Fores shop

Attributed to Isaac & George Cruikshank, Folkstone Strawberries or more carraway comfits for Mary Ann, 1810, Shows the front of S.W. Fores’ shop at the corner of Sackville Street and Picadilly – Note that the majority of the items shown in the window are books rather than prints.

Here’s what the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography has to say about the printseller S.W. Fores;

Fores, Samuel William (bap. 1761, d. 1838), publisher and printseller, was baptized on 29 March 1761 at St Benet Fink, Threadneedle Street, London, the son of Samuel Fores (b. 1738), a stationer and bookseller of the Savoy, Strand, and his wife, Mary, née Allington. In 1783 S. W. Fores founded a business as a printseller specializing in hand-coloured, singly-issued satirical prints or caricatures ‘at the City Arms, No. 3 Piccadilly near the Hay Market’, in the heart of London’s West End, and soon came to dominate the trade in such prints alongside William Holland (who started business almost concurrently), Hannah Humphrey, and a number of other minor competitors. The Fores–Holland–Humphrey triumvirate thrived during the era of the French Revolution when James Gillray, Thomas Rowlandson, and Isaac Cruikshank were at the peak of their activity, a period considered the ‘golden age’ of English graphic satire. The prolific Fores and Holland, the latter of whom was more radically inclined politically, were particular rivals, and both frequently resorted to hyperbolic notices on their prints advertising exhibitions and new prints. In 1789 Fores announced an exhibition that was ‘the largest in the kingdom’ and later a ‘Grand Caricatura Exhibition … Containing the most complete Collection of Humorous, Political and Satirical Prints and Drawings, Ever exposed to public view in this kingdom’. Fores even advertised lurid attractions to outdo Holland such as a 6 foot working model of the guillotine and the ‘head and hand of the unfortunate Count Struenzee, who was beheaded at Denmark’ (perhaps only a death mask).

In 1795 Fores moved to larger premises at no. 50 Piccadilly, on the corner of Sackville Street. The number was changed to 41 about 1820, presumably as a result of the Regent Street development planned by John Nash. A watercolour painted in 1853 by Thomas Hosmer Shepherd shows the premises. Fores outlasted Holland, who died in 1815, but he experienced major new competition from the likes of Rudolph Ackermann, who sold various satirical prints alongside topographical aquatints to a fashionable clientele; Thomas Tegg, who went downmarket and drastically reduced the price of his prints; and later Thomas McLean, who embraced lithography, and published William Heath and John ‘HB’ Doyle. Fores, it seems, was particularly innovative in marketing his prints, selling them wholesale and retail, and was one of the first to hire out folios of caricatures for the evening. Notably Fores started selling large collections of caricatures, and those prints stamped with the initials ‘S. W. F.’ probably derive from such collections or are those prints that were hired out. There are collections with the ‘S. W. F.’ stamp in the Reform Club, London, and the Anthony de Rothschild collection, Ascott, Wing, Buckinghamshire. A surviving handbill now in the department of prints and drawings of the British Museum headed ‘Roxburgh Collection of Caricatures’ advertises for sale a collection ‘bound in 24 uniform Volumes’ at 250 guineas. Prints were also available to buy ready prepared for screens, assorted for folios, and arranged for scrapbooks.

Fores also offered other services such as frame-making and teaching etching, and he kept a large stock of art supplies. He published drawing books and had a drawing library ‘where prints and drawings are lent to copy’. Fores’s business at this stage has echoes of Ackermann’s luxurious Repository of the Arts in the Strand and he was clearly looking to diversify as a result of competition and waning caricature sales. Some of the best prints that Fores published were by Gillray between 1787 and 1791, before his monopoly by Humphrey, and his imprint is found on Gillray’s Monstrous Craws, A March to the Bank, and The Hopes of the Party. Fores also published Gillray’s portrait of the prime minister William Pitt, but surviving correspondence reveals that this resulted in some acrimony. Although most of Fores’s output was not unsympathetic to the Pitt regime, Fores was nevertheless briefly arrested in 1796 for selling Gillray’s The Presentation, or, The Wise Men’s Offering—actually published by Humphrey—which was deemed a blasphemous libel, reminding him of the limits of acceptable subject matter and the risks involved in publishing satirical material. The period is notable for its severe censorship and the gagging of radical expression.

