Weekly newspaper became the first paper to sell a million copies with its coverage of the Jack the Ripper case. Meanwhile in the years following the Great Depression there arose a growing concern in industry to organise and, where possible, control the market. Advertisements became more prominent and were a welcome source of revenue for papers incurring enormous production costs in meeting the enlarged circulation's of the day. Whilst a typical issue of the Illustrated London News in the 1870s contained two pages of ads at the rear, by the mid 1880s issues often had as many as six pages throughout the paper. The advertisements were of a larger format and illustrated lavishly. By 1911 it was common for a single product to take up a whole page; such as one for Beecham’s Pills in which a salesman is pictured selling an insurance policy. The householder replies, ‘no need, we take Beecham’s pills’ to which the reply comes back, ‘very good, we can take you at a lower premium.’ Unable to compete with the dailies for hard news the Illustrated London News also began to feature a greater amount of fiction and general articles. In the 1880s and 1890s writers like Rider Haggard, Conan Doyle, Robert Louis Stevenson and Rudyard Kipling contributed short stories, often complemented by illustrations by Richard Caton-Woodville, Harry Furniss and William H. Overend. The quality of the paper is also noticeably better in these years and large foldout reproductions of paintings became more common.

 

At the turn of the century the Illustrated London News was faced by the additional threat posed by the Daily Graphic (1890), the first daily to feature half-tones and sketches, and by papers like the Daily Mail and Daily Mirror (1904) which regularly sported photographs. The new editor, Bruce Ingram (1900-63) concentrated on reproducing superior photographs on better paper and began development of the Rembrandt Regalio process for faster printing. New lights of the literary world were attracted to the ILN; Joseph Conrad contributed the 1901 Xmas story, ‘Amy Foster’. G.K. Chesterton took over the ‘Our Notebook’ section which he wrote (with the occasional participation of Hilaire Belloc) for the next thirty-one years until 1936, when the present contributor, Arthur Bryant, took over. In the years leading up to the Great War the ILN brought to the notice of the public a variety of new developments in science and technology. In 1911, for example, the paper presented an illustration of the first escalator, installed at Earls Court Underground station. To allay public mistrust the paper reported that a man with a wooden leg had been hired to go up and down the escalator to demonstrate its safety (vol. 138).

 

During the First World War (vols. 144-153) the ILN despatched trusted war artists. Frederick Villiers (Western front) and Seppings Wright (Eastern Front) to cover the action and even produced a supplementary Illustrated War News in mid-week. However due to increased transport and labour costs the paper was forced to raise its price for the first time since the late 1860s (the paper sold for 5d for a short period) to 7d in 1917 and 9d in 1918. The paper also exhibited a fierce commitment to the war effort; for example, in the Xmas issue of 1917 there appeared a picture by S. Begg in which a pacifist asks a serviceman, ‘But for what are you fighting?’. The soldier is holding a little girl in his arms and replies ‘This.’ (vol. 145).

 

CENTENARY

Celebrations of the centenary of the Illustrated London News in 1942 were curtailed by the fact that Britain was once more at war and there were paper restrictions in force: the price went up from 1/-- to 1/6d between 1939 and 1942 (vols. 194-207). The offices of the ILN were also damaged in the bombing of London. The paper’s war artist, Bryan De Grineau, was honoured by the appointment of official War Artist and there was once again a comprehensive coverage of events. Cyril Falls, the historian, provided a valued blow-by-blow analysis of events as they occurred. Advertisements in the ILN evinced a suitably martial tone, with slogans like ‘How to win your war of nerves’ (Sanatagon) and ‘Viyella For Service’ (Viyella shirts). During the 1950s the Illustrated London News marked a series of memorable events; the Festival of Britain (1951 vol. 218) being followed nine months later by the death and funeral of King George VI and then by the new Queen’s coronation (1953 vol. 222). However, by the early 1960s the press in Britain had reached its full potential in terms of attracting new readers and the competition had turned inwards for a larger share of the existing market. The advert of television after the War also re channelled a lot of advertisement revenue away from newspapers at a time of rising production costs. Before the War there had been seven successful weekly magazines, but by the end of the decade only the Illustrated London News remained.

