Essay About The Great Exhibition Of 1891

Fig. 1: Illustrated London News, May 31, 1851. 501.

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1‘this sheet was printed in the great exhibition’. This small notice appears centred at the bottom of the penultimate page of the 31 May 1851 issue of the Illustrated London News’s (ILN) weekly supplement to the Great Exhibition (‘Applegath’s Vertical Printing Machine’, 501). On the page’s reverse side appears a large image of the machine that actually printed it. Housed in the Great Exhibition’s machinery court, ‘The Illustrated London News Printing Machine’ was a working exhibit of a custom-built Applegath vertical printing press, churning out sheets for the delight of visitors to the Crystal Palace as well as for the consumption of readers of the ILN’s supplements (502). This single leaf of paper hints at the fascinating recursiveness of its relation to the Great Exhibition, as the ILN exhibited itself exhibiting within a supplement to the exhibition that, considering its printed origins, became a material souvenir of the mechanical processes on display.

2Running for the duration of the show, the press at the exhibition was a huge success: it won a juried prize for the ILN’s founder Herbert Ingram and earned admiration from visitors, including Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. As part of the Machines in Motion exhibit, the machine focused people’s attention on printing as an industrial process whose innovations newspapers and periodicals were continuing to drive. The ILN’s article accompanying its illustration celebrates the inventors and the ‘wonderful agent steam’ before explaining how the machine functions (‘Applegath’s Vertical Printing Machine’ 501). But the printed object itself—as declared by that small footnote on the same page—tells other stories about changes at mid-century, specifically about the materiality of periodicals, their complex production, and their representational claims. The sheet, then, is an artefact born at the intersection of the ILN’s own competing claims about what made it unique, including its industrial origins, temporality, reprographic fidelity, and material accessibility. As scholars continue to theorize the complexities of the Victorian periodical, this sheet offers a useful challenge in trying to synthesize its manifold dimensions.

3What is more, the sheet is imprinted with the ambitions and ambiguities of the exhibition itself. As an ‘unofficial forum on the meanings of modernity’, the Great Exhibition captured Victorian attentions and continues to attract scholarly interest (Buzard, Childers, and Gillooly 1). A recent wave of criticism on the Great Exhibition has challenged its monumentality in favour of the ambiguities and contradictions it enshrined (Hoffenberg; Armstrong; Young). Even so, there has been little consideration of the exhibition’s implications for print, texts, and their materiality. The exhibition’s prolific printed output is primarily used for thematic evidence or otherwise subsumed as an aspect of its commodified phantasmagoria. And for good reason: the manufacture of printed and paper things was on show like everything else, subject to the discursive refractions of simply being on display.1 But there is much more to say about how the exhibition shows off the textuality of Victorian things or the thingliness of Victorian texts. This essay offers the ILN’s supplement sheet as such a specimen of complex changes in the ontologies of industrially printed things. Within these sheets, the ILN engineers its own curious hybridity—an entity claiming the uneasy simultaneity of text, image, object, and virtual experience.

Newspapers and the Industrialization of Print

4The appearance of the ILN’s printing machine within the Great Exhibition was a grand act of self-promotion. Yet ironically, other periodicals and exhibition catalogues explained that this machine represented those used at the London Times: ‘A printing machine, on the vertical principle, as used at the “Times” office’, as the Official Descriptive and Illustrated Catalogue describes it (Ellis 280).2 While larger versions of Applegath machines were indeed then used in Printing House Square, the press and public would have already associated the Times with the industrialization of printing in general, following the Times’s epochal move to steam-powered printing machines on 29 November 1814. Even the ILN’s first article about its own steam printing machines on 3 December 1843 noted how the paper had waited to explain its production system until the anniversary of the Times’s ‘first introduction of printing by steam’ (‘“The Illustrated London News” Steam Printing Machines’ 364, original emphasis). In 1814, the lead editorial of the Times’s first steam-printed issue declared its mechanization ‘the greatest improvement connected with printing, since the discovery of the art itself’ (‘Our Journal of This Day’ 3). The brief column then rhapsodizes about this ‘system of machinery almost organic’ that was now printing sheets at speeds up to 1800 impressions an hour (3). The writer downplays human labour, suggesting that people merely supply the machine with paper, and then marvels at the steam press as ‘unconscious agent’ at work (3).3 The editorial resounds with the mystification of industrial processes and the rhetoric of revolution whose agents were inventors and their machines. The Times may have needed to publicize the process, because the ‘practical result’ of the physical newspaper was not distinct from that of the day before, except in terms of how many and how quickly such objects could be produced and precisely who—or what—produced them.

