About The Strand

What is The Strand?

The Strand Magazine may be best known for publishing Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s "Sherlock Holmes" short stories, but the periodical published many popular articles from its launch in 1891. The magazine featured fictional short stories and serial novels, but also non-fiction articles on topics such as science, celebrities, and British culture. At the cost of a sixpenny each month, The Strand was affordable for middle class readers, but it sought to attract upper class readers too. The magazine was successful in this regard: even Queen Victoria read The Strand (Jackson 95).

Just as the internet made a massive amount of information available to the general public a few decades ago, printing press innovations did the same for Victorian readers. The invention of the linotype machine in 1886 made printing more efficient, and mechanized typesetting permitted new ways of integrating images on to the printed page (Beegan 128). From daily newspapers to weekly and monthly magazines, periodicals dominated the Victorian era. Stories in magazines like The Strand circulated more widely than books, and short stories in particular were easily shareable (Hughes 1). As Margaret Beetham points out, swapping publications in pubs, clubs, and reading rooms was normal in the period (“Time” 330). On average, approximately 400,000 copies of The Strand were sold monthly, but through community sharing, many more may have regularly read the magazine (Jackson 98; Liggins and Vuohelainen 222).

While illustrations were common in nineteenth century periodicals, founder of The Strand George Newnes sought to make them a main focus of the magazine. As a result, readers were not just familiar with authors; they were also familiar with the twenty artists that decorated almost every page (Liggins and Vuohelainen 227). When observing the illustrations, artists can sometimes be identified by their signature. Whereas the illustrations on Image 7 (below) are not signed, Image 3 is signed with an initial, and Image 8 is signed with a full name. It could be suggested that the illustrations “support” the written text and that the artist signatures are just subtle details, but artistic labour within The Strand should be recognized. Artists utilized multiple technologies to create the images, including woodcut or engravings for illustrations, and photography, as indicated in Images 5 and 6. As Emma Liggins and Minna Vuohelainen write, artists were “synonymous with the stories” they decorated: Sidney Paget’s illustrations for Sherlock Holmes, demonstrated in Image 3, is an example of this (227).

As you will observe in the three case studies, illustrations are decorative, but they also capture key moments in each respective story. Emily Steinlight observes that many illustrations in the period sought to arouse curiosity by referencing the narrative without necessarily revealing major aspects of the plot (153). Illustrations might allude to or even function as “spoilers” for important moments, but readers must read the story to understand its context within the larger plot. In any case, it is clear that The Strand is The Strand in part because of its rich images.

Material Aspects of The Strand

Monthly editions of The Strand were constructed with paper bindings, and there were up to 250 advertisements each month within its pages (Jackson 94). By contrast, the 1893 editions of The Strand at the University of Victoria’s Special Collections are bi-annual bound editions, and they do not contain advertisements. This difference is not a bad thing: it demonstrates how Victorian readers encountered periodical magazines in multiple ways. Moreover, it is an excellent example of how economic and social processes shaped the survival of these objects. Although the shareability of The Strand demonstrates its popularity, it also highlights how periodical magazines are designed to be temporary objects.

From a sales perspective, each issue of the magazine must be timely and relevant, but the next issue must be even more timely and relevant to retain consumer interest. Moreover, magazines like The Strand had to remain affordable. Along with printing press innovations and inexpensive paper materials, advertisements supported the magazine financially. It would be unwise to dismiss advertisements as unimportant, though. In recent decades, scholars like Emily Steinlight have argued that there is a relationship between advertisements and the content of articles within periodicals (Steinlight 139). Unfortunately, these connections have not always been recognized. When bound volumes were constructed, advertisements were sometimes torn out and discarded because the articles and stories were privileged over the integrity of the material object as a whole (Beetham, “Open and Closed” 23).

Bound volumes of The Strand may not always contain details such as advertisements, but they contain important clues about the history of the magazine. Bound volumes have stronger bindings that protect its pages, and they were designed to be expensive, decorative, and collectable (Jackson 90). Individual copies of The Strand may have been casually shared or discarded, but this is not the case with bound volumes. Bound volumes are particularly important for twenty-first century readers and researchers for this reason. In the twenty-first century, Victorian periodicals like The Strand are extremely delicate. Despite excellent care from the team at Special Collections, Image 1 (above) captures how the binding of the 1893 bound edition is disintegrating. This process is inevitable: unlike early forms of paper that were made from durable animal skins, Victorian-era paper and bookbinding materials are made of cheaper materials that will not survive for as many centuries.