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This is a sample entry from the Dictionary Nineteenth-Century Journalism (DNCJ), part of C19: The Nineteenth Century Index from ProQuest. Cross-links and other functionality have been removed from this version of the entry. Find out more about DNCJ.

Title: PUNCH (1841-2002)
Type: Titles
Entry:

A Victorian institution, Punch was published weekly right through the nineteenth century from its first issue of 17 July 1841, and remains one of the key sources for elucidating the opinions of nineteenth-century middle England. The 12-page double column issues, each costing 3d in the first instance, comprised text, full-page wood engraved cartoons, a variety of wood-engraved vignette comic illustration dropped into the text and a range of visual embellishments, including elaborate capital letters and tiny silhouettes which ran over from the weekly parts into the index of the reprinted volumes and the yearly supplementary Almanack.

There was no good reason in its early days why Punch should have been any more successful than the many short-lived satirical journals that failed all around it. But in bringing together the tradition of wood engraved politically radical illustration derived from the Hone/Cruikshank pamphlets of 20 years before and Seymour's images for Figaro in London from the 1830s, the use of a highly evolved persona drawn from popular culture to serve as a satirical presiding spirit (as well as 'Figaro', 'Punch' had already been used in such a role by Douglas Jerrold for the short-lived 1832 Punch in London), and the example of French satirical periodicals (Phillipon's Paris-based magazine Charivari gave Punch its subtitle, 'The London Charivari'), Punch assembled a number of requisite elements for success. Not least of these was the versatile squarish, double-columned page, which was especially well adapted to the kind of interplay between visual and textual elements that Punch required. To such prerequisites were added an experienced and well-connected staff and an ability both to sustain the traditions of Regency mockery and to develop a newer whimsical mode of comedy that focused on the trials and aspirations of the still emergent middle classes.

Such little financial backing as the nascent Punch had was supplied largely by the engraver Ebenezer Landells and the printer James Last, who underwrote Mark Lemon and Henry Mayhew's uncertain editorial venture. Early sales, while they reached the substantial level of 6,000 copies, could not sustain Punch for long, but more permanent support was supplied by the firm of Bradbury and Evans who were able not only to capitalize the new magazine properly but also supplied both its printing and publishing needs. If its early years were somewhat chaotic, Punch nonetheless rapidly developed some remarkably stable characteristics over the following 60 years. It had very few editors, several of whom enjoyed lengthy tenancies: Henry Mayhew was joint editor with Mark Lemon from 1841 to 1842, but then Lemon became sole editor until 1870, to be followed by Shirley Brooks (1870-1874), Tom Taylor(1874-1880) and Francis Burnand (1880-1906). After Ebenezer Landells, one of the founding figures of the magazine, was sacked in 1843, Joseph Swain took over the crucial role of overseeing the engraving of the many illustrations and, building his business on his agreement with Punch, remained in that role until 1900. His promptness and efficiency formed a crucial element in Punch's subsequent development. The coterie of slightly bohemian and sometimes politically radical journalists, authors and writers who formed the inner circle of early contributors, which included Douglas Jerrold, Gilbert a Beckett, Henry Mayhew, Thomas Hood and William Makepeace Thackeray among its writers and Leech, Doyle, Tenniel, Keene and du Maurier among its artists, remained, apart from occasional rows and defections, coherent and famously sociable.

But there were other factors at work in sustaining Punch's success, more to do with its understanding of business practice and the marketplace for periodicals than the quality of its contributors. Punch made itself available in a tempting variety of formats: weekly single issues, monthly compilations which came in decorative wrappers and carried a considerable amount of advertisement and half-yearly volumes, which included an elaborate and often highly decorative index. Additionally, later in the century, Punch was re-issued in stereotype versions, usually with five half-yearly volumes bound up in cloth to form huge single volumes, thus becoming one of what must be one of very few periodicals from the nineteenth century to sell its early volumes all over again. Ever astute in making use of its famous brand name, Punch issued a yearly pocket-book, volumes collecting together the almanacks, volumes of drawings drawn from its pages by individual artists (Doyle's cartoons were particularly popular), the volume reprinting of Punch contributions by well-established authors like Jerrold and Thackeray and the compilation of 'histories' drawn from Punch commentaries.

Famous in its early years for outspoken criticism of various social ills, Punch lost much of its radical energy in its later history but remained a broad-based repository of social and political commentary. It continued to attract artists of the calibre of Tenniel, du Maurier and Samborne to draw its cartoons and a range of now relatively little-known humorous writers including Shirley Brooks, Gilbert a Beckett, George Augustus Sala, George and Weedon Grossmith and Andrew Lang. Long outliving the nineteenth century, there were several attempts to sustain the magazine into the twenty-first century, but it finally expired in 2002.

Figure 55: The cover of Punch for Aug. 1841

Figure 55: The cover of Punch for Aug. 1841


Sources: Altick1997, Burnand 1904, Engen 1990, Price 1957, Spielmann 1895.
Author: Brian Maidment, University of Salford
See also: ADVERTISEMENTS
BRADBURY AND EVANS (1830-1865)
BROOKS, CHARLES WILLIAM SHIRLEY (1816-1874)
BURNAND, FRANCIS COWLEY (1836-1917)
CARTOONS
COLUMNS
CRUIKSHANK, GEORGE (1792-1878)
DOYLE, RICHARD (1824-1883)
DU MAURIER, GEORGE (1834-1896)
EDITOR
FIGARO IN LONDON (1831-1839)
HONE, WILLIAM (1779-1842)
HOOD, THOMAS (1799–1845); HOOD, TOM (1835–1874)
ILLUSTRATION
JERROLD, DOUGLAS WILLIAM (1803-1857)
LANDELLS, EBENEZER (1808-1860)
LANG, ANDREW (1844-1912)
LEECH, JOHN (1817-1864)
LEMON, MARK (1809-1870)
MAYHEW, HENRY (1812-1887)
PAMPHLETS
POLITICS AND THE PRESS
PRICE AND COVER PRICE
SALA, GEORGE AUGUSTUS (1828-1895)
SAMBOURNE, EDWARD LINLEY (1844-1910)
SATIRICAL MAGAZINES
SEYMOUR, ROBERT (1798-1836)
SIZE AND FORMAT
STEREOTYPES
SUPPLEMENTS
SWAIN, JOSEPH (1820-1909)
TAYLOR, TOM (1817-1880)
TENNIEL, JOHN (1820-1914)
THACKERAY, WILLIAM MAKEPEACE (1811-1863)
WEEKLIES
WOOD ENGRAVINGS AND WOODCUTS
Themes: Almanacs and diaries
Bohemians
Comic drawing
Comic papers
Sales techniques
Satirical journalism


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