Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Ackerman’s Repository of Arts

In an earlier blog I described how Susanna Clarke uses prints in Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, her fantasy about Regency England (1810-20). In that book, she describes how a London socialite, Mr. Drawlight, takes a new resident to the city, Mr. Norrell, out to show him the latest fashion for decorating his new residence.
Mr. Drawlight ordered Mr. Norrell's carriage to be got ready and directed Davey to take him and Mr. Norrell straight to Mr. Ackermann's shop in the Strand. There Mr. Drawlight shewed Mr. Norrell a book which contained a picture by Mr. Repton ….

Mr. 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 Lankensperger’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.
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. Ackerman 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.

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.


  1. On the wall in Calke Abbey, Leicestershire I saw a pair of prints signed 'R. Ackerman'. In the first, called 'Waddling In' a fat man enters the Stock Exchange with high hopes showing in his appearance, below it the inevitable corollary, 'Waddling Out', showing him leaving with his pockets empty. I would like to own copies - does any one know where to find them?

  2. We have been left 4 Ackerman prints :"Steeple Chase Scraps" original. Are they worth anything?

  3. Very nice article, thanks!!

  4. I have a series no 4 by R Acermann's print of Westminster Abby. Is it worth anything? Sincerely Nicole. Ndinsmore1028@yahoo.com

  5. I am in possession of two prints from R Ackermann published in Jan 1. 1817, one of Maid Servant washing the pavement & second is Woman of North Holland.with 101 Strand at the end. Are these worth anything currently? Can someone get back to me please. Thank you in advance.

  6. Hello! I have a large wall hanging print from R. Ackermann published Jan 1825. North View of the Thames. Is it worth anything? Can someone get back to me please? lesalo78@gmail.com