Thomas Rowlandson, Grog on Board, ink and watercolour

This seems like a fitting image to take us into the weekend. An original ink and watercolour wash by Thomas Rowlandson, whose signature appears at the bottom left-hand corner of the paper. It measures approximately 11.5 x 15 inches.

The image was originally engraved for the publisher S.W. Fores, who issued it under the title Grog on Board in January 1789. It was originally accompanied by a companion piece titled Tea on Shorein which the raucous debauchery of the sailors is compared with a polite society gathering.

I suspect that this is a later version, drawn after the engraving was issued and possibly dating to the 1800s – 1810s, when the publisher Rudolph Ackermann began selling traced copies of the artist’s original works. It looks a bit too similar to the engraving to have been an original sketch that was produced off the cuff. The tone and application of the colouring also appears different (at least to my eye) than the thin washes of delicate colour that Rowlandson usually applied to his watercolours.

This picture is due to come up at auction in a couple of weeks. It carries an estimate of £600 – £800. Personally, I can’t quite make up my mind about it. It may be a genuine original, or a ‘licensed copy’ of the kind Ackermann is known to have produced. Alternatively, it could simply be a contemporary amateur copy which has subsequently been passed off as an original?

Perhaps something to mull over as I prepare to sail off into the weekend with a healthy cargo of grog on board.


A satirical skit-note and a ‘sticky’ situation

It’s not unusual to come across eighteenth and early nineteenth-century satirical prints that have been modified in some way. Our ancestors treated these prints with far less reverence than we do, regarding them as tactile objects which could be cut, coloured, and otherwise amended after purchase. This interaction with printed satire is not something which has been particularly well documented by historians, probably because academics tend to rely on large institutional collections of perfectly-preserved caricatures, but it’s something with which most private collectors will be familiar.

Modern amendments are something altogether different though, and would presumably only occur as a result of either accidental damage or gross ignorance on the part of the owner. I will let the reader decide which of those criteria applies to a former owner of this skit-note; for they, at some point during their custodianship of this 200 year old object, evidently decided that it’s appearance would be enhanced by the addition of  fuzzy-felt stickers spelling out the title “Compensation Wanted” across the top of the print. Sadly the aesthetic impact of their modification has somewhat diminished over time, as the felt is now starting to fall off, leaving patches of white sticky-back plastic visible underneath.

Let’s just take a minute to allow the classiness of that wash over us…

It’s a great shame, as this is an otherwise interesting and seemingly rather rare example of a satirical skit-note engraved by W.J. Layton of Oxford Street in 1810. The British Museum has a similar version of the note in its collection, but it’s of notably lower quality and is evidently a copy of Layton’s original edition.

The note carries a roundel imitating Josiah Wedgewood’s famous abolitionist logo, depicting a kneeling slave and the text “A Day, An Hour, of Virtuous Liberty is Worth a Whole Eternity in Bondage”, which is a quote from Joseph Addison’s Cato, a Tragedy (1712). The remaining text reads:

England Expects every Man to do his Duty 1810

I Promise to pays Messrs. Cambridgeshire, Ryecastle, & Co. Bearer on Demand TWO PENCE when Englishmens grievances be recompensed when Foreigners are Banished from our Land, & Willm. Cobbett cease to expound Britons Cause.

For the Govr. & Compy. of Integrity Innocence.

The image of the slave and the reference to money appear to have convinced the former owner of this print that it related to the abolition of the slave trade in 1807. Unfortunately, it’s got nothing to do with the slave trade or African slavery at all. The figure of the slave is entirely symbolic and probably refers to the perceived oppression of the British people. The satire is actually about the radical political journalist William Cobbett, who was jailed in June 1810 for attacking the government’s decision to garrison German soldiers on British soil and went on to publish a series of open letters attacking the economic hardships imposed on ordinary working people by the disruption of trade, war taxes, and inflation of the currency. The note promises that the bearer will be able to exchange their paper money for cold hard cash when the reformist cause is won, the King’s German Legion have been sent packing, and Cobbett has no more cause to complain about the government’s conduct. 

Sadly, the misinterpretation of this image means that not only has someone spoiled an antique print, but that they’ve also spoiled it for entirely the wrong reason!

The notes’ coming up for auction in the US in a couple of weeks time. The estimate’s £200 – £350, but I’d want to be pretty certain that those sticky letters will come off before paying that kind of money for it.

The New European Barbershop on lacquerware

This lacquerware box was manufactured in the workshop of Johann Heinrich Stobwasser (1740 – 1829), in the German city of Braunschweig, sometime around 1814. It is decorated with an oil and lacquer image of Die Neue Europaeische Barbierstube, which was engraved by the Bavarian satirical artist Johann Michael Voltz (1784 – 1858) in late 1813.

The impact depicts Napoleon being forcibly shaved by (l-r) Alexander I of Russia, Frederick William II of Prussia, and Francis II of Austria. The Emperor wears a bib, which is spattered with blood in Voltz’s original engraving, inscribed with the locations of various French military defeats – “Mailand, Culm, Kazbach, Leipzig, Russland”. Alexander also carries an empty plate labelled ‘1812’ and a white ball – possibly a snowball – which presumably alludes to Napoleon’s ill-fated Russian winter campaign.

