An advertisement for Rudolph Ackermann’s Repository of Arts. Ackermann paid the master engraver J.S. Agar a substantial amount of money to produce the elaborately stipple-engraved masthead. The advertisement itself gives some indication of the range of different products Ackermann sold.
Those of you who regularly follow the Cradled in Caricature blog will know that James Baker has been kind enough to make his images of the Ackermann ledgers at Coutts Bank available for public use under licence. Given that the opportunity to peruse the books of one of Georgian London’s most prestigious printsellers doesn’t come along every day, I decided to take up James’ offer and have spent the last two weeks slowly working my way through a portion of the ledgers and trying to make sense of the complex mass of information they contain. Now that I’ve finally finished transcribing a full twelve-months’ worth of data, I thought it was worth pausing in order to share a few initial thoughts on what this wonderful and unique source tells us about Rudolph Ackermann and the world he inhabited.
The ledgers may contain a vast amount of data but it doesn’t take one long to realise that they still only provide us with a fragmentary and at times frustratingly opaque view of Ackermann’s business activities. For starters, the lack of detail on the origins of the money being deposited into the account means that the ledgers tell us far more about Ackermann’s costs than his his earnings. Our analysis of the outgoing payments is also complicated by the fact that creditors were often only identified by their surname and in some cases, such as the various Williams’ that appear in the ledgers, it is difficult to tell whether we are dealing with one individual or a number of people with the same name. What follows is therefore a far from complete picture of Ackermann’s publishing activities in a twelve month period straddling the years 1818 and 1819. It is fully open to reinterpretation and challenge and will no doubt be revised as further transcription work allows me to make more sense of the nature of Ackermann’s business.
Once I’d finished copying out the relevant sections of the ledgers, I decided to cross-reference the names that appeared against the London Post Office Directory for 1819, the British Book Trade Index and the catalogue of the British Museum, in order to see how many entries referred to individuals that had some connection with Ackermann’s publishing activities. At the end of this process I was left with a list of 30 business addresses which I ran through Batchgeo and dropped on a modern map of London.
One of the most surprising features of the map was the extent of the geographic area covered by Ackermann’s business contacts. My previous work on mapping the Georgian print trade had led me to believe that it was an industry that was firmly rooted in central London, whereas in fact elements of the trade stretched out into the suburbs and possibly beyond into the surrounding towns of Middlesex and Surrey. I had also speculated whether the apparent clustering of print-related businesses in the City and the West End had resulted in the creation of two disparate, or even competing, metropolitan publishing hubs which catered for different markets and had little interaction with each other. Examination of the ledgers now renders this theory completely redundant, as it reveals that the majority of Ackermann’s suppliers were located in the area between Cheapside and Fenchurch Street.
In order to get a more detailed sense of the volume and nature of the business that Ackermann was engaged in with these firms, I sorted the digitised copy of the ledgers and calculated the total value of the payments made to each of Ackermann’s creditors between June 1818 and May 1819. The results were again surprising, indicating that Ackermann’s largest areas of expenditure were the payments he made to wholesale stationers, whose bills totalled £2,676 and oil and colourmen, who drew a total of £1,901 from the account. Publishing costs were another substantial overhead, with the engraver and printer William Clowes drawing a total of £1,637 from the account. Ackermann also appears to have spent a surprising amount of money on picture framing and indeed, if the Edward Pierce (or Peirce) whose name appears frequently in the ledgers is the same individual whot ran a framing and guilding business in Fenchurch Street, it may even have been the case that Ackermann’s framing costs exceeded his expenditure on stationery or paints. This money was presumably spent on framing the oils, watercolours and old masters drawings that Ackermann is known to have displayed and sold in the gallery space at the Repository of Arts. The ledgers also contain details of numerous small payments to plasterers, lace-makers, manufacturers of ‘fancy paper’, which reflect the variety of goods that Ackermann sold alongside his prints, books and stationery.
Another intriguing feature of the data was the apparent lack of evidence of payments that were related to the process of printing. During the twelve month period under consideration, Ackermann made only a handful of sporadic and relatively small payments to businesses with some ancillary link to the print trade, such as typesetters, paper merchants and tallow chandlers. This seems to suggest that Ackermann’s in-house printing operations were relatively modest and that the majority of the material he published was in fact printed by a third parties such as William Clowes, W.C. Drake and J. Diggins.
The names of several artists and engravers also appear in the ledgers and although none of these individuals has a verifiable link to graphic satire, the data still gives us an interesting insight into the relationships between those who made and sold prints. The illustrious stipple-engraver John Agar was the most highly paid of Ackermann’s employees, receiving a total of £119 for his work on a set of historical engravings and an advertisement for the Repository of Arts. After that comes the architectural draughtsman J.B. Papworth, who was paid £80 to provide plates for the book Rural Residences… and then the watercolourist James Green, who received a £70 royalty for allowing Ackermann to produced engraved copies of his paintings. Finally, there are the less well-known names of Thomas Unwins and Samuel Prout, who were each paid around £40 for producing multiple engraved images that were used to illustrate works such as the Complete Course on Lithography and Flowers: A Series of Studies from Nature Drawn on Stone. This suggests that the costs of hiring artists and engravers varied according to the reputation of the individual in question and the number of plates to be published. Master craftsmen like Agar could charge relatively large sums for producing a small number of images, whereas regular draughtsmen like Prout would be expected to engrave large numbers of images in exchange for much lower wages. Generally speaking though the ‘going rate’ for producing a series of illustrations for one of Ackermann’s publishing projects seems to have been about £40.
The overall picture that emerges from the ledgers at this stage is one that seemingly challenges many of the conventional assumptions about Rudolph Ackermann and the world of the late Georgian print shop. Although Ackermann is chiefly remembered as a publisher and printseller, it’s clear that by far the largest proportion of his business was taken up with the more mundane business of selling stationery, art supplies and paintings. This inevitably leads us to wonder whether printselling was only a subsidiary part of a much larger trade in stationery and books and if businesses that dealt only in satirical prints, such as Hannah Humphrey’s, were in fact something of an oddity. The data also implies that printsellers may actually have had remarkably little direct involvement in the production of many of the prints they sold, with much of the actual printing and colouring of prints being carried out offsite by third party contractors. Once again it appears that the closer one looks at the trade in satirical prints, the more marginal and ephemeral it begins to appear. It will be interesting to see if this continues as I move through further editions of Ackermann’s ledgers in the coming weeks.