 

In 1963 Sir Bruce Ingram died after an unrivalled 63 years in office to be followed first by Hugh Ingram and then two years later by Tim Green, from Time-Life Magazine. Under these editors attempts were made to revive the paper; advertisements were removed from the cover (they had appeared in the 1890s) and on January 23, 1965 the first full page colour photograph adorned the ILN a photograph of Sir Winston Churchill who had died eight days previously. On February 6th the Illustrated London News devoted forty pages to the lying in state and funeral of the great man.

 

In line with the trend towards large combines in the press, the ILN passed under the wing of the giant Thompson organisation in 1961. On August 7, 1965 the paper became the first publication to switch to the new heatset web offset printing process thus retaining its reputation as a forerunner in technical advances. Nevertheless by the end of the 1960s the Illustrated London News faced serious financial difficulties and its circulation had shrunk to about 50,000. In 1970 the present editor, James Bishop (formerly with the Times) took over and in May 1971 he supervised the paper’s transition from being a weekly publication into a monthly one. The step was the logical outcome of the supremacy of television in reporting hard news. Henceforth the ILN would concentrate on an in-depth analysis of news stories with the adjunct of the highest quality photographs. As James Bishop told his readers, ‘A monthly gains time. We shall use it for sorting out the significant from the vast mass of trivia among so-called news events that crowd upon us

day by day and week by week’. The size of the paper was reduced from 14" x 10" to 12" x 9", the editorial concept re-defined and the whole appearance of the magazine redesigned to give maximum visual impact. The change had an immediate effect, increasing its circulation from 51,459 in the period July-Dec 1970 to 85,673 in July-Dec 1972, (the latest estimate of circulation is 57,000). In terms of content an important milestone was marked up with the introduction of a ‘Briefing’ feature in 1981 giving a comprehensive cultural and leisure guide for the coming month. It was the first of such guides in the press for those who have to plan their lives well in advance. Despite a regular rise in price during the 1970s (from 25p in 1971 to 72p in 1980 and then £1.20 in January 1984) the Illustrated London News seems likely to continue its unique coverage of world and domestic news for many more years.

 

COLLECTING

There are as many reasons for collecting the Illustrated London News as there are different topics featured within its covers. Some collectors are interested in the coverage of the colonial wars of the nineteenth century a valuable record of the conditions of service in such campaigns whilst others may collect the paper for its illustrations of domestic issues, sporting events, royal occasions, contemporary art or foreign landscapes to name a few areas of interest. Some enthusiasts concentrate on building up a run of volumes for a given era or decade in which they are expert, whilst others prefer to amass a complete collection. With the purchase of just one volume, however, the collector has at his disposal a fascinating insight into a whole range of activities and events occurring in a six-month period of any given year.

 

The Illustrated London News was collected by individuals and institutions from the outset unlike many other papers which were thrown away. Individuals had the option of a case in publishers cloth (coloured blue in the 1870s with gilt decoration) or instructing the binder to use a different, perhaps cheaper binding. Volumes today turn up in an assortment of bindings: full, half, or quarter and utilising a variety of materials cloth, calf, morocco, roan etc.. The discerning collector would wish to obtain volumes in the original publishers cloth (and in VG to Mint condition). However, it is the content of the volumes that really fixes their value. The Victorian habit of binding periodicals, the high quality of the paper used by the ILN and its relatively high circulations have ensured that many issues remain in circulation to-day. Many libraries in this country own complete runs of the Illustrated London News along with perhaps the Times and Punch and provide an excellent way of getting an overview of its development through the decades.

