IT was like a very early version of Private Eye – irreverent, no respecter of reputations, and willing to poke fun at anyone who deserved it.

The Glasgow Looking Glass was the world's first comic book, first printed 188 years ago.

It took centre stage at last week's International Graphic Novel and International Bande Dessinee Society (IBDS) joint conference at Glasgow University.

For seven years, the original first edition had been under lock and key in the Glasgow offices of the venerable printing firm that produced it, John Watson & Co, after being stumbled upon at the Barras Market. Now the company has decided to present a copy to the university.

John Watson OBE, the company's chairman and chief executive, said: "It's on newsprint, about A3 size, almost like a tabloid format.

"A lot of people have said it is like Private Eye. The content was in its way much like Private Eye's – it was always taking a slant at the councillors and politicians of the day, and at contemporary events.

"The first edition was printed in black and white but colour was added later in the 19th century."

According to Joe Fisher's Glasgow Encyclopedia, The Glasgow Looking Glass was unique among the city's periodicals at that time.

It was, says Fisher, a "lavishly illustrated satirical magazine published fortnightly in the form of a four-page lithographically produced broadsheet".

The magazine was the work of English draughtsman William Heath (1795-1840), who had arrived in Glasgow to paint some large panoramas, as was fashionable at the time.

Fisher said Heath depicted items of current Scottish, English and European news along with "graphic illustrations of the manners, fashions, politics and eccentricities of all levels of Glasgow society".

Many of his illustrations give an account of the appearance of Glasgow almost 200 years ago, including "douce Glasgow folk" at play in the Clyde.

The comic is believed to have run to 18 editions issued at fortnightly intervals between June 1825 and June 1826.

After just five editions, the title was changed to The Northern Looking Glass to reflect subjects of a wider national interest.

Dr Laurence Grove, director of the Stirling Maxwell Centre at Glasgow University, said up to 100,000 copies of the periodical were distributed around public houses in Glasgow and beyond.

Mr Watson said yesterday: "The first edition came into my possession in the most extraordinary way.

"It was unearthed at the Barras in 2006 by a business associate, Ian Milne. It's a document to be treasured because it is so much part of our history.

"Our records go back a long way and we believed the firm was founded in the 1840s. But this confirms that we were printing in the 1820s. Things get forgotten and time slips away and so we were amazed at how old the company really is and how important the Looking Glass is as a document of its time.

Mr Watson said the firm's official work book dated back to July 1861, so the comic has prompted a reconsideration of its history. "The new information showing that we printed The Glasgow Looking Glass in 1825 is truly amazing," he said.

The authenticity of the first edition was confirmed by staff at the Mitchell Library's Archives and Special Collections Department.

Mr Watson added: "We took the decision to contact Dr Grove. We received a reply welcoming the donation and we're delighted that it will be put to good use helping students and those involved in research to understand the historical value of such a document."

The presentation comes as a major comic book festival is due to be held in Glasgow, with artists such as Frank Quitely and Simon Bisley attending. Glasgow Comic Con will be held at the CCA on July 13 and 14.