5Just as Gutenberg’s impact owes less to the hand press than to the moveable type within it, the crucial mechanical advantage of industrialized printing did not, perhaps, lie as much in steam power as in cylindrical movement. A printing cylinder changes a reciprocating (i.e., back and forth) motion into a rotary (single direction, following a curve) movement. Rotary movement eliminates the inefficient step of coming back to a starting position. The Koenig machine used in 1814 by the Times was still primarily a reciprocating machine. Compositors set type into large forms that lay flat on the bed of the machine. These flat type forms reciprocated back and forth under the cylinders, which would roll the type with ink and then roll the paper over it. The machine could only print one side of the paper at a time; thus, a fully printed newssheet required two passes, front and back, over different type forms in the press. A ‘perfecting’ press could print both sides during a single pass through its machine. Though perfecting machines were already available—Friedrich Koenig acquired a patent for one as early as 1814—they did not become feasible for the scale and speed of newspaper printing until much later.4

6While the Koenig machine accelerated printing speeds, these were still limited by the back-and-forth motion of the type bed and the necessity of printing single sides.5 The century’s major developments in industrial printing—including what the ILN was exhibiting in 1851—were marked by engineering solutions to both of these problems, driven by the needs of newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic. Of course, this trajectory of industrialized printing does not neatly follow a chronological history but offers more of a heuristic one. In an engineering sense, however, the next logical step was the ‘rotary press’, which makes the type cylindrical just like the paper. The rotary press eliminates the type’s reciprocating motion, allowing it to print continuously on its own cylinder. Early instances of these presses included large ‘type-revolving’ machines (including Richard March Hoe’s and soon also Augustus Applegath’s at the exhibition) that held composed type around a wide metal drum, locking it hard into upright vertical columns so the sorts (or pieces of type) would not fly out from the centripetal force of the cylinder’s turning. Each column of type was not actually curved; instead, that curve was approximated. A page of the ILN, for example, would be set in three adjacent columns, each column separated by a V-shaped wedge that slightly angled the flat columns away from each other. The revolving drum’s large diameter meant that, collectively, the type columns effectively printed as round, even with their polygonal shape. In America, these drums were called ‘turtles’, because the flat columns arranged around the drum mimicked the facets of a turtle’s shell (Hutt 45–46). What visitors to the exhibition saw—and what the ILN depicted in its 31 May issue—was an Applegath type-revolving machine at work (fig. 2). It was a ‘four feeder’, meaning that the type drum could impress four different sheets of paper at a time. Only two of the machine’s four stations are visible in the ILN’s image. Each station had two workers (often boys): a ‘layer on’ at the top feeding the paper to the machine; and a ‘taker off’ seated below, removing and stacking the printed sheets after they had turned around their own cylinders in contact with the type drum.

Fig. 2: Four-feeder Applegath type revolving press at the Great Exhibition. Illustrated London News. 31 May 1851: 502.

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7Type-revolving machines would become more efficient by orienting the type drum horizontally rather than vertically. Press boys and pressmen could supply paper from up to ten different feeding stations on these enormous machines, at which point sheet feeding reached its operational limit. Newspapers would later adopt web-fed paper which meant that presses could be supplied by continuous rolls, but the obstacle here was political rather than technical, considering the British stamp tax on individual sheets of newsprint.6 Until that tax was abolished, sheet-fed presses were restricted to the speeds at which human workers could supply them (Moran 175). The repeal of the paper duty in 1861 pushed newspaper proprietors to invest in the next milestone for efficiency in commercial printing: the web-fed rotary perfecting press. The ‘stereotyping’ process allowed the creation of truly curved type drums, though it only became feasible with French papier-mâché processes in the 1860s. To create a curved stereotype plate, the original flat type form was overlaid with a flexible modelling material known as flong. The flong took the impression of the type and was then removed and shaped into the appropriate curve. This material then served as a mould to cast type metal into a curved plate, ready to be mounted on a printing cylinder.7 With the late-century adoption of lithographic techniques instead of stereotyped plates, industrial printing evolved the ‘offset’ processes that are still used commercially today. In one respect, the story of the industrialization of printing can largely be told as a history of the Victorian newspaper.

