Syntaxplate

Thomas Rowlandson and William Combe’s Doctor Syntax was undoubtedly one of the most popular characters to emerge from the world of the early nineteenth-century print shop. Georgian audiences couldn’t get enough of the elderly curate who had a habit of getting himself into scrapes, and consequently the series soon became the focus of several pirate editions, as well as some of the very first merchandising. By the time Rowlandson and Combe decided to kill Syntax off in 1821, his face was already appearing on plates, figurines, buttons, snuff boxes and handkerchiefs all over Britain. Indeed, it appears that the character was so popular that British manufacturers were able to begin exporting Syntax merchandise abroad.

This gorgeous blue transfer-printed serving plate for example, is decorated with a fine copy of Plate 18 from Doctor Syntax in Search of a Wife (1821). What is particularly interesting about it is the fact that it was produced by the Staffordshire company of James and Ralph Clewes, who specialised in making pottery for the North American market. This suggests that Syntax had a sizable American following and raises some interesting questions about the scale and extent of the trade in printed caricatures between Britain and the United States in this period.

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