Punch Magazine launches
The 17th of July 1841 AD
Punch magazine was launched with capital of just £25 by Henry Mayhew, and engraver Ebenezer Landells, with Mark Lemon as Mayhew’s co-editor.
The magazine was subtitled The London Charivari, modelling itself on the Parisian humorous magazine Le Charivari. The name Punch was seen as fitting, as the magazine was intended to be humorous and aggressive, with the masthead using the traditional image of the boisterous puppet character Mr Punch. Legend has it that the name was decided on during a pre-launch meeting when a remark was made that it should be like a good punch mixture – nothing without Lemon (the original co-editor).
In contrast to the rather anaemic product of post- WWII , when it had become the dentist’s waiting room standby, the original Punch was politically radical, its allegiances to the conservative end of the political spectrum, its humour often biting and acerbic. The first few months for the magazine were difficult, its sales not rocketing as hoped, but the quality of the writing and the cartoons (Punch was the first magazine to use the word in its modern meaning) saw it become de rigueur in the drawing rooms of the professional middle-classes. Financially it was given a massive boost when the idea of a Punch annual edition, dubbed the Punch Almanac, was tried – the first edition sold 90,000 copies. By the end of the decade Queen Victoria herself was a reader.
Artist Archibald Henning designed the first covers of the magazine, setting a style that persisted for many years, giving the three-penny magazine a tone others could not match, though Fun and similar competitors tried.
Punch employed great writers and artists over its life, including comic genius P.G. Wodehouse , Winnie the Pooh illustrator E.H. Shepard , George du Maurier, and cartoonist Tenniel.
For a time Punch had the power to frighten governments and embarrass celebrities, and was capable of producing pieces that entered the consciousness of the literate classes – for example the famous Dropping the Pilot cartoon on Bismarck, and Thomas Hood’s Song of the Shirt, focussing previously averted gazes on the plight of the working class.
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