Printing the Mass Image

8The ILN’s printing machine thus represents a transitional moment in this technological history. It received far more attention than a more technically advanced machine nearby: a web-fed perfecting press credited to Thomas Nelson of Edinburgh that was intended, instead, for book printing (Moran 181). Visitors to the ILN’s machine at the Great Exhibition watched four sheets being vertically printed on a single side, then stacked for another pass through a press. But those sheets would actually require a different machine, not even on the premises, to print their reverse. Ironically, visitors to the Illustrated London News Printing Machine would watch it printing full sheets of mostly text. Because each column on the type drum gently angled away from the next, they could not hold the page-spanning images that had made the ILN’s fame. The illustrated pages—including the front page with the ILN’s familiar masthead—required large wood-engraved blocks, necessarily flat and often spanning several columns of the type form.8 These pages were printed instead at the ILN’s offices in the Strand. The single leaf of paper with pages 501–02 of the ILN’s 31 May supplement testifies to being printed in two separate places: at the bottom of page 501 appears ‘this sheet was printed in the great exhibition’; at the end of page 502, appear the ILN’s familiar credits: ‘London: Printed & Published at its Office, 198 Strand’ et cetera. The recto side printed in the exhibition (501) contains three columns of solid text. The verso side printed in the ILN’s Strand offices (502) features a full-page depiction of the exhibition printing machine—a machine not capable of printing this large image depicting it.

9Taking a bird’s-eye view of an entire issue helps to show the patterns of text and image that characterized the ILN’s hybrid production (fig. 3). Browsing an issue’s sixteen pages, a reader would encounter any two-page spread as an opening that was mostly text- or mostly image-based. Appearing to favour either text or images, these openings alternated, creating the signature rhythm of the ILN’s modalities as the reader flips through an issue. To see how this rhythm results from the ILN’s production process, figure three reconstructs the full sheets as they would have been printed on each side, according to a simple imposition scheme for octavo printing. Each large full sheet of paper, measuring at least thirty-two by forty-eight inches, would include eight pages per side, arranged so that the entire sheet could be folded into the appropriate numerical sequence.9 In the case of the ILN around the year 1851, one side would include eight pages of mostly text, printed by an Applegath vertical type revolver; and the other side would include eight pages containing larger-format images printed on a slower reciprocating press (fig. 4).10 Once printed on both sides, the sheet would be folded and its top folds and opening side folds cut or trimmed to produce a single issue.11

Fig. 3: Exhibition supplement to the Illustrated London News. 30 May 1851

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Fig. 4: Photoshop reconstruction of printed full sheets, according to an octavo imposition layout, of the Exhibition supplement to the ILN, 30 May 1851

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10Glancing at either of the figures above suggests that even ‘mostly text’ pages could still be modestly illustrated in one of two ways. First, if an image was only one column wide, the engraved woodblock could simply be locked up with the single text column that already laid flat on the revolving drum. Second, if an illustration spanned more than one column, the ILN could use curved woodblocks on the type drum. As it had explained previously about the printing machine, ‘The wood, instead of having a flat surface, is curved to the same extent as that of the type, and the artist is required to arrange the lines of his drawing accordingly’ (‘Machinery’ 365). The lower frequency of these illustrations suggests their level of difficulty. These woodblocks presented the artist and the printer with unique challenges, not just in the representations but also in their inking and printed impressions on paper. Because Applegath’s polyhedral type drums did not perfectly meet the impressing cylinder, printers frequently had to make adjustments to ensure even inking. This process, called ‘make ready’, usually involved layering slips or sheets of paper either under the paper or the relief-printing surface to adjust its height and pressure against the paper.12 ‘Underlay’ or ‘overlay’ also allowed printers to adjust shading and tone in images. But these adjustments are less easily made with the upright type forms of the Applegath press. They were an important phase of the ILN’s elaborate manipulation of images from initial sketch to final impression. Printing an image required a collaborative artistic and technical craftsmanship from drafting to engraving and finally to manipulation while on the press.

