Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Cutting labels

[a] 1890, Comic Cuts (detail).

Yesterday’s Papers. Today’s Views.
by Huib van Opstal

[10] print labeling
Seduced by better printing, most artists, painters and others, sooner or later started using print too. The label ‘picture’ for ‘properly the art of painting’ was there first — in particular for paintings done in oils and in colour, profiled as single works and marketed as ‘high art.’ But today the word picture is a common word and simply refers to anything pictorial.

‘Sculpture’ is a label with a similar history. It began as a description for making classical sculpture and then for similar other ways of working. Metal engravers in the 1600s, able to resculpt their grooves like sculptors do, also began to sign their work-for-print in copper or steel ‘sculpture’ or ‘sc’ for ‘sculpsit,’ carved it. For a long period of time labels like ‘plate’ and ‘engraving’ solely meant work that’s done in metal. A new label begins to spread around the year 1800: ‘litho’ or ‘lithography’ for work that’s done via stone. Confusing in the mid-1700s remains that a ‘cut’ can refer to both metal and wood.

Since the 1800s the bulk of printed illustration is produced via wood and stone; afterwards, the three general terms used for a picture remain ‘cut’ or ‘block’ or ‘litho.’ In the 20th century they all refer either to the pictures themselves or to master films for printing.

[b] 1884-85, Choice Chips.
‘Cut.’ Up to the year 1900 printing via wood — via woodcut blocks, woodcuts, wood engravings — remains the cheapest and most used method.

‘Cut-workes.’ In London in 1632, a selection of stock woodblocks with illustrated ornaments is presented in book form, in the scrapbook way. On the title page described as ‘Certaine Patternes of Cut-workes: and but once Printed before.’

‘WITH THIRTEEN CUTS’ is how in 1819 London publisher William Hone subtitles his satirical pamphlet The Political House that Jack Built, illustrated in woodcut by George Cruikshank. ‘With a Cut’ is how he in 1821 advertises his ‘Works nearly out of Print,’ pamphlets which are each embellished with a single, rather crude woodcut.

‘By means of Wood-cuts’ is how in 1832-33 publisher-editor Charles Knight (b.1791) of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge explains the success of his small-page weekly — his ‘little work’ — The Penny Magazine (s.1832) in England, together with his steep claim to have reached a weekly sale of 200.000 copies in its first year.

[c] 1898, Illustrated Chips.
Cut versus Engraving. But the ‘woodcut’ label gradually fades away. Under the mock alibi engraving tools are used on end-grain instead of side-grain wood, ‘woodcut’ is replaced by the more posh sounding ‘wood engraving.’ As distorting a label as the shortened cut and engraving. A cut, or an engraving, via metal or wood? Carved, cut, chiseled, incised or excised, or etched with acids? (Much to the regret of those who consider woodcuts cheap and vulgar, the artsy name ‘xylography’ for woodcut doesn’t catch on in English.)

‘With Comic Cuts’ is the wording used in December 1831 when The Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction reviews the latest comic annuals in a second supplementary number, titled ‘The Spirit of the Annuals for 1832’ — duplicating three woodcuts from The Comic Annual and The Comic Offering; or Ladies’ Melange of Literary Mirth. The reuse of these illustrations is talked about with great excitement.

‘Amusing cuts.’ In 1832 the small-page The Comic Magazine (subtitle: ‘Intended For The Risible Muscles’) offers an ‘amazing number of amusing cuts of the punning order’ and lots of wordplay, often in the form of just a short pun with a crude woodcut illustrating it. (Cuts presented on the cover as ‘Engravings by Dank, Esq.’) Editors in different years were Gilbert Abbott à Beckett (b.1811) and artist Alfred Crowquill (b.1804, penname of Alfred Henry Forrester). The typesetting is so large, the white between the lines so high, that most pages of The Comic Magazine carry only the shortest amount of text.

[d] 1890s, Comic Cuts.
‘COMIC CUTS.’ In 1833 The Comic Magazine advertises: ‘SPLENDID NOVELTY !!! This Week, Price only Threepence, A BROADSIDE OF COMIC CUTS, printed on fine paper, the size of “The Times,” presenting nearly ONE HUNDRED FIRST RATE ENGRAVINGS, By Seymour and — Dank, Esq. Selected from the early Numbers of THE COMIC MAGAZINE.’

‘Highly Humorous Cuts.’ The 1834 New Comic Annual is ‘Illustrated with One Hundred Highly Humorous Cuts.’

‘Illustrated with Designs on Steel and Wood by George Cruikshank’ is how editor-writer W. Harrison Ainsworth, Esq. (b.1805) launches Ainsworth’s Magazine in 1842 (subtitle: ‘A Monthly Miscellany of Romance, General Literature, and Art’) — for sale ‘On the 29th of January (…) price Eighteenpence (…) Orders received by all Booksellers and Newsmen.’

[e] 1890, Funny Cuts.
‘Saucy and Spicy Cuts.’ In the summer of 1855, New York publisher Garrett & Co. publishes a new strip book — by an author kept anonymous — titled The Wonderful and Amusing Doings by Sea & Land of Oscar Shanghai advertised in August as ‘… All told in a series of nearly TWO HUNDRED of the most RISIBLE, QUIZZIBLE, PROVOKING, PECULIAR, SAUCY AND SPICY CUTS ever gathered within the leaves of any one book …’ Earlier ideas by Swiss stripmaker Rodolphe Töpffer are quietly recycled in it.

‘Comic Cuts.’ In Victorian times the woodcut roots of papers with comical illustrations often show up in their titles and bookish spinoffs — Cuts… Amusing Cuts … Funny Cuts … Comic Cuts… Cheap comic weeklies carry grand cover banners and subtitles like ‘150 comic and humorous cuts for one penny’ … ‘A Journal of Humour, Romance, Comic Cuts, And Answers On Everything.’ Funny Cuts (1890) is subtitled: ‘JOKES, PICTURES, STORIES & TALES.’

