Illuminated by Illustrated London News

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I’ve just been looking at the first edition of the Illustrated London News, dating from May 1842.

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It was in the sale room of the Gloucestershire auctioneers, Dominic Winter, as part of a run of 137 volumes from 1842 to 1910, which had just been sold for £15,000. It’s not often that such a long span of this celebrated periodical is sold in one lot, so I popped in for a look.

The many bound volumes took up a good deal of the room, and will provide many lifetime’s reading for the purchaser, but I restricted myself to perusing just the first edition.

The Illustrated London News is a remarkable publication, taking in global news stories alongside prosaic practical advice for gardeners, celebrity gossip, and of course its famous illustrations.

As the introduction to the first issue states, “The public will have henceforth under their glance, and within their grasp, the very form and presence of events as they transpire, in all their substantial reality, and with evidence visible as well as circumstantial”

The first few issues transcend matters in a very Victorian manner. There is for instance, substantial commentary on the taxation affairs of the nation: “The income tax, with all its most obnoxious clauses, is now fixed upon the country”.

Readers of the first issue were also treated to a detailed description of the glittering attire on show at a royal ball: “To describe the effects of these dresses as gorgeous would be but to half express the admiration they elicited”.

Meanwhile, gardeners were given grounded advice: “This is a busy time for the florist. Dahlias may now go out, also tender and half-hearty annuals”.

The statistically-minded were also well catered for:

“Monthly statement of letters delivered in the United Kingdom

Week ending April 24 1842 3,929,513

Week ending November 24 1839 1,585,873″

Finally, there was a comment piece on how the slave trade could be brought to an end:

“If the interest of humanity can be combined with those of planters, not only of the West Indies, but the real and true interests of the very shareholders of Brazil and Cuba, whose existence is periled by their own showing, by further importation of slaves, why should we hesitate to do it?”

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It’s like reading an entire rack of modern-day magazines in one go. Little wonder then that the first issue completely exceeded the publishers’ expectations, and had to be reprinted three times.