When it first appeared in February 1806, La Belle Assemblée claimed to be ‘an entirely original and most interesting work, addressed to the ladies’. However, the new magazine entered a market that was already well established. Periodicals directed particularly at leisured women had existed since the late seventeenth century, and with the success of the Lady’s Magazine (1770–1837), the monthly magazine became an established form. The new magazine, however, had a distinctive flamboyance in its elegant combination of polite literature and illustrated accounts of the fashionable world. It was the production of John Bell (1745–1831), a printer and publisher of considerable reputation and style who was renowned for his puckishness and love of innovation, not least in introducing modern type-faces to British readers.- Science in the 19th Century Periodical
Not all fashion plates were created equal. La Belle Assemblée came out in two forms, one at half-a-crown with plain fashion-plate and one at three shillings and sixpence with the plates coloured by hand. * The difference in treatment can be seen in the fashion plates below.
An engraved plate from ‘La Belle Assemblée,. This is an early black and white plate from February 1807, featuring the Roxborough jacket and the Incognita hat – both drawn from fashions worn by the Duchess of Roxborough and a Miss Duncan. Plate 1: A new spencer walking dress with the incognito hat, Plate 2: A full dress, the Roxborough jacket.
At 76, ten years before his death, John Bell sold the magazine. La Belle Assemblée predated Ackermann’s Repository of Arts (begun 1809 – 1827) by three years. Obituary of John Bell, 1831:
At Fulham aged 86. John Bell esq formerly of the Strand bookseller. Few men have contributed more by their industry and good taste to the improvement of the graphic and typographic arts, witness his beautiful editions of the British Poets and Shakspeare. He was one of the original proprietors of the Morning Post and projector of that well established Sunday newspaper Bell’s Weekly Messenger. Another of his successful projects was the elegant monthly publication La Belle Assemblée. – The Gentleman’s magazine, Volume 101, Part 1 By John Nichols
More on the topic
- La Belle Assemblée, 1807, Kensington Garden Dresses
- 17th and 18th Century Advice Columns and Agony Aunts
- La Belle Assemblée or, Bell’s court and fashionable magazine, Volume 3, 1807 (Google, digitized)
Colored Fashion Plate (The Roxborough Jacket – A New Spencer Walking Dress), February 1807 LACMA Collections Online