Fores published work by numerous artists but seems to have dealt most consistently with Isaac Cruikshank and in 1797 he also had brief dealings with the youthful and talented Richard Newton, publishing together at least five prints. Fores’s address is also found on a number of prints relating to the Queen Caroline affair of 1819–20, which provoked a great outpouring of satirical material. Fores probably deserves the distinction of being the most prolific publisher of singly-issued satirical prints and also as the founder of one of London’s longest running firm of printsellers.

Fores married twice and had numerous children (either fourteen or seventeen), some with curious patriotic names: following Trafalgar a son was christened Horatio Nelson and in 1814 another was called Arthur Blücher, in honour of the conquerors of Napoleon. His first wife, Elizabeth (b. 1758/9), died in 1797. His second wife, Jane (1772/3–1840), actively looked after the shop and was apparently popular with the customers (who included such notables as the duke of Queensberry, Sir Francis Burdett, Nelson, and the exiled duke of Orléans, Louis Philippe). In addition to his publishing and printing work, Fores also published Fores’s New Guide for Foreigners (c.1790) and wrote a treatise entitled Man-Midwifery Dissected under the pseudonym John Blunt in 1793. Fores died on 3 February 1838, and was buried in the family vault on the Jermyn Street side of St James’s, Piccadilly.

So far, so conventional. Scholars specialising in the history of print have tended to alight on a similar interpretation of Fores career, defining him by his involvement in the publication of caricatures and presenting him as the owner of one of late eighteenth-century London’s archetypal satirical printshops. This is certainly understandable, given that Fores’ caricatures have enjoyed a far more enduring legacy than his non-satirical prints, but how accurate is it? Data gathered from Rudolph Ackermann’s ledgers indicates that publishers rarely confined their activities to one area of the market and often pursued other commercial opportunities that were wholly unrelated to the print trade. So just how significant were caricatures to Fores’ business? Did he have other business interests? And what implications would a re-reading of Fores’ commercial activities have on our wider understanding of the market for printed satire in this period?

These were questions that I first began to ask myself a couple of years ago when I was in the middle of a project to map the evolving geography of Georgian London’s print trade. Looking through a number of contemporary trade directories, I was struck by how few of the names that I had always associated with the trade in caricature prints had chosen to primarily identify themselves as printsellers. James Asperne, Samuel Tipper, William Hone and even Thomas Tegg, all chose to identify themselves as booksellers first and foremost, while S.W. Fores labelled himself as a purveyor of books and stationery in the London directories for 1808 and 1819. All of which started to make me wonder whether the business of satirical printselling was far more varied and complex than we’d previously been led to believe.

The lack of surviving source material relating to the commercial aspects of the print trade in this period is notorious, and in reality it is very difficult to draw any conclusion on the nature, extent and scale of an individual printsellers business. However, one potential source of information which has yet to be thoroughly mined are newspaper advertisements, as these give an indication of the kind of goods printsellers sold and the parts of the country in which their wares were being offered for sale. I therefore turned to the British Newspaper Archive, which contains digitised copies of some 253 metropolitan newspapers published over the last 200 years (although sadly not the Times of London, which was perhaps the most widely circulated British newspaper in Fores day) and began searching for S.W. Fores.

My search turned up approximately 30 advertisements which had been taken out by Fores between 1792 and 1828. What was both immediately apparent and extremely surprising, was the almost total absence of any mention of satirical prints in these advertisements. Caricature prints are mentioned in only a single advertisement, placed in the Morning Chronicle of 28th October 1817, which lists the plates due to appear in the forthcoming issue of The Busy Body, a satirical magazine illustrated by Charles Williams and jointly published by James Johnston and Fores [1]. Fores’ caricatures also feature in a number of articles published in separate newspapers during February 1802, but these references relate to the civil action he was pursuing against Thomas Johnes MP and were not produced for commercial purposes [2]. Johnes had ordered copies of Fores entire catalogue of prints and asked them to be sent up to his family estate in Wales. Unfortunately, the MP changed his mind soon after receiving the prints and attempted to return them. Fores however insisted that the items could not be returned as they had already been bound into albums and as such the payment of £137 10s was still outstanding. The judge referred the case onto a jury but warned Fores that he should not expect to receive payment for any items “as might be of an obscene nature”.

