Introduction: economics, correspondence and the illustrator

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number of documents record the professional transactions between illustrators, engravers, editors, authors and publishers. The most sustained account of the dealings of the middle period of the century is the Dalziel Brothers’ Record of Fifty Years’ Work, 1840–1890 (1901), which contains miscellaneous information about the artists and their working relationships.

However, the great bulk of the information is still unpublished. Many of the financial details are preserved in the surviving publishers’ archives. The records of Richard Bentley (The British Library, London) enshrine some of the arrangements involving George Cruikshank, and the Longman Archive (University of Reading, U.K.) has listings of the payments made to Richard Doyle, as well as sales figures for his picture book, In Fairyland.

Yet publishers’ archives are far from complete, and in some cases the liaison between the artist and his employer was conducted informally. It is noticeable, for example, that George Smith, of Smith, Elder, recorded all of his art-related business in a small, personal notebook, which he probably kept at home (The National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh). George Routledge, likewise, scrupulously listed all of his business dealings with the puzzling exception of his negotiations with illustrators (The University of London), which must have been conducted in conversations, or passed to the Dalziels.

This informality is also reflected in the many letters which are held in research libraries in Britain and America. For example, The John Rylands Library, University of Manchester, U.K., contains the acrimonious correspondence between Frederick Sandys and the Dalziels, as well as missives from Charles Keene to his engravers and publishers. Other material can be traced in Princeton, Exeter, the University of California, the Houghton Library, The New York Public Library, and elsewhere.

Taken as a whole, this type of letter extends from complaints and recommendations to requests for work, and, most typically of all, stiff demands for payment. In an age when illustrators were employed purely on the basis of piece-work and with no guarantees of acceptance, these self-employed designers were essentially entrepreneurs who worked to live, with only themselves to protect their interests. Some of the most interesting correspondence was written by artists who were establishing themselves. Working in a trade in which relationships were an important part of the transaction, the novice had to learn how to negotiate the best price while not alienating a publisher or editor who might offer more work.

Correspondence between Gray and Lucas

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ocumentation of Paul Gray’s working practices only exists in the form of three surviving letters to Samuel Lucas, the proprietor of The Shilling Magazine.These are very much in the style of a young artist trying to ingratiate himself with an employer who was establishing his new periodical following his departure from Once a Week. Polite almost to point of appearing fawning, they are far from the business-like letters by George Pinwell and Frederick Sandys, and Gray may have been aware of the need to handle the sometimes irascible Lucas with care.

The first letter, dated August 3 1865, refers to payment of 18 guineas for an unspecified illustration; though only three lines in length, it carefully establishes a deferential stance. ‘Dear Sir’ progresses to thanks for the cheque and concludes with a statement of loyalty and another personal expression of gratitude, written ‘to thank you’. The other two (written on December 21 1865 and January 11 1866) are more sure of their ground, although they are still overstated. Both are receipts for Gray’s illustrations for Matilda Betham Edwards’s novel, The Wild Flower of Ravensworth, and both are rather excessive; Lucas is now ‘My Dear Sir’, a phrase thrice repeated, and the tone is one of respectful familiarity.

Though only business letters, these three short notes are telling documents which enshrine the artist’s need to gain approval. Slight traces of a short life, they provide a snap-shot of his struggles as he tried to establish himself.

Works Cited

The Brothers Dalziel. A Record of Work, 1840–1890. 1901; reprint, with a Foreword by Graham Reynolds. London: Batsford, 1978.

Cooke, Simon. Illustrated Periodicals of the 1860s. Pinner: PLA; London: The British Library; Newcastle, Delaware: Oak Knoll Press, 2010.

The Shilling Magazine London: Boswell, 1865–66.

MSS. letters from Paul Gray to Samuel Lucas, 1865–66. Simon Cooke Collection, Coventry, England.

Created 7 March 2015