In 1839, when Michael Faraday published the first picture of the lines of magnetic flux around a magnet (Faraday 1832), shown in figure 1, the cylinder of material in the centre of the figure could only have been one material, iron. Over the succeeding 160 years, the number of substances showing spontaneous magnetization has increased enormously, while their variety has broadened dramatically. Yet till quite recently, the field of magnetic materials has been traditionally confined to metals, among which the current ‘market leaders’ such as lanthanide–cobalt and Nd–Fe–B have achieved large technological significance. Among non-metallic phases, transition metal oxides made an early appearance in the years immediately before and after World War II, and the technologically driven need to understand and optimize their properties led to the phenomenological theories of N'eel, complemented later by the microscopic models of Mott (1949), Anderson (1963) and Goodenough (1955). The latter, in particular, set out the orbital symmetry rules that brought the subject of cooperative magnetism firmly within the ambit of the solid-state chemist.