Wood-engravings in the serial publications of W. & R. Chambers

Rose Roberto
National Museums Scotland & University of Reading

The Scottish firm, W. & R. Chambers made their mark through educational publishing. Their first successful publication began in 1832 was The Chambers’s Journal, a weekly, 16-page journal containing articles and no illustrations. Their next serial publication started in 1834 was Chambers’s Information for the People, a series of educational sheets on subjects ranging from science and mathematics, to history, geography and literature. Eventually selling around 170,000 sets (amounting to over 2 million individual sheets), this educational series was illustrated with wood engravings. By the 1860s, the firm had published more than 100 book titles and began a significant work, Chambers’s Illustrated Encyclopedia: A dictionary of universal knowledge for the people, initially issued in parts to customers by subscription.

This paper will look at the influence that the firm’s experience using serial illustrations and its desire to reach popular markets had on later W & R Chambers’s publications (it’s later publications were filled with wood engraved illustrations). It will also look at the wider context of emerging visual and print culture, the profession of wood engravers in the periodicals vs book illustration industries, and the evolution of printing technology in the 19th century.

This proposal falls under two strands for this conference: Individual publications of note and important/significant editors/owners/ journalists; and Aspects of visual culture.

Newspapers and Periodicals in Britain and Ireland from 1800 to 1900