Sunday, January 12, 2014

Drawing on the Past #12 : GEORGE H & WILLIAM L THOMAS

Work: Armadale by Wilkie Collins
(Harper & Brothers, 1866)
1st US edition

Artists: George H Thomas (drawings)
and William Thomas (engraving)

As a teaser for an upcoming review here are the illustrations taken from the original United States edition of Armadale. This mammoth novel was originally published serially in The Cornhill Magazine from November 1864 to June 1866. The illustrations used in both the first UK and US editions were taken from the magazine serial. While the UK first edition includes all the original illustrations by the Thomas brothers the US edition is missing about five drawings.

George Housman Thomas (1824-1867) studied wood engraving with George Bonner, set up an engraving business in Paris, and illustrated books for both American and British publishers. Some of his work is included in the Royal Collection in England. Perhaps his most notable work appeared in the first US edition of Uncle Tom's Cabin. While living in New York for a brief period he was also contracted to engrave American banknotes.

William Luson Thomas (1830-1900) did the engraving and signed all the illustrations for Armadale. George, however, is credited as the primary illustrator on the title page of the first UK edition (Smith & Elder, 1866). William founded the illustrated newspaper The Graphic late in his life. Explaining the original concept of the paper he writes: "The originality of the scheme consisted in establishing a weekly illustrated journal open to all artists, whatever their method, instead of confining my staff to draughtsmen on wood as had been hitherto the general custom… it was a bold idea to attempt a new journal at the price of sixpence a copy in the face of the most successful and firmly established paper in the world, costing then only five pence."

For detailed biographical information on William Luson Thomas go here. For the life of his brother George visit this website.

Click on the images below for full size appreciation.


  1. Wonderful, makes me want to read a Victorian mystery forthwith!

  2. Have only read the usual two by Collins. Looks like fun.

    1. This one might appeal to you, Patti. Lydia Gwilt is discussed in a lot of criticism as one of the most ruthless and vindictive women in Victorian fiction, but she's a lot more complex than the "pure evil" she is often labeled. By the novel's end she becomes oddly sympathetic.

  3. Makes you wonder how long it took to do one of these engravings.

  4. I absolutely have to read this now - thanks John!

    1. Never knew illustrations could be so compelling, Sergio! My review for this book will be posted around midnight tonight.

      Luckily, Armadale is easily avilable and very affordable in a variety of editions -- used book, new book, eBook and I think even free online at some literary websites. I'd recommend the Dover paperback edition from 1977 since it includes all the original illustrations from the serial. I bought my copy of the Dover paperback at a Chicago used bookstore for only $3.50.