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Illustrated Travel and Topographical Steel-Engraved Books of the Nineteenth Century

Abstract

The aim of this thesis is to investigate the use of steel engravings in the illustrated picture books of the first half of the nineteenth century by looking at the processes of production from the initial artists’ design to the engraving and the printing. By establishing the chains of production between the artist, author, publisher and engraver this study will lead to a better understanding of the economics of print production and determine the destination of these illustrated picture books by examining the relationship between the publisher and the public. Previous work on nineteenth century topographical steel engraving has largely had a bibliographical rather than historiographical aim and has concentrated on the classification of images into regional units. Although useful these publications are not intended to be critical and do not lead to an understanding of the contextual background necessary to explain the enormous production and consumption of topographical steel-engraved books in the 1830s and 1840s.

The two leading specialist topographical print-publishers were the London firms of Fisher, Son & Co. and George Virtue. As no records, account books, business correspondence or other documents have survived, this thesis is based on the substantial number of illustrated travel books with steel- engraved plates that both firms produced between 1829 and 1844. The two most prolific designers of illustrations for topographical picture books in this period were Thomas Allom (1804-1872) who worked for Fisher and William Henry Bartlett (1809-1854) who worked for Virtue. Their contribution to the field of topographical book illustration has largely passed unnoticed by art historians who question whether mass produced images can be valued as art and the reputations of Allom and Bartlett have suffered accordingly. This thesis will offer a counterbalance to this view and show that their designs were more than dry mechanical copying.

The first chapter examines how the mass- produced illustrated picture books of the first half of the nineteenth century evolved out of the fascination for travel, culture and the conception of an idealized landscape of the mid to late eighteenth century. Subsequent chapters deal with production methods such as serial publication, developments in printing including technical innovations. Other chapters focus on the publishers, artists, authors and engravers.

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