Database of Business, Trade and Professional Periodicals: a New Overview

BLT19 has been working to create a database of trade periodicals in the nineteenth century. The database was generated from nineteenth-century press directories to catalogue the name, frequency, price, publisher and the address from 1846 to 1900, though here we show only tables 1846-1889. We consulted every edition of the Directories available to us in order to create year-by-year lists of trade and professional periodicals, and for each year the list grew longer. The database confirms that trade specific press grew enormously in the nineteenth century and, crucially where the growth areas really were. The raw tables (which we do not show here) also illuminate the back story to the multifaceted growth (and decline) of specific areas of business, trades and professions: the locations of publishers, who published what kind of trade periodical, how much each cost, and how frequent. The results of this mass of information will generate more outputs in due course. Here we focus only on general categories and numbers.

The directories used so far to compile the tables we show include Mitchell’s and Sell’s, with each item checked against the Waterloo Press Directory, the British Library catalogue and paper copies where we could access them. Where we knew that periodicals were running even though they had been omitted from the directories for that year, we chose to include them (at least as far as the graphs here are concerned). Not all periodicals may be included in the press directories, of course: whether periodicals had contracts with Sells and Mitchell’s – who were after all commercial advertising agencies –  no doubt played an important role in determining what was included. This is why we have begun to compare additional directories which has filled in some missing information and periodicals. While we believe that this blogpost provides interesting observations on the growth of a neglected but enormous sector of the press, we don’t pretend that the tables here offer a complete overview of the field.

A thorny issue for the project was the categorisation of the periodicals within the database: we wrestled with the categories for some time in order to illuminate most clearly what we saw dominating this sector of the press. Indeed, we found we had to change our minds several times as we found the few previous discussion of the area unhelpful. The great deal of academic work on medical and science periodicals for example – which we had originally as separate categories – we found not reflected in the proportion of each in the field as a whole. In fact, to register their visibility in these tables at all we found we had to combine the two categories into one.

The growth in the number of periodicals, which we had expected, was in reality more complex than an equal increase across every sector. As these graphs illustrate, the number of periodicals that related to retail, trades, and services increased dramatically. In the 1840’s they made up a very small percentage of the professional press, but by the 1870’s they account for over a quarter of the periodicals each year. The categories of industrial, building and engineering, as well as commercial and financial experienced similar growth.

In comparison, periodicals relating to medicine and science experienced almost no fluctuation in number across the entire spectrum of years. The number of agricultural periodicals also remained fairly stagnant. What does change is their proportion to the whole field. Interestingly, in 1846 there were 10 periodicals in this category, accounting for nearly a quarter of the overall trade related press in the database that year. In 1885, as a consequence of the introduction of new periodicals and the end of other publications, agricultural periodicals still totalled 10, but made up only 6.5% of that year in the database.

It is important to note that the totals of each category we have provided in these tables do not illustrate the balance of periodicals that are introduced or removed from each year’s edition of Mitchell’s and Sell’s. There is, in other words, a lot that these tables do not tell us on their own. But they still provide insights into the changing world of the business, trade and professional press in the nineteenth century and what was relevant to the lives of those working in Victorian London.