One of the most popular publications intended for ladies of the upper classes during the Regency was familiarly known as Ackermann’s Repository. Those who have perused copies of this publication today may have noted that some of the issues include real samples of various materials affixed to an ornate wood-cut image. Though many people regularly call them "fabric" swatches, and many also assume they were included in every issue of the Repository, neither is true. These samples included more than just fabric, and they were more regularly included in the issues published in the early years of the periodical. It must also be noted that they were never known as "swatches" at any time during publication of the this popular journal. By the time the Regency came to a close, these special wood-cuts were no longer to be found in the pages of Ackermann’s Repository, but those that still exist have been, and remain, a treasure trove for scholars and researchers in many fields.
A look at the "real Patterns of British Manufacture" (swatches) in Ackermann’s Repository . . .
Rudolph Ackermann was born in 1764, in the Electorate of Saxony, where he followed the trade of his father as a saddler and a coach-maker. He emigrated to Britain when he was twenty-three and originally set up as coach-maker. During the next few years, he published various books and pamphlets to promote his business. However, his publications were so successful that he acquired his own lithographic press and gradually moved into the print trade. Within a few years, he was also manufacturing and selling colors and paper for artists. Before the turn of the nineteenth century, Ackermann had taken premises at 101, Strand, London, where he sold prints and books, in addition to a wide array of art supplies, for both professionals and amateurs. His elegant emporium would remain at that location for the duration of the Regency.
Even before the Regency began, Ackermann saw an opportunity to expand upon his print business. In January of 1809, he published the first issue of his stylish, illustrated journal, Repository of Arts, Literature, Commerce, Manufactures, Fashions, and Politics. It became very popular among the upper classes and he would continue to publish it, monthly, through the end of 1828. Though Rudolph Ackermann was German by birth, he had wholeheartedly embraced his adopted county and, as a successful businessman himself, he was eager to do anything he could to promote British business. One of those efforts was his ". . . real Patterns of British Manufacture," that which most people today know as the "swatch pages," which were included in many issues of his Repository.
Were it to be published today, Ackermann’s Repository would probably be considered a "lifestyle magazine." Within its pages could be found articles on a wide range of subjects from travel to pet care, short stories, poetry, agricultural reports, weather and stock information, along with engraved illustrations of the latest fashions, furnishings and architecture. A special feature of the Repository from its inception was a decorative page, which was filled with a host of allegorical images related to the power, prestige and history of Great Britain. Therefore, these pages were listed in the "Embellishments" section of each issue, just above the "Contents," as "Allegorical Wood-Cut, with real Patterns of British Manufacture." To this page would be affixed a selection of samples of real materials which had been made in Britain. In the lower section of the wood-cut page, the following invitation was made:
Manufacturers, Factors, and Wholesale Dealers in Fancy Goods that come within the scope of this Plan, are requested to send Patterns of such new Articles as they come out, and if the requisites of Novelty, Fashion, and Elegance are united, the Quantity necessary for this Magazine will be ordered.R. Ackermann, 101, Strand, London.
The "Plan" to which the invitation referred was explained in the first paragraph on the facing page:
Patterns afford the manufacturer an opportunity of circulating a new article more extensively in one day, than can be done by sending a dozen riders with it through the country. It will likewise afford persons at a distance from the metropolis the means of examining and estimating the merit of the fabric, and of being made acquainted with the tradesman from whom it may be purchased.
One of Ackermann’s purposes in making these patterns available to his subscribers was also noted on this same page:
. . . The introduction of silks among our ladies of fashion, has revived the almost declining employment of the silk-weavers [of Spitalfields], and if it has the effect of excluding the fine fabrics of Indian manufacture, to the increase of our artizans at home, we shall feel very happy in the exchange.
In addition to wishing to promote goods of British manufacture over those of foreign import, Ackermann also wished to provide a service to the readers of the Repository. By subscribing to his magazine, they could be sure that they would get real samples of new materials as soon as possible, regardless of where they lived. Better still, they could be sure the "patterns" which were included in the Repository had been reviewed by Ackermann and his staff to ensure they met the " . . . requisites of Novelty, Fashion, and Elegance . . . "
There were four "real patterns" presented on the wood-cut for the first issue of the Repository, in January of 1809. The first two fabric samples were suggested as suitable for gentlemen’s garments, while the second two samples were recommended for garments for ladies. Numbers were included as part of the engraving, with one next to each open space to which a "pattern" was affixed. These numbers were then used in the text on the facing page to identify each pattern, describe it in detail and provide information on shops in London from which it could be purchased, along with their direction. With such information available to them, even Repository subscribers who lived outside of London would be able to acquire the latest, most fashionable fabrics and other materials. They had only to contact a shop which carried a fabric they wanted and order the necessary yardage be sent to them. Or, as was common practice at the time, a friend or family member who paid a visit to the metropolis could stop by the shop which carried the fabric to pick up the order and bring it home.
In the issue for February 1809, the wood-cut was the same image which had been used in the January issue, but offered four new patterns. The detailed information on the patterns was printed on the page which preceded the Allegorical Wood-Cut page, rather than on the facing page and did not include the explanation of Ackermann’s Plan, which had appeared in the January issue. In March of 1809, a new image appeared on the Allegorical Wood-cut page, with four new samples, all for ladies’ garments. The details about each pattern were printed on the following page. The wood-cut used for the April 1809 issue was the same as that used for January and February, but only three patterns were presented, and the type of fabric was a departure from the previous three issues. The April samples were all for furnishing fabrics and the first pattern was cut large enough to cover the first two blank spaces on the wood-cut. The samples on the wood-cut for May were all garment fabrics, but the samples on the June wood-cut were a mix of furnishing and garment fabrics. Through the rest of 1809 and into early 1810, all of the Allegorical Wood-Cut pages in the Repository presented fabrics, for either garments or furnishings. That changed in March of 1810.