Until about ten years ago bound volumes of the Illustrated London News containing six months’ issues used to crop up regularly in bookshops at very reasonable prices. Enthusiasts were mainly interested in the paper as a historical document and most collectors shied away from the bulky volumes which are very heavy and difficult to store. For example, in 1947 a set of the volumes for the years 1851, 1853, 1914 and 1919 were sold at a London auction for just £2. Twenty years later, in December 1967, 111 volumes for the period 1843-1900 in cloth binding went for £95 an average of only 85 pence a volume. By the mid 1970s auction prices ranged from about £8 a volume for runs with various bindings and in worn condition up to about £20 for those in publishers cloth. Then in the latter part of the decade there was a rise in values due to the entry into the market of major breakers like Omniphil and Posterprint and an upswing in the interest of overseas print dealers.

 

AUCTIONS

Today the average price for a volume of the ILN (pre-1946) stands at £20-£30, with volumes in auctions sometimes going for less and on occasions for considerably more. The relatively strong position of the Deutschmark against the pound in the period 1979-1981 attracted many German dealers to British auctions and there was a consequent rise in prices. The views of German cities contained in some volumes of the ILN are much sought after by dealers, who can tint them and sell them as framed prints for a handsome return. Volume 57 which contains engravings of German cities like Metz (issue 1611) and Strasbourg (issue 1613) can command very high prices in auctions up to £100 in Britain. At one auction in Germany a dealer paid the princely sum of DM 950 the equivalent of £208 in sterling, but this was an exceptional case.

Wood engravings of Cyprus are also much in demand. The island passed into British hands as a result of the Congress of Berlin in 1878, and a party of artists including H. Harper were sent out by the ILN to sketch the island’s main towns like Nicosia (issue 2045) and the chief port, Famagusta (issue

2039). Volume 73, in which these engravings are contained, was auctioned for over £100 on three separate occasions in 1980-81.

 

EXPORT

Generally speaking it is the volumes containing views of foreign countries, for which there is an export market in prints, that reach the highest value. Other volumes which are sought after and difficult to acquire are volumes 74 and 75 which cover the Zulu War (1879) and are popular with military historians in this country. Generally speaking the early volumes (1842-60) of the ILN are not as valuable as those for the period 1860-80, by virtue of their ‘rougher’ woodcuts, although the first volume containing the foldout engraving of London was sold for £100 in 1981. The special commemorative numbers of the ILN concerned with royal occasions were lavish affairs, often featuring specially commissioned paintings and bound in fortified covers. Due to the fact that many people kept these issues they are less valuable today that one would at first suppose. Nevertheless, they make interesting collector’s items. Volumes of the ILN collected since the Second World War now sell for between £8 and £10.

 

Runs of the Illustrated London News have traditionally come onto the market in country house sales and auctions. In May 1984 at the Elvedon Hall sale organised by Christies, sixty-nine volumes of the ILN, estimated to be worth £350, eventually went for £4,536 an average per volume of £65)- However, it is unlikely that this signifies an upward swing in values since high interest generated in an important country house sale seldom leads to a general rise in the prices realised.

 

At least for the time being, the collector should still be able to obtain volumes of the ILN in bookshops for between £20-£30. Single copies of the paper can usually be bought for between £1 and. £1.50 or, if in the original covers for between £2 and £5 depending on condition and, of course, content. Today’s collector may also wish to store away the current issues of the Illustrated London News in the certain knowledge that they will form a valuable commentary on our own era for future generations of collectors.

Information update by John Weedy

The ILN went from monthly to bi-monthly after the Jan 1989 issue (Spring, Summer, Royal Autumn, Winter & Christmas No's), and bi-annually from 1994 (Summer & Christmas).

The promised Centennary edition, which was never published in 1942 because of wartime restrictions was never ever published! However a lavish edition was produced in April 1932 to commemorate the 90th anniversary, and another lavish publication for the 125th Anniversary in 1967, and another in 1992 for the 150th Anniversary

Update of prices April 2002 Volumes from £40 to £250 depending on the year, content, condition

Individual magazines from £2 to £20 same criteria as above.

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