Frank Leslie (1821-1880), was a woodcut artist and periodical publisher. He made a lasting impact on the news industry as a pioneer in investigative reporting, and as one of the driving forces in establishing the importance of images in news reporting, thanks in particular to his newspaper’s illustrated coverage of the American Civil War.
Frank Leslie was born in England in 1821 under the name Henry Carter. He took an interest in engraving at a young age and taught himself the trade. His father did not approve of him pursuing engraving as a career, so Carter decided to sign his engravings as Frank Leslie. Leslie legally changed his name to Frank Leslie in 1857.
In 1842, his works earned him a position as an engraver with the Illustrated London News. He eventually rose to be head of their engraving department. A few years later, 1848, Leslie and his family Immigrated to the United States, where he worked for Gleason’s Pictorial in Boston, followed by P. T. Barnum’s Illustrated News in New York City.
Leslie began publishing his own magazines in 1854, beginning with Frank Leslie’s Ladies’ Gazette of Fashion. His most prominent publication was launched in 1855, entitled Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, which remained in publication until 1922. In all, Frank Leslie created twenty-eight periodicals throughout his career, and is considered to have been one of the three major publishers of illustrated news in the United States during the 19th Century.
What are fashion plates?
Frank Leslie’s first publication title, Frank Leslie’s Ladies’ Gazette of Fashion, evolved over time to become Frank Leslie’s Lady’s Magazine and Gazette of Fashion. The University of Guelph Archival and Special Collections holds Volume XIII, number 2 of this title, printed in August of 1863. It is primarily composed of woodcut prints known as fashion plates.
Fashion plates and fashion plate magazines served much the same purpose as modern fashion magazines. Before photography, fashion was shared through art in dedicated periodicals. The images featured design ideas and trending styles in women’s clothing, and were used as inspirations in dress making. The fashion plates we see in this magazine were made using woodcut prints that were then hand-painted with colour suggestions.
What are woodcuts, or wood engraving?
Woodcuts, or wood engravings, is a printing technique used to reproduce images. The image is drawn out on a wooden surface, and then the negative space of the image is carved out either using a knife (woodcuts) or engraving tools (wood engraving). This is a relief printing technique, meaning the engraver carves out the sections of the image that are meant to be blank spaces, leaving the sections of the image that are meant to be the lines of the image untouched. This creates a protruding negative of the image, or a relief image. Ink is painted onto the relief image, and the woodcut is then stamped onto paper to create the printed image.