The March 1810 issue of the Repository included two Allegorical Wood-Cut pages. The first wood-cut page presented samples of papers rather than fabrics. These were actually fancy papers and borders that were intended to be used for various crafts. The second wood-cut for this month presented a mix of garment and furnishing fabrics. This was not the only departure for Ackermann in the presentation of "patterns" in the Repository. In the July 1810 issue of the Repository, Ackermann again included two wood-cut pages. The first, titled as a supplement to June 1810, presented four samples of the drawing papers which could be purchased at Ackermann’s own art emporium in the Strand. The second wood-cut offered four samples of garment fabrics. Another interesting sample offered in Repository was affixed to an Allegorical Wood-Cut page in May of 1812. There were four patterns on this page, three of which were garment fabrics. But the pattern affixed to the third space was not fabric and was described in the text:
No. 3 is a new and ingenious invention for ladies’ hats, bonnets, &c. composed of Willow Shavings. This article is now brought to the highest state of perfection by its original inventor, Mr. Palin, No. 76, Holborn-bridge; and is exhibited in a variety of beautiful tints and colours. By this improvement, ladies are enabled to display their taste in consorting so as to produce not only a becoming article for their own wear, but also baskets and mats for the table, &c. as well as may other articles both useful and ornamental.
An "Allegorical Wood-Cut, with real Patterns of British Manufacture." appeared in the Repository, typically near the end of each issue, every month for the first three years of its publication. They did not appear for either October or December in 1812, nor in April of 1813. There were only two Allegorical Wood-Cut pages for the entire year of 1814, in the months of June and December. There were also only two in the following year, 1815, in the months of January and May. There was not a single "Allegorical Wood-Cut, with real Patterns of British Manufacture." for any month during the years 1816, 1817 and 1818. There were only two in 1819, one in May, presenting patented metallic paper samples, and one in November, which offered samples of lace, and would be the last of Ackermann’s Allegorical Wood-Cut pages. There were no Allegorical Wood-Cut pages for the year 1820. However, a hand-written page, inserted near the end of the December 1820 issue, included an invitation to readers to write in for lace samples from Urling and Co., which was relocating to new premises. In January of 1821, a full-page image of an engraving of Urling & Company’s new premises, at 147, Strand, London was included. To this engraving were affixed four samples of Urling’s lace. Though Ackermann’s Repository continued to be published through December of 1828, there would never again be any real patterns/samples of any material included within its pages.
Since Rudolph Ackermann left it to British manufacturers to notify him when they had new goods which might be suitable for inclusion in the Repository, there are a few reasons why the flow of such samples dwindled over the years. It is not clear whether Ackermann paid for the goods which were cut up into tiny swatches to be affixed to his Allegorical Wood-Cut pages, but it seems more than likely that he did. Therefore, the manufacturers would not lose money by notifying him that they had materials which were suitable for inclusion in the Repository. In fact, they stood to make some money, since Ackermann would have had to order several yards of each material in order to make the necessary samples. Not to mention the free advertising which would bring their products to the attention of a wider and more affluent market than that to which many of them might have had immediate access. Nevertheless, after the first five years, the number of Allegorical Wood-Cut pages presenting patterns of British products fell off significantly. Either the patterns which were submitted did not meet Ackermann’s standards, or British manufacturers no longer thought that it was worth their while to have their products included in the Repository. Whatever the reasons, there were very few pages of real patterns in that magazine during the Regency.
In most cases, the manufacturers of the British goods to be included in each issue of the Repository sent them to Ackermann in London. But it is not clear how those goods were then cut up into small pieces and glued to all those Allegorical Wood-Cut pages each month. More than likely, the work was done by the same women, and/or children, who hand-colored many of the prints which Ackermann sold in his shop on the Strand. However, it is also known that in the early nineteenth century, Ackermann employed a number of European refugees fleeing the ravages of war on the Continent to hand-color the illustrations in The Microcosm of London, and other illustrated books which he published in the first decades of the nineteenth century. Those same workers may have also cut up and glued the samples to the wood-cut pages for the Repository. It is estimated that at any given time there were about 3,000 subscribers to Ackermann’s Repository, so there would have been quite a lot of work to do prior to the distribution of any issue which included an "Allegorical Wood-Cut, with real Patterns of British Manufacture." page.
Dear Regency Authors, should any of your characters peruse the pages of Ackermann’s Repository during the course of a Regency romance, now you will know that if you want them to remark upon any ". . . real Patterns of British Manufacture," your story will have to be set in the early years of the Regency. Of course, a character in a story set later in the Regency might remark upon the fact that there never seem to be any "patterns" in the Repository any more. One or more of the characters in a romance set early in the Regency, maybe the heroine, and a sister or two, might earn their living by cutting up and gluing all those little samples to those wood-cut illustrations in the workshop at Ackermann’s grand emporium in the Strand. Then again, you may wish to review the real Patterns of British Manufacture yourself, while researching accurate period materials for garments or furnishings.
Author’s Note: If you have not had a chance to peruse digital editions of Ackermann’s Repository, I highly recommend an exceptional blog post at the blog, Two Teens in the Time of Austen. The proprietors of this blog have taken the time to post a list of links to the entire run of the Repository which is available at the Internet Archive. The run of the Repository which was digitized by the Internet Archive is the set owned by the Library of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. This set has been bound, with six issues in each volume, in three separate series. Those clever Two Teens have posted a link for each volume, in order, by year, for every volume in each series in the set, all clearly labeled. You can find this invaluable blog post here. Enjoy!