Greetings, all! Candice Hern, here. Many thanks to the Wenches for inviting me to post here. Today, and again on Aug. 28 and Sept 23, I am going to be discussing ladies' magazines of the Regency period. As many of you know, I have long collected fashion prints of the Regency period. About 10 or 15 years ago, I also managed to find several bound volumes of Ackermann's Repository. I bought them for the prints, but found them to be such treasure troves of Regency information that I began collecting the complete magazines whenever I could find them and afford them. Like any serious collector, I have done a lot of research on the objects of the collection, and I have found the whole topic of ladies' magazines fascinating. I thought some of you might find the subject interesting.
Today, I'm going to discuss the magazines in general. In the two subsequent blogs, I will provide more detailed discussions of the Big Four magazines for women of the Regency: The Lady's Magazine, The Lady's Monthly Museum, La Belle Assemblée, and Ackermann's Repository.
You may click on any of the images here to see larger versions.
The 18th century saw a blossoming of periodicals for women. Most of them sought the betterment of women through education, instruction, and rational prose. Even though most of the editors were men, they espoused a sort of equality of mind for men and women. There were, of course, the gossipy tattler types of magazines, but most also included a good deal of serious material intended to feed the female intellect.
Toward the end of the 18th century there was a major shift in attitude brought about by the French Revolution. The early "feminist" leanings that had been so prevalent in the periodicals were now disparaged as a part of the liberal, republican spirit that had led to the Reign of Terror in France. Suddenly, even liberal-minded publications like The Lady's Magazine began to concentrate more on domestic education than philosophical or political debate, offering moral wisdom rather than intellectual stimulation. The Lady's Monthly Museum exhibited the most repressive domestic ideology of all the magazines during the Regency.
The intended audiences for the various publications can be inferred from the price and production quality, and sometimes by content bias. The most expensive of all the publications that targeted a primarily female readership, The Gallery of Fashion, was sold exclusively by subscription at a rate of 3 guineas per year, the equivalent today of almost $200. That is surely why the circulation numbers amounted to only 450 copies. Subscribers included the Queen. La Belle Assemblée sold for 3 shillings 6 pence per monthly issue, the equivalent of a daily wage for the highest-paid skilled workers in London. Circulation figures for LBA are not known, but they most likely numbered in the neighborhood of 1500-2000 copies. Ackermann's Repository was of the same high quality as LBA, but had more prints and more pages and more varied content. Its per-issue price was a bit higher than LBA at 4 shillings per issue. The circulation was approximately 2000 copies in 1815. As a comparison, the most popular magazine of the time, the Gentleman's Magazine, had a circulation of approximately 10,000, but it was more cheaply produced than the Repository, and did not include color prints. It sold for 2 shillings per issue.
Clearly these relatively expensive periodicals for ladies were not frivolous purchases and not aimed at the lower or middle classes. The focus on fashion, especially at La Belle Assemblée, assumed a level of material privilege.
The Lady's Magazine and the Lady's Monthly Museum were undoubtedly targeted to the middle class woman. The Lady's Magazine sold for a mere 6 pence for at least its first twenty-five years (1770-1795). Ten years later, by 1805, it had doubled in price to 1 shilling, and by 1828 the cover price had risen to 2 shillings 6 pence. This was a well-established and very popular publication by the time of the Regency, so its circulation may have been substantial, though probably not as high as the Gentleman's Magazine. The Lady's Monthly Museum, the most inexpensive of them all at 1 shilling 6 pence, was a compact little magazine, smaller in size than any of the others, but packed with articles and stories. Its prints were of slightly higher quality than those of The Lady's Magazine, though a great many of them were copied from other publications. The editor sometimes boasts of its large circulation, but never mentions numbers. An educated guess would place its circulation at 3000-5000 copies during the Regency.
You might find these circulation numbers shockingly small compared to today's magazines with copies in the millions. But remember that print production technology was fairly rudimentary compared to today's standards, plus any colored engravings were colored by hand. So, for example, a single monthly issue of Ackermann's Repository that typically included at least 5 colored prints, with a circulation of 2000 copies, would require 10,000 prints to be hand-painted! Those numbers make the fine quality of the colored prints even more remarkable.
Unlike the modern magazine reader who recycles an issue once it has been read, the Regency reader did not casually toss a magazine in the trash. It is clear that the ladies' magazines of the late 18th and early 19th centuries were intended to be permanently preserved on the bookshelf. All of them were available in bound volumes. Notices to binders are sometimes included in magazines, with instruction on where to bind in prints or supplements. Individual issues could be sent back to the publisher for binding, as noted in this announcement in Ackermann's Repository:
"The Proprietor begs leave to remind such of his Readers as have imperfect sets of the Repository of the necessity of an early application for the deficiencies, in order to prevent disappointment. Those who chuse to return their Numbers to the Publisher may have them exchanged for Volumes in a variety of bindings, at the rate of 5s. per Volume."
In my years of collecting I have also run across volumes in which fashion prints, often from multiple publications, have been either tipped onto scrapbook-type pages, or bound as a single volume. Clearly, the fashion prints were kept and used, even if the rest of the magazine was discarded.
The individual magazines, ie the monthly issues, came in paper covers that were thicker than the inside pages, but still thin enough to suggest something temporary. The paper used for most of the original covers I've seen is comparable to the construction paper we used to use in school. (Do kids still use construction paper?) Some of the covers, like those for La Belle Assemblée, have a distinctive cover design with no more than a title, date, and publishing info. Others, like the early years of The Lady's Magazine, simply printed the table of contents on the cover. In later years, The Lady's Magazine used a more standard cover.
I own a handful of Regency period magazines in their original covers, but they are very hard to find. My guess is that few magazines were kept as individual issues, but were either cut up for the prints or bound in sets.
In my next blog on Aug 28, I'll give more details on four of the most popular ladies' magazines of the period.