R. R. Bowker Launches the British Edition of Harper's New Monthly Magazine in 1880

E. McClung Fleming excerpted and introduced by Philip V. Allingham, Contributing Editor

decarorated initial 'L' based on Thackeray aunching the London edition of Harper's Magazine was an interesting publishing venture. The Magazine was by now a veteran among American illustrated periodicals, having enjoyed thirty years of popularity. It was, moreover, thoroughly Anglo-American in its contents. Its issues often contained more articles and illustrations relating to England than most of the exclusively English magazines, and in its pages had appeared the novels of Dickens, Bulwer-Lytton, Thackeray, George Eliot, Charles Reade, and other great English writers. Nevertheless, because of copyright regulations which required a first printing of English works in England, these same novels were issued in other English periodicals, and Harper's could not be sold in England. The solution seemed to be to purchase the entire rights to serial publication and to make Harper's an international magazine with an English edition. The firm could then include in it the contributions of the most distinguished writers of both England and America and apply the best American wood engraving and printing to the original designs of both English and American artists.

The London edition was to be made up on both sides of the Atlantic. It would contain certain portions, profusely illustrated, printed in America. The editorial departments, including an "Historical Record" and "Editor's Easy Chair" were to be printed in England. By combining the two portions, the magazine would contain 160 large octavo pages with over a score of articles and three times as many illustrations, including popular descriptive sketches of men and manners, travel, literary and art papers, articles of information, short stories, and instalments of novels by the leading writers. Bowker's editorial in the first issue called this "an extraordinary shilling's worth," and indeed it was. [p. 137]

The first issue of the Maga was to be the December one, and this kept Bowker busy throughout October and November. In certain quarters failure had been predicted for the whole enterprise, and Bowker knew that the first issue was the crucial one. An appropriate cover was one of the first requirements. In place of the familiar rococo design of the American edition, two long panels across the top and bottom of (p. 137) the magazine were adopted, one giving the skyline of London, drawn by Alfred Parsons, and the other that of New York, drawn by Edwin A. Abbey.

This issue, with its twenty-four articles and fifty-five illustrations, took an enormous amount of American "push" and last-minute generalship. [p. 138]

The first issue was an instantaneous success. Bowker had advertised the Maga in every ingenious way he could invent, even considering the use of luminous paint in London's underground, and had secured some friendly anticipation in the English press. The home office had decided upon an edition of 10,000, but by mid-November the advance sales were going so well that Bowker joyously cabled home for an extra edition of 5,000. Actually, within the first month 16,000 copies were sold. [p. 138]

The Maga grew steadily, keeping the confidence and respect of its old friends, and each month making new ones. It started the year 1881 with a regular circulation above 20,000 and when Bowker figured up its accounts for the third number, he found that sales and advertising were running a full 50 per cent ahead of original expectations. [p. 140]

One of the finest features of Harper's Magazine, and certainly one that contributed greatly to its popularity in England, was its excellent wood engravings. English printers had not essayed the fine work required by the delicate lines which Harper's and Scribner's had made familiar in America. The art in America was at its height, and none of the English work, certainly not that of John Swain, who did Du Maurier's engravings for Punch [as well as for The Hand of Ethelberta for The Cornhill in 1876, and for A Laodicean in both the British and American editions of Harper's New Monthly Magazine in 1881], could touch the perfection achieved by (p. 140).Smithwick and Timothy Cole in the engraving rooms at Franklin Square. Bowker visited Edmund Dalziel, an English veteran of his art, and found his work inferior. [p. 141)

No wonder, then, that Thomas Hardy had recommended to Henry Harper that Du Maurier's drawings be engraved in America. One suspects that, in addition to the copyright problems publishing A Laodicean first in America might have raised, Harper decided against American etchings because there would be insufficient turnaround time since Hardy was still working on the manuscript when publication began in London.

Harper's Monthly Magazine first appeared in New York in 1850 under the editorship of Henry J. Raymond, and subsequently under that of the eminent American novelist William Dean Howells. With its numerous illustrations and its emphasis on serialised English literature, by 1860 the monthly magazine had a circulation of over 200,000. It was a member of the publishing house of Harper Brothers' family of publications that included Harper's Weekly and Harper's Bazaar.

References

McClung Fleming, E. R. R. Bowker. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1952.


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