Advertisement for The Old Soldier newspaper, 1829
The history of Georgian visual satire is one which has largely been written by art historians and those using caricature prints to explore the political and social history of the long eighteenth-century. The focus of historical study has therefore tended to fall upon the content and meaning of prints, as well as the motives of the men and women who produced them, rather than on the prints themselves as commercial objects. Consequently, we still know relatively little about the various industrial and commercial processes that surrounded the manufacture, sale and consumption of visual satire.
The marketing of caricatures for example, is a subject which has eluded serious study and yet many of London’s publishers, printsellers and caricaturists were intimately bound up in the development of a burgeoning trade in print-based advertising. Topographic illustrations of London indicate that posters and advertising hoardings had become a ubiquitous feature of the metropolitan landscape by the end of the Walpolian era and the profits to be made from designing, engraving and publishing these advertisements provided London’s print shops and caricaturists with a vital subsidiary source of income. Inevitably, this creative and commercial overlap was to result in a gradual blurring of the boundaries between caricature and print-based advertising culture, with many prominent caricaturists introducing visual and linguistic elements of advertising into the lexicon of graphic satire. Notable examples of this include Hogarth’s copious use of mock billboards and signage in Southwark Fair (1733-4) and the correlation between George Cruikshank’s commercial engravings and the satirical work he would later produced for William Hone.
Unsurprisingly, given the degree of crossover between the two trades, printsellers themselves were often prolific and sophisticated users of advertising, with trade-cards, newspaper advertisements, handbills, elaborate hoardings and caricatures themselves, all being used as a means of drumming up publicity and announcing the arrival of new prints on the market. Unfortunately though, the ephemeral nature of many of these items means that they have subsequently been lost to history and surviving examples of printsellers advertisements are extremely rare.
This advertisement for the satirical newspaper The Old Soldier was published for the print and bookseller Joseph Onwhyn in late January 1829. Onwhyn was a relatively marginal figure in London’s publishing world and what little we can determine about his life and the nature of his business has to be inferred from the surviving remnants of the material he published. Onwhyn’s publishing career seems to have begun during the turbulent years of the Peterloo era when he was one of a number of radically-inclined publishers who began turning out cheap copies of tracts such as Bryon’s Don Juan and Cartwright’s English Constitution. He is also known to have produced a least one satirical print on the government’s attempts to impeach Queen Caroline on a charge of adultery. By the late 1820s Onwhyn’s commercial interests had broadened to include the production of more mundane items such as fashion prints and travel books but political material still seems to have formed the core of his business and he continued to publish radical prints such as Picture of England at the close of the year 1826 her colonies, her manufacturers, her navy, her sailors, her crowded prisons, and her starving population, long after such items had ceased to be fashionable among London’s other mainstream printsellers.
The fact that Onwhyn could afford to produce a run of illustrated advertisements suggests that his business must have been in relatively good health during the late 1820s. However, the low quality of the paper which the design has been printed on and Onwyhn’s decision to use the more economical form of woodcut engraving, clearly indicates that his was a business which was catering for a less affluent clientèle than that of West End rivals such as George Humphrey and Thomas McLean.
The design itself contains influences from both contemporary advertising and the wider genre of graphic satire. Onwhyn’s attempts to exhort his audience to ‘enroll in the Old Soldier’s Company’ by purchasing “this truly British and constitutional journal” can be read as a calculating satire upon the self-serving patriotism of the Tory presses and the military recruitment officer. His decision to use woodblock-engraving for the caricatures may also have been a deliberate marketing ploy, designed to evoke images of the hugely successful series of woodcut-illustrated radical pamphlets which had been produced by William Hone and George Cruikshank a decade earlier. Indeed, there is a distinctly Cruikshankian air to the three illustrations which have been used to decorate the advertisement, although the presence of the initials “W.C.W” suggests that they were probably the work of W.C. Wise.
Items such as this provide us with a fascinating insight into the wider business of making and selling satirical prints in the early nineteenth-century. They also serve to remind us that caricature prints did not exist in a creative and commercial vacuum and were in fact only a minor part of an increasingly diverse and sophisticated culture of print-based material.