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Pearson’s Magazine: “The best sixpennyworth that has been hitherto produced”

Pearson’s Magazine was a monthly periodical published in Britain, and later the United States, that ran from 1896-1939. The magazine covered ‘celebrities’ of the day, including artists and military officers, wrote about topics of interest such as the Queen’s pets, published fictional works, and printed paintings, photographs and drawings. It’s also credited for being the first magazine to have printed a crossword puzzle.

This particular publication is a volume covering the months from January to June in 1896. The volume is over 700 pages and has a section called In The Public Eye, which goes into detail about high profile figures in international relations in the late 1800s. The below page describes Abdul Hamid II, the 34th Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, as “unlike the popular conception of him as a man well could be – temperate in his habits to the point of asceticism, well informed on most phases of contemporary thought, gravely courteous in manner, and extremely generous in disposition, he impresses all who come in contact with him as a kingly man.”

A section in Pearson's Magazine published in 1896 about Abdul Hamid II.
A description of Abdul Hamid II, Ottoman Emperor in 1896, in Pearson’s Magazine.

Another section delves into First Attempts At Photography, something that would have been quite different in 1896 than it is today. However, in some ways, certain elements of photography are timeless. As the writer points out, “The camera is, in a word, an exquisite judge of human character and human failings… Every man and woman at some time in their life falls a victim to the photographic craze. They are also liable to exaggerate their own importance. They almost persuade themselves, in fact, that taking of the cap they are performing the principal share of the work.” Scrolling through the Instagram ‘explore’ feed, abundant with selfies and photoshoots, perhaps those words in the late 1800s are just as relevant today.

Article entitled 'First Attempts At Photography' in Pearson's Magazine in 1896.
“The camera is, in a word, an exquisite judge of human character.”

Queen Victoria, who ruled Britain from 1837 to 1901, had her fair share of pets, which were deemed of sufficient interest to publish an article. Her pets included a lion cub, an Egyptian ass and several dogs.

One thing about the publishers of Pearson’s Magazine was that they weren’t lacking in confidence about the quality of their articles. In fact, as they wrote in a section entitled The Editorial Mind, “If it is not the best sixpennyworth that has been hitherto produced, it will be a failure.” Sixpennyworth is the equivalent of around $4 today. Not a bad price, especially given that they promised even more; “We have to confess that we are not, by any means, satisfied that the highest point has been reached. There seem to use to be several ways in which future issues can be made of considerably more literary and artistic merit, and these will not be neglected.”

A section in Pearson's Magazine in 1896 titled "The Editorial Mind", in which the article promises better quality writing in the future and seeks feedback.
Pearson’s Magazine sold for sixpennyworth in 1896.
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