Rowlandson & Woodward, What’s the News, published by Rudolph Ackermann, 20th October 1799

The historian and Ackermann biographer John Ford contacted me recently to share his thoughts on the Ackermann ledgers at Coutts bank and my post Twelve months with Rudolph Ackermann…

John was particularly keen to challenge any suggestion that Ackermann was not directly involved in the production of the prints he sold. He pointed out that Ackermann may have had up to 16 printing presses in operation at any one time while he was resident at 101 Strand and also owned a host of other printing-related paraphernalia, such as a set of gas cockspur burners that were used to prepare plates for pressing. He also felt that the various payments to stationers firms which are recorded in the ledgers relate to the purchase of blank paper for printing, rather than the wholesale purchase of stationery for re-sale, although acknowledged that it was impossible to verify this without a copy of the original trade bill.

John also took exception with my theory about the large payments that Ackermann was making to printers as being evidence that he had outsourced his printing activities. John was convinced that although Ackermann used letterpress printers to produce text for his publications, the images themselves were still engraved and printed in-house.

He was also kind enough to correct a couple of factual errors which appeared in my original post:

1) My description of William Clowes as an “engraver and printer” was inaccurate. Clowes was a printer and stationer and is listed as such in the 1819 London Post Office Directory.

2) The engravings by J.B. Papworth which appeared in Rural Residencies had previously been published by Ackermann in 1816-17. Payments to Papworth which appeared in the ledgers for 1818-19 were therefore more likely to relate to his work on Pictorial Cards.

3)Thomas Unwins and Samuel Prout were not involved in the production of Flowers: A Series of Studies from Nature Drawn on Stone. The payments to Prout which appear in the ledgers may relate to a series of drawing books which the artist had produced for Ackermann in 1819.

Of course, Twelve months with Rudolph Ackermann was really only a first attempt at divining something useful from the data that was emerging from the ledgers. I said at the time that any conclusions were open to re-interpretation and revision as the process of transcribing the ledgers continued, and this has indeed proven to be the case. At the very least I can say that I am pleased that this project has sparked something of a debate and look forward to seeing what other information about Ackermann’s world emerges from the ledgers as we continue our work.