Non-satirical prints were mentioned on a slightly more frequent basis, with a series of engraved views after Thomas Barrow’s drawings of “the noblemen and gentlemen’s seats in the vicinity of Egham” appearing in the Reading Mercury of 15th September 1800, and a subscription series of expensive prints and original drawings of scenes from the Battle of Trafalgar being advertised in the Oxford Journal on 15th March 1806. However, Fores was more likely to take out advertisements to publicise his latest books, stocks of stationery and other items of printed ephemera. These advertisements cover a wide range of items including maps of canal networks, the letters of the noted eccentric Philip Thicknesse, a dummies guide to musket drill, ladies pen box and printed sets of toy soldiers. The advertisement for the latter, which appeared in the Morning Chronicle on 13th December 1804, reads:

Fores Military Figures. Invented by Colonel West, and recommended by His Royal Highness the Duke of York, as a necessary machine for Gentlemen in the Army, Volunteer Corps, Marines & c. Exhibiting on a table every manoeuvre in military tactics by a battalion, or larger body of troops; it is also very interesting amusement for young Gentlemen in general, and particularly those inclined to a military life, battalions of 10 companies, 15 files coloured, with officers, colours &c., and book of instructions in mahogany box, one guinea. Published by S.W. Fores, sole proprietor, corner of Sackville Street and to be had of all the bookshops and toyshops. – Morning Post

The adverts containing no reference to print-related goods were perhaps the most interesting of all, as they cast further light on the full extent of Fores business activities and the types of customers that visited his shop. One of the most common forms of advertisement to appear were those in which Fores was named as the agent of individuals, often from the provinces, who wanted to conduct some form of business in the metropolis. A typical example of this sort of advertisement comes from the Morning Post of 6th July 1802:

TO PARENTS and GUARDIANS – UNION SEMINARY, Kensington Gravel Pits – G.E. MORTON, a long time conversant in the Tuition of Youth, both in France and England… has taken a commodious house in the above mentioned situation, proverbial for the salubrity of its air, the delectableness of its circumjacent walks, and pleasing vicinity to town; where he proposes Boarding and Instructing Twenty Young Gentlemen in the English, French, Latin and Greek Languages; Arithmetic, Book-Keeping, Geography, Use of Globes, History, Chronology, Elocution, Rhetoric, Logic and Mathematics… Cards of terms may be had at Mr Fores, corner of Sackville Street Piccadilly. 

And another from the 30th November 1803 edition of the same newspaper:

WINDSOR FOREST – To be LETT, Furnished in the centre of the Royal Hunt, a complete COTTAGE; consisting of three parlours, four bed-rooms, a closet, store-room, kitchen, and other conveniences; a small pleasure garden goes round the house, a kitchen garden adjoins, and a small paddock; a poultry-yard, in which is another cottage, containing two servants bedrooms… A lease granted and furniture taken at a fair valuation. Address, post-paid, to Mr Fores, corner of Sackville-street, Piccadilly.

Fores was presumably chosen to act as the agent in such matters because his shop was known to be frequented by the sort of reasonably affluent individuals who could be expected to show an interest in purchasing a substantial smallholding in the country, or send their children away from home to receive a formal education. The adverts also indicate that Fores name must have been known beyond the immediate confines of London and could potentially give some indication of the geographic extent of his commercial dealings.

Further evidence of a predominantly middle-class clientele can be found in the advertisements relating to the various medicinal remedies that were sold over the counter at No. 50 Piccadilly. An advertisement in the Morning Chronicle of 7th February 1801, lists Fores among the principle retailers of WALKER’S STOMACHICAL WINE… an immediate and infallible remedy [for]… bilious complaint in the stomach or bowels”, which was particularly suitable for “weak and sickly children, and those troubled with worms.” The product in question was manufactured by the printseller Elizabeth Walker from her premises at No. 7 Cornhill and sold through a variety of metropolitan and provincial outlets at the reassuringly expensive price of 10s 6d per bottle [3]. This kind of product must have been quite popular because Fores was still hawking dubious tonics eight years later, when he was once again named as a principle retailer of “HORWOOD WELL MEDICINAL WATER… a remedy hitherto unequaled in mitigating the effects of… alkali, lead, or mercury… on persons of beauty, rank and fashion”, offered at the more affordable price of 2s 6d a bottle. These adverts not only demonstrate that Fores dealt in a far wider range of goods than has hitherto been imagined, but also that his clientele was almost certainly drawn from the ranks of the educated, affluent, upper-middle classes. This further challenges the attempts which some historians have made to portray the satirical printshop as an egalitarian commercial space, or caricature prints themselves as an inherently democratic form of popular art.