The Battle of Leipzig had ended on the 19th October 1813 and is the most recent event referenced in the design. It is likely that Voltz’s engraving was published shortly after the battle and then copied in Stobwasser’s workshop sometime during the winter of 1813/14.

The box measures 2.3 cm x 14.4 cm x 8.8 cm and will be offered up for auction in Germany later this month. It carries an estimate of £1,700 – £2,100.

The Mighty Agitators…, Holbrooke & Son, 1828

A few years ago, I wrote a rather lengthy post on the satirical print trade in Dublin during the eighteenth and early nineteenth-centuries, and since then I’ve always been interested in any Irish prints that happen to cross my path. I spotted this one in a sale catalogue the other day and thought it was worth writing about.

Daniel O’Connell appears on the left of the image, riding into a cave on the back of a creature with a cat’s head and an ass’s body; a visual pun on the abbreviated name of the Catholic Association, a ‘Cat-Ass’. He waves a paper above his head which is inscribed with a reference to the rout of an army of 50,000 men by the “Great Liberator” and addresses his three companions with the following verse: “Well done – Well done – I like your toil / And every one shall share the spoil / Thus shall your banefull [sic] vapours rise / Like legal dust in Clients Eyes.”

In the centre of the cave, O’Connell’s fellow Catholic Association members are gathered around a large cauldron in the manner of Macbeth’s three witches. They each intone their own rhyme as they attempt to summon up a revolution, the lyrics of which collectively refer to the various strains of popery, criminality, and deception that they hope to visit on the Irish people. Arms and other military stores are stockpiled to their right. The cases engraved with the words “Arms collected by Captain Rock’s faithful soldiers” and “Subscriptions from renegade Protestants. Dawson & Co”. The latter is a reference to George Robert Dawson, Sir Robert Peel’s brother-in-law, who had outraged Irish Protestants by delivering a speech at an Orange Order dinner on 12th August 1828 in which he expressed sympathy for the Catholics plight and urged the audience to accept their emancipation. The rest of the cave is littered with disparaging visual references to Irish nationalism, Catholicism, rebellion, and war.

The print provides a disparaging commentary on O’Connell’s victory in the Clare by-election of 1828. Catholics were barred from holding office as MPs under the terms of the Act of Union of 1801. However, the law did not specifically prohibit them from running for election. By fighting and winning a by-election, O’Connell precipitated an immediate constitutional crisis, forcing the government to choose between violating its own anti-Catholic laws and unconstitutionally disenfranchising Irish voters. As politicians in London struggled to solve this conundrum, the mood in Ireland grew ugly. The Catholic Association began preparing for large-scale public demonstrations against the decision to bar O’Connell from office, whilst Protestant groups also began mobilising for armed confrontation with the Catholic majority. Eventually London, fearing that the country was on the brink of a rebellion, forced an emancipation bill through a reluctant House of Lords, abolishing a raft of discriminatory legislation which dated back to mid-seventeenth-century.

The print was published by Holbrooke & Sons of 15 Anglesea Street, Dublin, in August 1828. This was the firm of John Holbrooke, or Holbrook, an engraver and printer who later went into business with his son William. An early twentieth-century dictionary of Irish artists states that Holbrooke senior was born in 1778 and attended the Dublin Society School (the Irish equivalent of the Royal Academy) from 1790 onwards. His business at 15 Angelsea Street appears in Dublin trade directories for the period from 1815 to 1830 and is consistently described as that of an ‘engraver and copperplate printer’, although all of his surviving works are lithographs rather than copperplate etchings. By 1838, the business had passed into the ownership of William Holbrooke (fl.1828 – 1848) who later relocated it to Grafton Street and Crow Street before emigrating to America.

Like most satirical prints of this era, the image speaks to the political views of middling and upper class consumers drawn predominately from the ranks of Ireland’s Protestant community.

A collection of original works by Thomas Rowlandson

There’s a veritable flood tide of original works by Thomas Rowlandson coming up for auction in the UK at the moment. These include genre scenes, character studies and a few humorous pictures. Perhaps the most interesting is The Wigsteads: A Christening which depicts Rowlandson’s friend and fellow caricaturist Henry Wigstead (1745 – 1800) and his family. Although I also have a soft spot for the untitled caricature of a group of drunken students being sternly regarded by their tutors. It appears as though some things never change.

I should point out, before anyone gets all excited and starts emailing me to enquire whether I’d be willing to sell this drawing or that drawing, that none of these pictures belong to me and I’m not offering them for sale. The images are taken from various sale catalogues and are being shared here in order to record original works which would otherwise disappear into anonymous private collections once the auctions have taken place.

 ‘The Afternoon Visit’, n.d., pen, ink and watercolour, 15 x 24cm

‘The patient’, n.d., pen, ink and watercolour 16.5 x 11.5cm

‘Interior scene’, n.d., pen, ink and watercolour, 10 x 17.5cm

The Wigsteads: A Christening, n.d., pen, ink and watercolour 17 x 30cm


‘Outside the Oyster Room’, n.d., pen, ink and watercolour, 13 x 9.5cm

Chamber Council, n.d., pen, ink and watercolour, 15 x 19cm

Oakhampton, Cornwall, 1816, pen, ink and watercolour, 16.5 x 24cm


‘At the Cottage Door’, n.d., pen, ink and watercolour, 14.25 x 9.5cm



‘Student drinking club’, n.d., pen, ink and watercolour, 26.5 x 32.5 cm