Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Ackermann, Rudolph
ACKERMANN, RUDOLPH (1764–1834), fine-art publisher and bookseller, was born 20 April 1764, at Stolberg in Saxony. His father, a coach-builder and harness-maker, removed in 1775 to Schneeberg, where Rudolph received his education and entered his father's workshop. But he did not long follow this occupation. After visiting Dresden and other German towns, he settled for some time in Paris, whence he proceeded to London. Here for about ten years he was engaged in making designs for many of the principal coach-builders. In 1795 he married an Englishwoman and set up a print-shop at 96 Strand, removing the following year to No. 101, where he had already revived a drawing-school established by Wm. Shipley, the founder of the Society of Arts. In consequence of the increase of Ackermann's publishing business the school was closed in 1806, being at that time frequented by eighty pupils whose instruction was attended to by three masters. His extensive trade in fancy articles had given employment for some years to many French émigrés.
Ackermann's ingenuity and enterprise were not directed to fine-art matters alone. In 1801 he patented a method to render paper, cloth, and other substances waterproof, and erected a factory at Chelsea. He was among the first of private individuals to illuminate his place of business with gas, and between 1818 and 1820 was occupied with a patent for movable carriage axles. The preparation of Lord Nelson's funeral car (1805) was entrusted to his skill. The establishment of lithography as a fine art in this country is due to him. Having been introduced as a mechanical process by Mr. Andrée of Offenbach in 1801 (Repository of Arts, &c., 1817, p. 225), it was chiefly used for copying purposes until 1817, when Ackermann set up a press, engaged Prout and other eminent artists, and made large use of lithography in his ‘Repository’ and other publications. ‘A complete Course of Lithography, by J. A. Senefelder, translated from the German by A. S[chlichtegroll],’ 4to, was issued in 1819 by Ackermann, who had visited the inventor the year before, and who narrates in a preliminary ‘advertisement’ his experience of the method. The volume includes specimens of drawings executed at his press.
The distress in Germany after the battle of Leipzig gave rise to a movement for the relief of the sufferers, mainly founded by Ackermann; and for two years he devoted unceasing labour towards organising the distribution of over 200,000l., of which more than one-half was contributed by public subscriptions, the remainder consisting of a special grant from parliament. For this service he received from the king of Saxony the order of Civil Merit, but modestly declined the many expressions of popular gratitude offered by German towns in the course of a subsequent visit to the Continent (see A short Account of the successful Exertions [of R. Ackermann] on behalf of the Fatherless and Widows after the War in 1814, Oxf. priv. pr. 1871, 16mo). In 1815 he collected and distributed a large sum for the succour of wounded Prussian soldiers and their relatives. About the same period the Spanish exiles, like the French émigrés of a quarter of a century before, found in him a generous employer.
He also printed and published many Spanish translations and original works, and formed branch depôts in several South American cities. Ackermann's Wednesday evening ‘Literary Meetings’ during March and April had become from 1813 quite a feature in the literary and artistic world. In 1827 he returned to premises at 86 Strand, designed by J. B. Papworth. He married a second time, and in 1830 experienced an attack of paralysis which prevented him thenceforward from attending to business. He died at Finchley on 30 March 1834, and was buried at St. Clement Danes. His eldest son, Rudolph, carried on a fine-art business in Regent Street, and died in 1868.
A list of his numerous fine-art publications is contained in the two excellent articles by W[yatt] P[apworth] in ‘Notes and Queries’ for 1869. The name of Ackermann is intimately associated with the ‘Repository of Arts, Literature, Fashions, Manufactures, &c.,’ which at once became so successful that before the end of the first year (1809) it obtained 3,000 subscribers. It regularly appeared until 1828, when forty volumes had been produced in monthly 3s. 6d. parts, under the editorship of F. Shoberl. Wm. Combe was a large contributor, and Rowlandson supplied many of the plates. The illustrations of fashions, mostly by well-known artists, supply valuable materials for the history of costume. Many of the contributions to the ‘Repository’ were reissued separately. ‘Dr. Syntax's Tour in search of the Picturesque’ first appeared in Ackermann's ‘Poetical Magazine,’ 1809–11, under the title of the ‘Schoolmaster's Tour.’ Among his chief publications may also be mentioned ‘The Microcosm of London,’ 1808–11, 3 vols. 4to; ‘Westminster Abbey,’ 1812, 2 vols. 4to; ‘University of Oxford,’ 1814, 2 vols. 4to; ‘University of Cambridge,’ 1815, 2 vols. 4to; ‘Colleges of Winchester, Eton, Westminster, &c.,’ 1816, 4to. W. H. Pyne and William Combe supplied the text for these antiquarian works, the plates being drawn by A. Pugin, Rowlandson, Nash, and others. His remarkable series of ‘Picturesque Tours’ in elephant 4to includes ‘The Rhine,’ by J. G. von Gerning, 1820; ‘Buenos Aires and Monte Video,’ by Vidal, 1820; ‘English Lakes,’ by Fielding and Walton, 1821; ‘The Seine,’ by Pugin and Gendall, 1821; ‘The Ganges and Jumna,’ by C. R. Forrest, 1824; ‘India,’ by R. M. Grindlay (atlas folio), 1826; and ‘The Thames,’ by Westall and Owen, 1828. The ‘World in Miniature,’ 43 vols. 12mo, 637 plates, was commenced in 1821 by T. Rowlandson, and finished in 1826 by W. H. Pyne. He introduced from Germany the fashion of the illustrated annual, upon which, between 1822 and 1856, English publishers expended large sums for illustrations and literary contributions. In the first rank of these popular gift-books stood his ‘Forget-me-not,’ first brought out in 1825 in a manner unapproached for typographical and artistic merit. It was continued until 1847 under the editorship of F. Shoberl.