The advertisements also reveal that Fores was involved the in the running of the British Wholesome and Cheap Paint Company for a period of almost twenty years. The first advert for the company appears in the Morning Post in October 1805, with subsequent advertisements being placed in metropolitan and provincial newspapers during 1806, 1808 and 1815. As the name suggests, the enterprise was responsible for the manufacture and sale of exterior and interior house paints which it was claimed “will never, crack, blister, or peel off” and which came “without any unwholesome smell, and of the most brilliant and durable colours…”. So confident were the owners of the quality of their product that they invited prospective customers to visit Fores shop at 50 Piccadilly, which had been decorated with the paint and “may be seen as a specimen” [4]. The British Wholesome and Cheap Paint Company operated from premises located at 21 Mary-le-bone street, Golden Square and was initially a joint enterprise run by Fores and a Mr Van Herman. Later advertisements indicate that a Mr Mitchell was added as a third partner sometime around 1808 and by 1815 the company was trading under the new name of Fores and Mitchell. It continued under that moniker until December 1822, when the entry “S.W. Fores and B. Mitchell – Paint Manufacturers” appears among a list of dissolved business partnerships published in the Morning Post [5.] There’s no firm evidence which links the British Wholesome and Cheap Paint Company to Fores work as a publisher of satirical prints, but it’s certainly possible that some of the items sold from 21 Mary-le-bone Street could also have been used in the engraving or decorating of prints. An advertisement from 1815 states that the company dealt in “all manner of items for painting” and sold “white lead, turps and linseed oils” which were articles used to mix colours for prints and in the preperation of copperplates for etching [6].

The advertisements which carry Fores’ name clearly indicate that he was involved in a far broader range of business activities than he is typically given credit for and that he was by no means singularly involved in the publication and sale of caricature prints. Indeed, the evidence gathered here indicates that caricatures may only have constituted a minor part of Fores business activities and certainly seemed to warrant much less advertising space than his books, stationery or non-satirical prints. This need to spread business risk across a variety of different products and industries, hints at a market for printed goods which was characterised by a degree of volatility, requiring printsellers to branch out into secondary lines of investment which could be relied upon to provide bring in alternate lines of revenue. It’s also interesting to note that the diversification of Fores business portfolio seems to begun during the mid-1800s, which is typically thought of as the time at which established West End publishers began to come under increasing pressure from Thomas Tegg’s tidal wave of cut-price prints and books. Whatever the explanation, it does seem certain that Fores and his contemporaries worked in a far more nuanced business environment than the image of the brightly decorated printshop windows which appear in many contemporary caricatures would have us believe.


[1]. Johnston’s name appears alongside that of Fores in a number advertisements taken out during the 1810s and they appear to have collaborated on a variety of publishing projects during that time.

[2] The story was reported in various provincial newspapers, including the Sailsbury and Winchester Journal, the Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette, the Staffordshire Advertiser and the Caledonian Mercury. This may indicate that Fores name was familiar to educated readers living outside the metropolis and thus give us some indication of his links to the provincial market for printed goods, although we should not rule out the possibility of the episode being widely publicised simply because it involved a Member of Parliament.

[3.] To put the price of this product into context, W.H.R. Cutler, A Short History of English Agriculture, (Oxford, 1909) estimates the average labourer earned 11s per week between 1800 and 1808. An advertisement for a wine merchant which appeared in the Morning Chronicle of 31st October 1801 also indicates that one could purchase a dozen bottles of muscatel wine for 11s 6d.

[4.] Morning Post, 29th October 1805. 

[5.] Ibid., 16th December 1822.

[6.] Ibid., 16th August 1815.