Ackermann 1783-1983: The Business of Art
By John Ford. London: Ackermann, 1983.

Note:  Rudolf Ackermann published the first literary annual, Forget Me Not, in 1823 and was heralded as the father of the genre.  The annual was published in consecutive years through 1847.


There seem to have been two reasons why Ackermann closed his own lithographic press. One was that the quality of Hullmandel’s printing was superior to his own and for Ackermann quality had always been the touchstone of business success. The other was the astonishing success of a new annual publication, Forget Me Not, first published in 1822. It soon required Ackermann’s printers to produce nearly a quarter of a million plates per edition. Space was an important consideration in the printing workshop at 101 Strand where the volume of copper plate printing had not diminished with the opening of the lithographic press in 1817.

The amazing popularity of the Forget Me Not could not have been anticipated. Ackermann was familiar with the Taschenbuch (gift book) that was established in the German and French markets and he knew the market in England for women’s magazines. Already by 1820 his own magazine The Repository of Arts was being aimed primarily at women readers. When he launched the first annual in the English market for Christmas 1823, he had a ready-made editor in Frederick Shoberl (editor of The Repository), an established market and a selection of authors capable of producing light fiction, undemanding poetry and travel items. Above all, he had the artists and the means of producing ‘elegant’ illustrations. A poem entitled ‘Forget Me Not’ had appeared in The Repository of Arts and perhaps that suggested the excellent title for the new annual, so appropriate for the giver of the Christmas gift.

The first Forget Me Not: A Christmas and New Year’s Present for 1823 was published in October 1822, with glazed paper boards and a cloth spine, the covers printed with a decorative title and in a slip case with the same design. That was unusual and showy enough, but, as the competition in the market for annuals increased, the bindings were to become even more luxurious and Ackermann later used silk cloth. Some years 20,000 copies of the Forget Me Not were printed. The Repository of Arts at its best sold only 2,000 copies and the great topographical books sold no more than 1,000. Only the Syntax series rivalled the popular success of the Forget Me Not, which made heavy demands on the resources of 101 Strand.

For the first three years the Forget Me Not prints were from copper plates, but by 1825 the illustrations were printed on from steel. Ackermann was quick to appreciate the advantages of the new medium for his best selling pocket book. Small prints with high quality detail could be produced on steel and in much greater quantities than by the traditional soft copper plates.

In 1825 steel plates were not exactly new. They had been tried by a bank note engraver as early as 1811 but they had not been used to print book illustrations until 1820. Ackermann himself had published one of the first in Peter Coxe’s The Social Day, 1823, but his interest in steel printing began when he extolled its virtues in the search for a bank note that would be proof against forgery.

A series of bank note forgeries had led to the setting up of a Royal Commission to find an ‘inimitable note.’ The basic problem was that ‘there were 10,000 copper plate engravers capable of copying a Bank of England note: nine-tenths of them were needy and many were in distressed circumstances.’ Ackermann proposed a system of machine engraving transferred to stone for reproduction by lithography, but, although it was exactly this process which late was to be used, the Bank of England at that time rejected it. The sub-committee reported that lithography was ‘as a discovery as applied to the subject of Forgery, infinitely more to be dreaded than encouraged.’

Frustrated in his own proposals, Ackermann then supported the claims of ‘siderographia,’ the invention of an American engraver, Jacob Perkins, and patended in 1819. This required the steel plate to be softened to take engraving from cylindrical transfer dies and then retempered to become hard enough to print thousands of impressions. In 1822 Ackermann also provided much publicity for a new form of colour printing by Sir William Congreve using steel plates.

It was, however, the printing of book illustrations and decorative prints that became Ackermann’s principal interest in printing from steel. The Forget Me Not was one of the earliest popular publications to use steel for etchings which closely resembled line engravings. The new medium also proved suitable for the making of mezzotints which could print many more impressions than from copper and as a result mezzotint prints enjoyed a renewed popularity. The mezzotint is particularly well suited to reproduce oil paintings and from 1825 a number of steel mezzotints were published by Ackermann.
Primary Sources Used in this History

April 21, 1823 to Lady Morgan regretting that she is not prepared to write an article for the Forget Me Not under her own name. (Yale Univ. Library)

January 31, 1825 to Dawson Turner asking him to contribute to Forget Me Not and to enquire among his friends for contributors. (Free Lib. Of Philadelphia, John Frederick Lewis Papers)

August 10, 1825 to J.B. Papworth asking for elucidation of the design for the cover of Forget Me Not. (Papworth, Life of J.B. Papworth, p.63)

March 17, 1828 to John Clare concerning poems for the Forget Me Not (BM MSS Eg.2247, f.421)

January 30, 1829 to John Clare concerning despatch of copy of Forget Me Not (BM MSS Eg.2248, f114)

January 9, 1826 from Mary Russell Mitford enclosing some further contributions and congratulating him on the success of Forget Me Not (Houghton Lib., Harvard Univ.)

Undated from Agnes Strickland asking for the accompanying note to be forwarded to Mr. Shoberl, editor of the Forget Me Not (BM MSS 33964, f383)