Illustrated travel
: steel engravings and their use in early 19th century topographical books, with special reference to Henry Fisher & Co.

  • James M'Kenzie-Hall

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    The aim of this thesis is to investigate the introduction, production and sale of steel engravings in the illustrated picture books of the first half of the nineteenth century with particular reference to the publications of Henry Fisher, who began his career in Liverpool and continued it together with his son Robert in London. By looking at the processes from the initial artist's design through to its engraving and printing, and by establishing the interaction between the artist, author, publisher and engraver, this study will lead to a better understanding of both the economics and aesthetics 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 output 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. The early career of Henry Fisher as a master printer of mainly religious publications issued in numbers is examined, and this study shows how his innovative marketing, selling and distribution methods led to these being adopted by others in the publishing trade. His transition from publisher of religious numbers in Liverpool to leading publisher of illustrated topographical works in London is investigated for the first time. As no records, account books or archives appear to have survived, this dissertation is based on the substantial number of illustrated travel books with steel-engraved plates that both firms produced between 1829 and 1844 as well as correspondence from Robert Fisher to the Irish artist George Petrie, in which Fisher explains some of 'the peculiarities of our business'. 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. Allom and Bartlett are usually classified as jobbing topographical artists or, at best, as architectural draughtsmen. A secondary aim of this dissertation is to offer a counterbalance to this view and show that their art was more genuinely creative than merely reproductive and moreover that their motives for doing this work were far from being similar.
    Date of AwardMar 2011
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • Nottingham Trent University

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