Last week we had our last Fashion Forecast featuring the prints of Ackermann’s Repository (well, sort of—more on that shortly.) I thought this would be a good time to meet the man behind these delightful pieces.
Rudolf Ackermann was born in Stollberg in the Electorate of Saxony, on April 20, 1764, the sixth child of his parents Barthel and Justina. Papa Ackermann was a wealthy and well-connected saddle-maker, and it was expected that young Rudolf would follow in his footsteps and become a saddler as well...which he did, for a while, apprenticing at age 15.
But the boy was also deeply interested in drawing, so at 18 he left his apprenticeship to become a carriage designer (hmm...remember this?) He learned his trade in Dresden, worked in Switzerland for a while then Brussels, and in 1787 moved to London to ply his trade. Plying his trade there proved lucrative: young Rudolf received important commissions for designing carriages, including ones for the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, the Lord Mayor of Dublin, and a state coach for a certain President Washington in the upstart American republic. His success enabled him to marry an Englishwoman, Martha, with whom he had nine children...and it also let him return to his other passion, art.
In 1795 Rudolf opened his first print shop, later moving to larger premises at 101 Strand. Rudolf sold prints, artists’ supplies, and books, as well as holding art exhibits. It became a favorite hangout for the fashionable, who enjoyed perusing the latest political cartoons and other prints: his early adoption of gas-lighting enabled browsing and made his shop even more of a destination. Business proved good enough that he started commissioning and selling original hand-colored prints from such notable artists as Rowlandson and Cruikshank, the popular satirists. He also published art books, the best known of which is probably The Microcosm of London, an invaluable snapshot, as it were, of important London landmarks and streets.
In 1809, he embarked on a new publishing project: his Repository of Arts, Literature, Commerce, Manufactures, Fashions, and Politics, a monthly journal that covered all those things in the title and more. Illustrations played a prominent role in this magazine: each issue featured not only two fashion prints but also engravings of everything from furniture to embroidery patterns and English houses to foreign scenery. Altogether, nearly 1500 prints were published in the Repository over twenty years.
The Repository was published until 1828; but by that time Rudolf’s success was beginning to overtake him: he had expanded into global markets with print shops in several South American locations as well as other outlets in London, and the added work and financial burden weighed him down and broke his health. In 1829 the Repository was re-imagined as The Repository of Fashion, focusing on fashion reporting...and by mid-year had ceased publication altogether. Poor Rudolf suffered a massive stroke a few months later which more or less side-lined him, paralyzed, till his death in 1834. However, his sons remained in the print business as did their sons...in fact, the last Ackermanns in the print business only closed their doors in the 1990s!