Objects found in books hold a fascination for those who find them. Usually they are unrelated to the text – tickets used as bookmarks or letters placed for safekeeping; it is less common to find objects which were part of the original publication, as is the case in the Repository of Arts which contains tiny fabric samples, as colourful today as when the issues were first published in the early nineteenth century.
Published by Rudolph Ackermann (1764-1834), the Repository of Arts, or, to give it its full title the Repository of Arts, Literature, Commerce, Manufactures, Fashions and Politics, was the style bible of its day. A monthly magazine, running from 1809 to 1829, it covered all of the subjects listed in its title as well as providing reports on public health and agriculture. The emphasis though, was on stylish living and the magazine was designed to appeal to members of fashionable society who could afford the subscription of three shillings and sixpence, approximately £11 today.
The Repository had developed from Ackermann’s publishing and print-selling business, also named the Repository of Arts, which he established in the Strand in 1798. There, the early nineteenth-century equivalent of ladies (and gentlemen) who lunch could keep up to date with latest trends, acquire art supplies and prints, take tea or attend lectures in the gas-lit surroundings of what became a fashionable social centre. The magazine kept those who could not visit the Repository informed by including hand-coloured fashion plates and by providing the fabric samples. These were accompanied by suggestions of the type of garment for which the material could be used – the issue for June 1812 included a new printed cambric ‘of the mosaic pattern, calculated for morning and domestic wear’, an example of the recently introduced ‘Chinese crape’ and ‘a new lilac sarsnet for evening or full dress’.
Interior design was another feature of the magazine, with many issues having a ‘fashionable furniture’ section, or presenting ideas for room designs, such as the ‘gothic conservatory’ illustrated in the April 1813 issue. On occasions, samples of wallpaper or decorative papers were also included, the final sample in the June 1812 issue being a ‘specimen of the new embossed fancy paper, coloured in oil over a silver ground, in every shade and colour’. The amount of descriptive detail contained in the Repository makes it an important source for anyone with an interest in the aspirational fashions and interiors of the Regency period.
Ackermann is considered to be a pioneering publisher of colour-plate books, having set up a lithographic press in the Strand prior to opening the Repository. The hand-coloured aquatints in his many publications were highly valued by contemporaries. Later generations have also to thank him for the record he provided of contemporary London in his celebrated Microcosm of London, (1808-1810), in which he employed the talents of Augustus Pugin (1768/9-1832) and William Rowlandson (1757-1827).
Repository of Arts, Literature, Commerce, Manufactures, Fashions and Politics, vols.3-9 (1810-1813) Rare Books N1