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Rudolph Ackermann and his Repository of Arts

Ruldoph Ackermann

Ruldoph AckermannMr. Ackermann’s shop in the Strand was the famous Repository of Arts, a print and picture emporium founded in 1796 by Rudolph Ackermann (1764-1834). Ackermann was born in Saxony and apprenticed to his father as a coach-builder. He designed coaches and carriages, working for famous Paris carriage maker Antoine Carassi before moving to London about 1784. He continued to make designs for British coach-builders and probably in the process became interested in the making of prints (for the coach designs).

In 1795 he married and set up a print shop at 96 Strand and a year later took over a drawing school previously established by William Shipley (which lasted until 1806) at 101 Strand. Thus began the Ackermann print business which lasted over two hundred years. (As an interesting side note, in 1817 Rudolph Ackerman took out the British patent for German coach-builder Georg Lankenspergerâ’s steering system design. This system became known as the Ackermann system, though Rudolph had nothing to do with its design other than to get the patent).

In 1797, Ackermann moved his shop to the premises at 101 Strand, which he named as ‘The Repository of Arts” the following year. In 1827, Ackermann moved to 96 Strand, In this shop he sold not only prints and illustrated books, but also paper, art supplies (some manufactured by Ackermann himself), old master paintings, miniatures, and many other decorative items.

Ackermann's Repository of Arts and Literature
Ackermann's Repository of Arts and Literature

The Repository of Art became a most fashionable place for the upper classes of London to visit. You could browse through the books and prints to learn about the latest designs for clothing or interiors, tea and lectures were offered, and you could be seen to be sophisticated in your taste. Ackermann kept his shop absolutely elegant and up-to-date (his was one of the first businesses in the country to be illuminated by gas). The shop remained as a popular spot until it closed in 1856.

Ackermann was not only a printseller, but he early on moved into publishing both separate prints and illustrated books. In 1808 to 1810 he published the first of his sumptuous plate books, the Microcosm of London, filled with lovely hand-colored aquatints. This work established his reputation as a publisher of books and it was followed later by much more similar books such as the History of the University of Oxford and the Rural Residences. Ackermann also published less elaborate illustrated books such as design books, illustrated manuals, and in 1823 he introduced the popular gift annuals with his Forget-me-not.

Ackerman Plate

Besides his plate books, Ackermann was best known for the periodical he started in 1809, The Repository of Arts, Literature, Commerce, Manufactures, Fashion and Politics. This monthly magazine, which lasted until 1828, included articles and illustrations of all sorts, especially on fashion, social and literary news. Fashion plates were included in every issue, and some also included patterns and fabric samples. The magazine became eagerly anticipated by society women and had a huge influence on the fashion of the day. By the end of its run, Ackermann had published almost 1,500 hand-colored plates in the Repository, and there is no better visual source as to the nature of Regency society than these wonderful prints.

In addition to books, Ackermann published decorative hand-colored prints, including many political and social caricatures by and after Thomas Rowlandson. In 1818, Ackermann traveled to Germany to meet Alois Senefelder, the inventor of lithography, the following year published an English translation of Senefelder’s treatise and so introducing the process to the Britain.

Ackermann’s business kept growing, by the the late 1820 opening outlets in Central and South America. Ackermann’s descendants stayed in the print business until the late twentieth century when the firm was finally closed after about two centuries of print making and selling.


Christopher W. Lane is co-owner of The Philadelphia Print Shop, Ltd., which he founded along with Donald H. Cresswell in 1982. Besides buying and selling, Chris researches, lectures and writes extensively on old prints and maps. He has written numerous articles that have appeared in journals and books, as well as a series of booklets on print and map collecting. Chris has also authored Prints of Philadelphia (1990 with D.H. Cresswell), Impressions of Niagara (1993) and Panorama of Pittsburgh (2008), and has curated several print exhibitions. In 1991, Chris was on the ‘panel of experts’ for the American Historical Print Collectors Society’s project of the New Best 50 Currier & Ives prints. Beginning in 1997, Chris has appeared, along with his partner, as the regular print and map appraisers for public television’s Antiques Roadshow. This article first appeared on his Antique Prints blog, and is reprinted here with permission.

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The Lady’s Drawing Table

 

Elinor sat down to her lady’s drawing table as soon as he was out of the house, busily employed herself the whole day, neither sought nor avoided the mention of his name, appeared to interest herself almost as much as ever in the general concerns of the family; and if, by this conduct, she did not lessen her own grief, it was at least prevented from unnecessary increase, and her mother and sisters were spared much solicitude on her account.
-Sense and Sensibility

Fashionable Furniture from The Repository of Arts by Rudolph Ackermann, February, 1814

The very elegant and tasteful article represented in the annexed engraving, is intended to serve the double purpose of usefulness and pleasure. In the first, it is convenient as a breakfast or as a sofa-table; it also forms a convenient writing or drawing-table, with drawers for paper, colours, pencil, &c. For the second, a sliding board for the games of chess, drafts, backgammon, &c. which slides under the desk. It is very light, goes upon castors, and is particularly pleasant to sit before, as there is sufficient accommodation for the knees by its projecting top.

The chair is contrived for study or repose. Its sweeping form is calculated to afford rest to the invalid; and the arms are sufficiently low to allow it to be used at the writing or reading-desk. It is lighter than its form would indicate, and it is easily moved, being placed upon traversing castors.