Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Argh, Matey! Or, An Ackermann before Ackermann’s?

Okay, I believe we have by now established that I am perhaps just a little captivated by early 19th century periodicals...and perhaps just a little bit more captivated by Ackermann’s Repository of the Arts in particular, that popular magazine published between 1809 and 1829, a fascinating era in British social history. And ohmigosh, the fashion prints—they’re pure eye candy! The detail, the coloring, the descriptions—just delicious. Historical research isn’t always this much fun.

I recently obtained a new print for my Ackermann collection, an Evening Dress in pink with a yellow overdress with train (not my favorite color combination, but tastes change...). The text at the bottom reads “EVENING DRESS London published as the Act directs June 1803 by R. Ackermann, at 101 Strand.” The quality of the engraving is far below Ackermann’s later standards in the Repository: the details of the overdress are just sort of squiggled, and the headdress is rather shapeless; only the wearer’s face is carefully depicted.

But “Wow!” I thought. “An Ackermann fashion print from six years before he brought out the Repository! How awesome is that?” Well, pretty awesome, of course...but being who we are at NineteenTeen, I wanted to know more. Had Ackermann brought out other fashion prints before 1809?

So I did a little digging on line, and found prints in a similar style from 1803 from Le Miroir de la Mode, a short-lived publication by Madame Lanchester, a well-known London modiste who would one day serve as Ackermann’s chief fashion consultant for the Repository. The Lanchester prints are much larger and more finely detailed, which makes me think that what I have here is...well, a pirated copy of a print from Le Miroir.

Copyright law as we know it simply did not exist in 1803, and printmakers and booksellers constantly stole content and republished it. That uber-bestseller serial from 1820, The History of Tom and Jerry; or the Day and Night Scenes of Life in London by Pierce Egan, had been pirated within twelve hours of its first appearance in bookshops. Not bad, even by modern bootlegging standards.

Nor was an ocean any barrier to pirating: check out this print from the English The Court Magazine in 1833...

...and this print from the American Godey’s Lady’s Book in 1834:

So...ahem...might we have here a less-than-official version of Madame Lanchester’s work? Or does the text at the bottom of the print "publish as the Act directs" mean Ackermann had some sort of permission to reprint?  I don’t know for certain so I did a little more on-line searching, and see that while the term appears on many prints in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, I could not find an explanation of what it means. So was Ackermann a pirate? I don't know...but it's looking a little suspicious!


Lil said...

As Tom Lehrer sang, "Plagiarize! /Let no one else's work evade your eyes!/ Remember why the good Lord made your eyes, /So don't shade your eyes, /But PLAGIARIZE!"

Unknown said...

Maybe we could file this under "it's easier to ask forgiveness than permission." Terrific post!

Marissa Doyle said...

I think it was just a very different way of looking at things--the concept of "intellectual property" wasn't as respected (no, I'm not being ironic.) :)

Lil-- LOL!