exploring the origins of british magazine design

Trace 170 years of periodical power with these early images from A History of British Magazine Design.

by Matthew Whitehouse
04 May 2016, 11:00am

Last week a group of magazine-heads, dot-matrix junkies and litho-lizards, gathered at the magCulture shop in North London to celebrate the launch of A History of British Magazine Design, a new book which aims to investigate the design and history of British magazines over the past 170 years. Identifying the twists and turns of what it describes as these "most sensitive barometers of mass-market design taste," the location was significant not only for the magnitude of publications on display (including a certain winking Lineisy Montero), but also for its proximity to St John's Gate; the site where, in 1731, the first publication to actually call itself a magazine - The Gentlemen's Magazine, to be precise - was produced and printed.

"One of the things I hope the book will do is promote the idea of the magazine itself and also to try and raise its profile as a historical entity, because it is so sorely neglected," says author Anthony Quinn, who as well as creating the book from the V&A's National Art Library archive, founded the essential Magforum website back in 2001. For Quinn, magazines as a subject for study have been all too neglected in comparison with books and other media, and this exploration is his brilliantly designed attempt to redress the balance; from early issues of Punch and Illustrated London News, right through to i-D. "There was a big 'wow' factor about the horizontal A4 pages of i-D," he says. "Like wide-screen cinema. Unique. The layouts were fearless and the use of colour astounding. Then there was the photography by people like Nick Knight who you'd never heard of - because he was still a student at Bournemouth. Although some of it looked crude, I knew from my own work producing colour artwork and illustration that a tremendous amount of skill and thought had gone into it all."

Quinn continues, of a medium that - if the following, early examples are anything to go by - mirrors the social history of Britain perhaps better than any other: "The pre-Raphaelites! People seem to think these guys did paintings. They didn't. They illustrated magazines. And not only that, in one of the paintings of Effie Gray, they actually paint her holding a copy of the Cornhill Magazine. Now if that's not a tribute to the power of the magazine, I don't know what is." Check out images from Quinn's own tribute below.

A History of British Magazine Design is out now.


Text Matthew Whitehouse

a history of british magazine design
magazine design