11These industrial printing processes attempted to harmonize what the ILN saw as its own competing impulses: to offer images of unmatched reprographic fidelity and interest and to deliver an illustrated newspaper on a weekly basis at an unprecedented scale. In a manner of speaking, the supplement sheet shows the ILN’s split personality, as pages 501–02 implicitly testify to competing arguments about what makes the periodical unique: its speed and timeliness, as expressed by the Applegath-printed text side; and its illustrations, as depicted on the other. In the accompanying article, the ILN confesses these internal conflicts: ‘between the desire of delineating the most recent objects of public interest, and that of producing them in large quantities, and at the same time in the most artistic style, a kind of antagonism has existed, which has only been neutralized by the most intense exertions on the part of all concerned’ (‘Applegath’s Vertical Printing Machine’ 501). The phrase ‘intense exertions’ offers a pretty vague answer to what was, perhaps, the illustrated periodical’s defining antagonism.13 Charles Knight, the proprietor of the Penny Magazine, which was the first successful periodical to integrate woodblock engraving with industrial printing processes, was deeply sceptical about the ILN’s ambitions to be an illustrated newspaper: ‘How, I thought, could artists and journalists so work concurrently that the news and the appropriate illustration should both be fresh? How could such things be managed with any approach to fidelity of representation unless all the essential characteristics of a newspaper were sacrificed in the attempt to render it pictorial?’ (qtd. in Jackson 281). As Knight admitted, the ILN would prove him wrong, though tellingly it would constantly have to assure its readers of its own successes.

12In introducing the Applegath machine at the exhibition, the ILN tried to define the antagonism between news and artistry in a different way: not by making peace between aesthetic and corporate interests, but by working hard to insure reprographic fidelity throughout ‘the task we have weekly to perform—of conveying the most recent intelligence by a real representation’ (‘Applegath’s Vertical Printing Machine’ 501, original emphasis). In other words, the ILN displaced the problem of mimesis into the spectacle of its industrialized process. John Ruskin would later criticize periodicals like the ILN for making illustrations that were not art but slavish manufacture. As Andrea Korda suggests, the ILN’s aesthetics of ‘mechanized objectivity’ and its subdivided processes of illustration—divvying the work between sketch artists, draftsmen, engravers, inkers, printers, et cetera—perfectly illustrate Ruskin’s notion of industrial ‘sinisterity’ in contrast to the ‘dexterity’ of the manual craftsman (52). In one respect, these critiques miss the point: the ILN wanted to manufacture art. Its claims for the representational integrity of its images depended on those very industrial processes as much as any aesthetic expressiveness.

13I would argue that we misunderstand the ILN’s illustrations only in representational terms. Instead, they signalled to Victorians a relation to industrial objects as much as a visual sign.14 Certainly from its inaugural issue, the ILN had made bold statements about the mimetic force of its illustrations, representing ‘the very form and presence of events as they transpire, in all their substantial reality’ (‘Our Address’ 1). But the supplement sheet shows (and illustrates) how that ‘reality’ depended on the material transactions of its processes. In 1851, with its machine on display at the exhibition, the ILN placed emphasis not on its images but on the ingenious mechanisms that helped the newspaper address its public with timely and ‘real’ representations. Ironically, on this great stage the ILN was not displaying its signature processes of illustration at all. Mason Jackson—an art editor for the ILN—later described the exhibited machine in his history of the pictorial press: ‘at this time the paper was distinguished by the number and excellence of its illustrations, and the “London News” printing-machine was one of the attractions of the “World’s Fair”’ (303). Put more bluntly, while the ILN was renowned for its illustrations, it exhibited its machine for printing text.

