A right Royal 12th day of Christmas

December 1907 cover of Royal – a milestone in the history of periodical production

This, the last of 12 covers in a magazine version of The Twelve Days of Christmas, is a milestone in the history of periodical production. It is the December 1907 cover of Royal. What marks it out as special is that it is the first cover I’ve seen that looks as if it was printed from a colour photograph.

There were lots of examples of magazines colouring black-and-white photographs, but these usually used just a second process colour with the black, such as on Quiver and The Million. Unfortunately, this copy of Royal is a rather grubby example and there is a fair bit of type show-through from the re

verse side, but this would have been a spectacular image on the bookstands, the like of which would not become common for another 30 years.

The printing of photographs in magazines had only started in 1885; and the application of colour to illustrations, at first from wooden blocks, dated back to 1855. True photographic colour separations and printing did not materialise until the mid-1930s.

So this is a very early and very skilled example of colour cover printing using a photograph. It gives a very punchy result, but was not achieved easily. It was probably printed using two-colour process engraving (red and blue) with additional solids for red, blue and yellow. Some ink squash at edges of the red working suggests this is relief-printed. The design style with the white background is familiar to us today from Dorling Kindersley book covers of the 1980s.

The ‘string’ by which the teddy is holding up the Japanese doll is printed tone using the warm red used for the post box and sock with some yellow.

Detail from the cover showing the letterpress dots on the box of crayons and part of the blue R in Royal

The Royal was published by C. Arthur Pearson, whose offices were in Henrietta Street in London’s Covent Garden. It was printed by Horace Cox, at Bream’s Buildings, which is a street between Chancery Lane and Fetter Lane, just north of Fleet Street in London. 

For more Christmas covers, take a look at the selection from 2019.

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