‘Old Q’ Snuff Box c.1800

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.


The Political House that Jack Built on Creamware



William Hone’s The Political House that Jack Built was arguably one of the most influential pieces of political satire published in Britain during the early nineteenth-century. First published in December 1819, during the febrile months which followed the Peterloo Massacre, the pamphlet used the deceptively simple format of the children’s book in order to launch a blistering attack on the British political establishment. The illustrations were provided by the young caricaturist George Cruikshank and were executed as wood-engravings in order to reduce the cost of the finished product and ensure that it was accessible to as wide an audience as possible. Some 100,000 copies were thought to have been sold in the 18 months following its release, it spawned a plethora of contemporary imitators and was to continue to influence the aesthetic style of Radical political satire for at least a generation.

Given the contemporary commercial success enjoyed by The Political House… it’s not entirely surprising that the illustrations from the book were taken up by the pottery trade and transfer printed onto creamware. Nevertheless, I must admit to being somewhat surprised when I came across these two plates in an auction catalogue recently. After all, scenes of famine, civil unrest and Radical political satire are not normally the sort of things one expects to see staring back at you from the kitchen dresser. Perhaps this explains why these plates appear to be so rare?

They are decorated with transfers of cuts 8 and 9 from Hone and Cruikshank’s pamphlet, with each illustration being accompanied by a short quote from the text. The plate on the right, shows the starving people of Manchester (or England as a whole) watching in despair as their fellows are attacked by a rampaging group of yeoman cavalry (à la Peterloo) and is accompanied by the text: “What man seeing this, and having human feelings, does not blush and hang his head to think himself a man?” The plate on the left is decorated with an image of Sidmouth, Castlereagh and Canning in conversation. The text reads: “Dream after dream ensues and they dream that they shall still succeed and still are disappoint[ed].” A quote which Hone lifted from William Cowper’s epic poem The Task (1785) and which refers to the dogged pursuit of a deluded and worthless aim.

As I said before, these plates are rather rare and it appears as though a number of people were keen on acquiring them when they came up at auction the other week. In the end they sold for £850, meaning that the winning bidder will have to part with just over £1,000 once the auctioneer’s fee and any taxes are factored in.


New Book | The Politics of Parody — Enfilade

From Yale UP: David Francis Taylor, The Politics of Parody: A Literary History of Caricature, 1760–1830 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2018), 320 pages, ISBN: 978-0300223750, $50. This engaging study explores how the works of Shakespeare, Milton, Swift, and others were taken up by caricaturists as a means of helping the eighteenth-century British public make […]

via New Book | The Politics of Parody — Enfilade

Fanning the Flames of Revolution

Political turmoil, coupled with the tearing down of repressive ancien régime laws on press censorship, prompted a boom in satirical print publishing in Paris during the revolutionary summer of 1789. The French print market, which had hitherto been dominated by elaborate, classical-style, engravings of landscapes, historical subjects and genre scenes, was suddenly swamped by a flood of crude political caricatures that were shocking to the sensibilities of cultivated observers. When the educational reformer and publisher Joachim Heinrich Campe visited Paris as a revolutionary tourist in the summer of 1789, he noted that the walls of every building on the banks of the Seine were festooned with printed images concerning the Revolution [1].

Whilst most of these images were designed to appeal to the baser sentiments of the Parisian mob, others were evidently targeted at the middling classes and members of the aristocracy (some of whom were still sympathetic to the early phase of revolutionary fervor.) These images were often executed in the same careful manner as traditional ancien régime engravings and were presumably sold at a higher price and in much small numbers than the prints which Campe had observed littering the streets of Paris.

This printed fan-leaf is one such object. It is decorated with a satirical etching entitled La pompe funèbre du Clergé de France, décédé à l’Assemblée Nationale, le 2 novembre 1789 [The funeral pomp of the Clergy of France, died at the National Assembly, November 2, 1789], elements of which appear to have been copied from a contemporary engraving with aquatint. The image is an ironic scene of mourning, in which clergymen grieve for the loss of their wealth and privileges following the Revolutionary government’s decision to nationalise the property of the Catholic church. The liberation of the people from the burden of ecclesiastical taxes and the subordination of the church to the will of the state is celebrated in four columns of printed text on the rear of the leaf. 

The image does not appear to have been based on a real event. However, mock funerals were feature of both the French and American Revolutions, as well as Radical agitation in Great Britain. As one historian who has studied the phenomena of mock funerals in the context of the protests against British policy in colonial America explains, these ceremonies provided a means of translating political events into everyday life and “to transform a political conflict into a ritual defeat of evil.”[2].

  1. Hubertus Kohle, R.R., Visualizing the Revolution: Politics and the Pictorial Arts in Late Eighteenth-Century France, (London, 2008), pp. 37-38.

2. Fairfax Withington, A., Towards a More Perfect Union: Virtue and the Formation of American Republics, (Oxford, 1991), pp. 144 – 145.

Transfer printing on pottery – James Gillray’s Independence


James Gillray’s caricature of Thomas Tyrwhitt Jones (1765 – 1811), entitled Independence (1799), was copied and used as a decorative design on English pottery during the early nineteenth-century. The potteries would employ an engraver to etch the desired image onto a copperplate. The plate was heated and inked in the normal way, before being overlaid with damp tissue paper and passed through a rolling press. The tissue paper was then peeled from the plate, wrapped around a piece of pottery and burnished to leave an impression on the body of the vessel. Finally, the pot was soaked in order to remove the paper and could then either be sold or passed to a painter who would add colour to the design.

Copperplates used for engraving pottery transfer sheets can be distinguished from normal printing plates because the image, particularly the text, did not have to be engraved back-to-front. This was because image was pressed onto the inked underside of the wet paper, which was then lifted, placed onto the vessel and rubbed from the reverse side, meaning that it remained the right way around. This presumably made the whole task a lot quicker, easier and cheaper to accomplish than with conventional copperplate etching.

This plate, which is coming up at auction in the next couple of weeks, was used to print the text which appeared on the obverse of jugs carrying the Independence design. I have included a image of a creamware jug carrying the design on the right and you can read more about this object HERE.