The Pocket Magazine: an introduction

Turner made sixteen watercolours for ‘The Pocket Magazine, or Elegant Repository of Useful and Entertaining Literature’, published by Harrison & Co of Paternoster Row, London in monthly parts, from no.1 for August 1794. The monthly parts were published in arrears, so that for August appeared in September, and so on.

Pocket Magazine, No.1, August 1794
Photograph by David Hill

A copy of Vol.1, August-December 1794 runs to 360 pages of miscellaneous content. Each month’s issue was prefaced by a portrait engraving, and some numbers featured an additional engraving of a landscape subject.  Publication continued through monthly numbers to no. XXIX. December 1796. The BL has a copy, and there are others elsewhere, also available online.

Turner’s first subject appeared in no.5, for December 1794, issued in January 1795, and the plate bears the date of 1 January 1795. A further fifteen plates after Turner followed throughout the remaining volumes. Only three of the original watercolours, out of a total of sixteen are known at the time of writing (2020), Each measures about 2 3/4 x 4 1/2 ins, the same size as the published engravings.

Wilton 1979 lists the watercolours as nos. 103-118. Rawlinson vol.1, 1908 lists the engravings as nos.16-31. No-one, however has studied the group as a whole, nor in the context of the publication in which the engravings appeared, nor in relation to the contemporary engraved series to which Turner also contributed, The Copper-Plate Magazine.

Harrison & Co also published The Copper-Plate Magazine. This was started in 1792, and was well into its second volume by the time that the Pocket Magazine was started. The Copper-Plate Magazine was a series of engravings accompanied by some letterpress. Its quality is commensurate with a relatively broad market position, but in aesthetic terms the engravings in the Pocket Magazine are several rungs below that. Instead The Pocket Magazine is entirely prose-led, published in small 12mo format, in which the engravings are an incidental embellishment.  It is perhaps significant that Harrison withdrew from the Copper-Plate Magazine project in December 1794, presumably to concentrate on his own projects such as this.

The watercolours are more-or-less the same size as the published engravings. They appear to relate to sketches made in 1794, but where pencil sketches can be related to the engraved subjects, it is striking that the sketches often appear to be superior. Rawlinson knew only one of the finished watercolours, that of Bristol, which was already at Bristol Museum, and observes that the engraving fell well short of the qualities of Turner’s delicate paintwork.

The plates appeared under at least two different contemporary titles. The British Library has a copy of ‘The Lady’s new and Elegant Pocket Magazine; or polite and entertaining companion for the fair sex’ vol. 1, 1795 and the British Museum, Prints and Drawings (1936,1202.11.1-12) has ‘”The Pocket Print Magazine or Select Views of Cities, Sea-Ports, Towns and Villages in England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. With Descriptions.” “London: Printed for Harrison & Co. No. 18, Paternoster Row.” and “Girtin sculp.”, dated by the catalogue 1795, and with contents as follows:

1. A view of Oxford with two scholars in conversation

2. A view of Cambridge with cows standing in a water meadow and scholars playing cricket

3. A view of Northampton with carriages in the streets

4. A view of Flint with boats drawn up on the shore

5. A view of Worcester with boats on the water and fishermen on the shore

6. A view of Bath with a genteel family taking a stroll

7. A view of Swansea with ships on the water and a barge ferrying men and horses to shore

8. A view of Tunbridge with a carriage crossing a bridge

9. A view of Guildford with boats on the water and men gathered around a brazier on shore

10. A view of Neath with watermen drawing a boat up onto the shore

11. A view of Windsor with boats and barges on the water

12. A view of Staines with boats on the water and a carriage on the bridge

Rawlinson 1908 vol.1 does not explore how the various Pocket Magazine titles were connected. Perhaps they were parallel, but independent publications, aimed at different niches, but sharing the same plates. The present listing follows the date order of subjects as they appeared in The Pocket Magazine.

The plates were reprinted in 1804 by Lackington and Allen, Londonin under the title of ‘England Delineated’. That collection comprises of one hundred and forty-eight plates, plus engraved title pages, in two volumes. I have not attempted a concordance of Pocket Magazine impressions with those from other editions, but Rawlinson 1980 p.8 says that the plates were ‘wrecks’ by the time they appeared in 1804.

DH, July 2020

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