14The ILN’s ‘distinguished’ illustrations derive, of course, from engraving on the end-grain of woodblocks, which had been pioneered by Thomas Bewick in the late eighteenth century, developed bythe Penny Magazine among others in the 1830s, and was loudly trumpeted with the ILN’s launch in 1842. Not only did woodblock engraving allow for greater detail and fidelity in images but they also enabled the industrialization of printed images because of their material durability.15 Contrasted with a steel engraving, woodblocks could withstand hundreds of thousands of impressions and could likewise be locked alongside type into forms. Combined with the scale and distribution of nineteenth-century periodicals, woodblock engraving made possible ‘the mass image’, in Gerry Beegan’s terms, and was imbricated with other emerging forms of visual media including the photograph and halftone. In the periodical press, woodblock illustrations would complicate the categories of journalism, art, sensation, and even virtual experience, as scholarship on the ILN and the Graphic has suggested (Brake and Demoor; Korda; Brimacombe; Sinnema). So why, then, would the ILN not trundle out these processes for all to admire in the Crystal Palace? Why did it risk leaving reporters and visitors, including the queen herself, with the lasting impression of industrial printing more readily associated with another newspaper? As Victoria wrote in her diary after her visit to the machinery court, she was impressed most by the process itself: ‘What was particularly interesting was a printing machine on the vertical principle, by which numbers of sheets are printed, dried, & everything done in a second’ (Victoria 291). Did the ILN bungle one of its greatest marketing opportunities?

The Hybrid Page and Virtual Periodical

15The answer, I suggest, lies with the changing ontologies of industrially printed things, which the Great Exhibition did much to foreground. The supplement sheet affords a glimpse at not just the pictured page, but a hybrid page, one whose material and representational status were explicitly linked. The ILN claimed to convey ‘the most recent intelligence by a real representation’ (‘Applegath’s Vertical Printing Machine’ 501, original emphasis). This does not necessarily mean that the ILN offered visual facsimiles or photorealistic illustrations.16 Instead, the ILN offered the guarantee of its process that the reader experienced not simply by viewing the illustrations and/or reading the news but in encountering the printed object. The Illustrated London News Printing Machine risked the ILN’s ‘brand’ as an illustrated newspaper to emphasize how it could generate printed things at industrial speed. In a way, it implicitly answered Knight’s abiding doubts about the timeliness of illustrated periodicals. The accompanying article assures the reader that its illustrations maintain an indexical link to what they represent and that those links are forged by the efficiency of its workflow: ‘The object to be artistically represented, at whatever distance from the printing-office, must be seen by the artist, and must then be rapidly, as well as faithfully, transferred to the wooden block to be engraved, and which, by an ingenious division of labour, is accomplished in an inconceivably short space of time’ (‘Applegath’s Vertical Printing Machine’ 501, original emphasis). The link between an object and its representation is at once visual (it must be seen) and manufactory (it must be transferred). The sketch artist stands at one endpoint of a long production chain, ingeniously subdivided and accomplished inconceivably quickly. The ILN did not merely produce timely illustrations in a journalistic sense; rather, it produced illustrations via the amazingly rapid production of industrially printed objects.

16Though the article declares all this in its prose, the note at the bottom of page 501 suggests how this mimetic transfer depends on the printed object. There is no reference in the article to this note.17 Instead, the note stands alone and functions graphically: ‘this sheet was printed in the great exhibition’. If the article tries to guarantee the integrity of the ILN’s illustrations with their production process, this note offers the reverse image, as it were: graphic evidence of that rapid process that a reader can see. The phrase is a text-image that uses and reinforces the reprographic logic of the ILN’s images elsewhere. It cues the reader to shift epistemologies from translating the text’s linguistic codes to seeing the page as a bibliographic object and, at yet another remove, to handling a physical artefact of the manufacture celebrated at the Great Exhibition. It invokes multiple categories of uses, such as those that Leah Price identifies for books—reading, handling, and circulating—as books function as things (5–6). Beyond even these functions, it also involves visual and material properties: to use Johanna Drucker’s terms, the note stands as a ‘written image’ and also as the ‘material word’ (55–57).18 Even the woodcut illustration of the press on page 502 lacks this bit of paratext’s material power to summon the printed object’s industrial traverse. ‘this sheet was printed in the great exhibition’ provides a material link to the ILN’s production process that also undergirds its representational claims.

