This snuff box was the latest caricature-related item to catch my eye whilst browsing through sales catalogues. It’s decorated with an engraved copy of Thomas Rowlandson’s caricature of the Duke of Queensburry (1725 – 1810). Queensbury was the archetypal dirty old man and his sexual exploits became the stuff of legend in late eighteenth-century London. By the 1790s he had become the subject of mocking caricatures, most notably Robert Dighton’s 1796 effort Old q-uiz the old goat of Piccadilly, which shows the elderly Duke, laden down with rejuvenating tonics (the contemporary alternative to Viagra), sidling up to a young prostitute on the street.
Interestingly, Rowlandson’s image of Old Q is only known to exist as a original work entitled A Worn Out Debauchee which now resides in the Paul Mellon Collection. The artist is thought to have produced his original version sometime during the first half of the 1790s. Given that Rowlandson sold his original works to the great and the good of late-Hanoverian London, and that it’s highly unlikely that a humble brassware manufacturer would have had access to the drawing room of A Worn Out Debauchee‘s first owner, there surely must have been a printed version from which this image was copied? If that was the case then it appears as though this printed edition is now lost, as I’ve been unable to locate any reference to it.