Thursday, September 16, 2010

George Stiff (1807-1874)

The following obituary has a few mistakes. The Mysteries of London and its 'sequels' were not serialized in the London Journal; only published in penny parts and bound volumes. Still this is an interesting look at the life and career of an early proprietor of weekly illustrated periodicals. Obituary of George Stiff from The Bookseller, 1 Dec 1874:

November 14 1874 -- At his residence, Wimbledon, aged 67, Mr. George Stiff, proprietor of the London Reader and other publications. Mr. Stiff was originally an engraver, and in 1844 became proprietor of the London Journal. This periodical was started as Mayhew’s London Journal, but upon its transference to the new proprietor it assumed its present name. Under Mr. Stiff’s management, by aid of sensational stories from various pens, and sensational pictures, it rose into great circulation, at one time touching closely upon half a million a week. All the popular writers of the day had a hand in its management. Mr. G. W. M. Reynolds was for several years its editor, and in it wrote the “Mysteries of London,” based on Eugene Sue’s “Mysteries of Paris.” Three series of these Mysteries were published in the London Journal: the first by Mr. Reynolds, the second by Thomas Miller, and the third by Mr. E. L. Blanchard, the dramatist. It was, however, to the stories of Mr. J. F. smith -- “Woman and her Master,” Stanfield Hall,” and others of the same category, that the London Journal owed its great popularity. Among the other writers were Harrison Ainsworth, Captain Mayne Reid, Percy B. St. John, and Pierce Egan, the younger, its present editor. For many years Mr. (now Sir) John Gilbert illustrated its principal tales, and the pencils of Louis Huard, Hablot Knight Brown (Phiz), John Proctor, and others were also employed. In 1858 the copyright of the Journal -- as it was and is commonly called in the trade -- was sold to Mr. Ingram of the Illustrated London News; and Mark Lemon was appointed editor, with Mr. Davenport Adams as sub-editor. Under their management “Kenilworth” was introduced, with new illustrations by Gilbert; but the experiment was unsuccessful, for in the course of a few months Sir Walter Scott sent down the Journal more than fifty thousand. The circulation still dropping, the Journal was resold to Mr. Stiff, who immediately took steps to bring it back to its former great number. Before, however, he had fully matured his plans, another change took place, and the periodical finally passed out of his hands into those of Messrs. Johnson of St. Martin’s Lane, the present proprietors. Mr. Stiff then started the London Reader, a penny weekly of thirty-two pages, the same size as those of the Journal, with six or eight cuts in each number. In a few years, however, the Reader was reduced to the usual sixteen pages, without any particular diminution in circulation. The London Reader is still published. In 1860 Mr. Stiff purchased the copyright of the Morning Chronicle, then in a moribund state, and under his management it died. He then started the Daily London Journal, a newspaper, which lived exactly two days, being stopped by the Court of Chancery on the motion for an injunction by Messrs. Johnson. Then Mr. Stiff started the Seven Days’ Journal, which lasted for three years; and in 1869 became part proprietor of the Weekly Dispatch, which he reduced from two-pence to a penny. His connection with this old-established radical newspaper only ceased in the spring of the present year. At his death Mr. Stiff was by no means a rich man: probably he never wholly got rid of the large liabilities he incurred in starting the London Journal and pushing it into a, then, unprecedented sale. But he may, nevertheless, be regarded as one of the principal pioneers of illustrated literature in its present popular form.

Illustrations: Top cut by Sir John Gilbert, middle cut by John Proctor, last cut by T. H. Wilson.

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