17In this way, the supplement sheet urges a more materialist understanding of what scholars have called the ‘hybrid’ form of Victorian periodicals. Sinnema has identified the ‘defining feature’ of the ILN as its ‘inexhaustible capacity to blend and incorporate’ contradictory discourses (11). He references Keith Williams to explain the illustrated periodical as a ‘hybrid’, employing ‘enigmatic combinations of various forms and genres’ (Sinnema 11; Williams 79). Beegan uses the term ‘hybrid image’ to explain the interesting dynamics of hand-engraved and photo-mechanical processes in the illustrated press (7). But the ILN’s supplement sheet recalls the dimensions of thingliness for which these discursive modes do not account.19 Sinnema speaks of an awareness of the ILN’s materiality, but for him this materiality primarily expresses ‘the logic of the commodity’ (40).20 The material circumstances of the ILN require an approach beyond that logic, too, an approach actually modelled by recent scholarship on the Great Exhibition—that ‘epic face-off between thing and commodity culture’, as Elaine Freedgood describes it (143). While Isobel Armstrong considers more than just the Crystal Palace, Victorian Glassworlds (2008)demonstrates the fascinating representational, philosophical, and material ambiguities summoned by glass as medium and object. In considering the thingly dimensions of glass as a medium, Armstrong, like Freedgood, urges thinking about materiality beyond commodification and even, by extension, thinking about material texts beyond book history. Texts are not only objects but things, lying ‘beyond the grid of intelligibility’ (Brown 5). As the 31 May supplement sheet fluctuates between gestalts for knowing it, the intelligible object flickers into thingliness, requiring approaches to understanding it beyond its functions. It calls us to enter what Freedgood calls ‘Victorian “thing culture”: a more extravagant form of object relations than ours, one in which systems of value were not quarantined from one another’ (8). In its own context, the supplement sheet calls for a more robust notion of periodical hybridity that acknowledges its thingliness and accounts for its entangled technological, material, and formal features.

18The supplement sheet does not simply express contradictions but materially embodies them. It is a flipped coin spinning in the air: a thickness of paper but also two separate sides, a text printed in two different places, evidence of the industrial processes it supplements, and a set of competing modalities about ‘real representation’ that shift with each turn of the page. Appearing within the ILN’s Supplement to the Great Exhibition, the marked sheet both supplements the experiences of industrial processes on display while simultaneously pointing beyond itself, a dynamic of supplementarity that Jacques Derrida has thoroughly elucidated (Mussell 8). Visitors to the machinery court could not acquire on site the finished, folded supplement that they saw being printed in speed. Readers of the ILN’s supplement handled the object printed by the high-speed machine that they only saw depicted at a standstill. Like the supplement sheet, the ILN at the Great Exhibition was both there and not there, its rattling machine a ghost for the Times, churning out text sheets half-printed by presses across town. The ILN’s special illustrated header for these supplements exchanged the familiar London skyline with the transept of the Crystal Palace’s iron girders. Spanning the width of the first page, the ‘Exhibition Supplement’ header welcomes the viewer inside the otherwise empty structure. The header, of course, could only have been printed in the Strand.

19The supplement sheet represents a mere fraction of the ILN’s extensive coverage of the exhibition during 1850–51, which encompassed a huge number of pages and special supplements. In them, the ILN covered nearly every stage of the exhibition’s planning and execution with designs, diagrams, editorials, narratives from special correspondents, catalogues of thousands of artefacts, and special fold-out illustrations.21 During 1851, the ILN’s exhibition materials swelled even to the exclusion of some of the paper’s typical contents (Sinnema 47). Its sales, already running around 70,000–100,000 copies in 1850, would reach 200,000 for its issue on the Great Exhibition’s opening day. The Applegath machine on display helped the supply and the demand: ‘while it will enable the proprietors to facilitate the Saturday morning early delivery, [it] will also gratify the millions of enquiring visitors to the Great Exhibition’ (‘Applegath’s Vertical Printing Machine’ 501). The extent of the ILN’s coverage also meant its own increased need for illustrations to publish. As Beegan points out, the Great Exhibition marks a turning point for ‘the wood-engraving trade [, which] began to rapidly expand in order to supply the new image economy . . . [E]ngravers had to change their methods of training and image making; by switching to facsimile, firms could turn out images faster’ (57). In facsimile illustration, engravers would follow by rote the sketches provided to them, rather than artfully adapting them for optimal letterpress printing. Photographs were also exposed on woodblocks for engravers to trace in facsimile. Thus, while the Great Exhibition featured a spectacle of industrialized printing, it also pushed the illustration business even further towards a manufactory logic, which, as Beegan and Korda document, would significantly change the mimetic properties of the wood-engraved image.