[f] 26 July 1890, Illustrated Chips, nr 1, Vol. 1.
‘Chips.’ In America, a joke book is titled Chips from Uncle Sam’s Jack-knife. From New York comes a comic monthly titled Chip Basket in 1869. England has its weekly ILLUSTRATED CHIPS in 1890 (with the cover price lettered as large as its title, twice). The penny-paper Choice Chips has its title pictured in bent wood chips; the squibs in it are done under titles like ‘Quaint Chips’ or ‘Illustrated Chips.’ (A shortish satire in words may be called a ‘squib’ or a ‘skit’ or a ‘quip’ or a ‘chip.’) In 1897, the work of American illustrator Frank P.W. Bellew, Jr. (1862-94) — whose penname was ‘Chip’ — is titled “Chip’s” Old Wood Cuts. 

[g] 1890, Illustrated Short Cuts.
Stock blocks. In London many comic papers are assembled the scrapbook way, for the larger part assembled from years-old stock blocks, and sold for as little as posible. (In the 1880s swiping by photographic means picks up speed too.) Papers with titles like: Illustrated Short Cuts (1890)… Snap-Shots (1890, subtitle: ‘Humorous Pictures, chiefly from Advance Proofs of this Week’s American Comic Papers. With Useful, Entertaining, and Amusing Reading’)… Comic Pictorial Sheet (1891)… Comic Pictorial Nuggets (1892)… The Comic Home Journal (1895, subtitle: ‘The Friday Edition of Illustrated Chips’)… Comic Bits (1898)… The World’s Comic (1892, subtitle: ‘Edited by Grandad Twiggle’)…

[h] 1890, Comic Cuts.
Real and fictional editors — some with large scissors in hand — have names like ‘Mr. Chips,’ ‘Chips Esq.,’ ‘Mr. Comic Cuts,’ ‘Mr. C.C.’ or ‘Mr. Clarence C. Cutts,’ and begin to figure as funny men in strips themselves, even in their papers’ front-page top titles (‘mastheads’ or ‘nameplates’).

Price cut. In 1890 a young London editor-publisher, Alfred C. Harmsworth (b.1865), in business with his younger brother Harold, targets readers of all ages. English comics in the late 1800s cost no more than a penny, still an amount only to be spent by adults. They publish papers under their trade names ‘“Answers” Company’ and ‘Pandora Publishing.’ On 17 May 1890 — with the launch of their weekly Comic Cuts, carefully captioned ‘Amusing Without Being Vulgar’ and subtitled twice: ‘Pictures, Prizes, Jokes,’ and ‘A Penny Illustrated Paper for One Halfpenny’ next — the cover price is lowered to half a dime. Four of its eight pages are filled with picture cuts, the other four with short texts. Cuts from other publishers are quietly recycled in it. Jokingly plugged as ‘The Poor Man’s Punch,’ it is noticed by readers of all ages in the 90s — ‘Comic Cuts… One Hundred Laughs for One Halfpenny!…’ — and commercially so successful, that all competitors followed, making the ha’p’orth (half-penny worth) paper the new standard.

A little later, the top title on the cover gets a new standard caption: ‘CLEVER ARTISTS SHOULD SUBMIT WORK TO THE EDITOR OF “COMIC CUTS,” Enclosing large stamped envelope for return, in case of rejection.’

In May 1892, in prominent advertisements Harmsworth claims — for its first four weekly titles together — a circulation of over a million sold copies per week.
“A WORLD’S RECORD. (…) Figures certified by Chartered Accountants (…) The largest circulation not only in the United Kingdom but in the whole world. In less than four years (…) The HARMSWORTH Journals, “ANSWERS,” “COMIC CUTS,” “ILLUSTRATED CHIPS,” and “FORGET-ME-NOT,” 1,009,067 Copies Weekly. (…) Circulations are not gauged by the sale of a holiday issue.

Why have the “ANSWERS” journals achieved so vast
a sale? Because they were the first cheap papers to recognize the fact that the day is passed when the public will be satisfied with clippings from American newspapers and old books, and because their literary and artistic expenditure is, per journal, five times as great as that of any of their imitators.”
Answers (s.1888, initial titel: Answers to Correspondents) is profiled as ‘a high-class penny weekly magazine.’

Forget-Me-Not (s.1891) is profiled as ‘a ladies’ paper’ and ‘a ladies’ journal’ and described as ‘charmingly written and illustrated, and printed in the style of the six-penny magazines.’

Comic Cuts is profiled as ‘an illustrated comics paper’ with a ‘circulation (…) equal to all the cheap illustrated weeklies combined. It is practically a penny paper sold for 1/2 d. among its artists are the best men of the “Graphic,” “Illustrated London News,” an “Black and White.”’

Illustrated Chips (s. 26 July 1890) is profiled as ‘an illustrated paper’ and ‘another penny paper sold for 1/2 d. Its circulation is one of the most remarkable features of modern periodical journalism.’

[i] 1897, Illustrated Chips.
Most famous reader. In an 1890s Comic Cuts series of poster parodies that picture VIPs reading it, the one titled ‘Famous Comic Poster No. 6’ shows an amused British Queen — ‘What would the nation do without its Queen? Worse: What would the Queen do without her Comic Cuts?’

Huib van Opstal

[ to be continued ]

Click up next or preceding paragraphs here:

[1-8] Roughly, eye shock 1800

 [9] The text, the type, the visual

[10] Cutting labels
[11] The Hogarth-Doyle Punch foundation

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