20Ultimately, the ILN not only capitalized on the opportunities of 1851 but in some ways also aspired to supplement the exhibition itself, offering readers an experience of its own phenomenal and voluminous catalogue of things generated by the manufacture of illustration and periodical text. In different terms, the ILN offered its readers a virtual experience of the exhibition. By that phrase, I mean not only an advanced simulation through the periodical’s visual media but also an experience that accommodated the shifting ontological status of the ILN itself. In the recent collection Virtual Victorians (2015), Alison Chapman has claimed that ‘serial, ephemeral, popular periodicals are . . . arguably the most virtual of Victorian print media, contingent on materiality and immateriality’ (147). Importantly, Chapman uses the term ‘virtual’ less to invoke visual simulation than to sustain the contradictions within other dimensions of periodical experience. These include the contingencies of material and immaterial phenomena that constitute the periodical as print object and genre. Its readers are immersed in periodical time, a ‘hypertemporality . . . that is date-stamped and yet cyclical’, an encounter of simultaneous ephemerality and permanence (146). Chapman’s theory of periodical virtuality allows us to compass periodicals as textual objects, discursive forms, and phenomenal encounters at once. Thus, if the ILN’s supplement sheet is a hybrid page, it also supports the virtual experience of the periodical, summoning a set of object relations and representational claims blended in Victorians’ experience of the ILN. Beyond offering print tourism of the exhibition, facilitated by its rich illustrations, the ILN becomes virtual by offering an immersive experience of the contingencies of its own industrial production. As this essay has argued, that process, rather than any self-evidence of its illustrations, guarantees the ILN’s claims to offer ‘substantial reality’.22

21Encountered in the present, ‘this sheet was printed in the great exhibition’ offers more than the archival frisson of handling a Victorian periodical on paper. It transmutes the page into a historical artefact, distant evidence of the industrial spectacle that so captured Victorian attentions at mid-century. The note recovers the periodical’s material life as an object, almost like a uniquely signed copy of a book, except for its contradictory testimony that the sheet was both uniquely and massively produced.23 Along with the many other such sheets the ILN printed in the Great Exhibition, this one oscillates between the singular and general, among the many such oscillations that characterize this sheet as a hybrid thing. An expression of the changing ontologies of industrially printed things, it is also evidence of the curious virtuality of Victorian periodicals that, ironically, greater attention to their object status can help to reveal.

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A Moment In History – The Great Exhibition of 1891

The Great Exhibition Hall was made of glass and wood in the Moorish architectural style. It was built on lands now occupied by the Wolmer’s schools.

The Great Exhibition was the dream of AC Sinclair, one of the compilers of the annual Handbooks of Jamaica. Sinclair was inspired by the 1851 Great Exhibition at London’s Crystal Palace and spent many years trying unsuccessfully to drum up support for his ambitious project. When Sir Henry Blake arrived as Jamaica’s new Governor in March 1889, Sinclair managed to persuade William Fawcett, director of gardens and plantations and chairman of the Institute of Jamaica (IOJ) to help him present his cause to Governor Blake. And it worked!

The Exhibition, billed as “the most extraordinary commercial event in the history of the Gulf of Mexico and the West Indies,” opened on January 27, 1891. According to the 1891-1892 Handbook of Jamaica: the light and airy character of the (exhibition) structure with its subdued and harmonious colouring, the rich and in many cases brilliant hues of the exhibits, the glitter of bright metal and glass, and the ever-moving, many coloured dresses of the visitors formed a scene never before witnessed in Jamaica and which could not fail to impress both the foreigner and the native. On opening day the grand assembly at Kings House proceeded to the Market Wharf downtown where the pier was decorated in bunting to greet the 25-year-old Prince George. Nearly 8,000 people visited the Exhibition on its opening day.

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Tagged with: AC Sinclair, Crystal Palace, Great Exhibition, Handbook of Jamaica, Institute of Jamaica, IOJ, King's House, Parish Pride, Prince George, Sir Henry Blake, William Fawcett

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