This is a surprisingly difficult question to answer. The price of satirical prints fluctuated throughout the second half of the eighteenth-century and were influenced by a variety of factors such as: the size of the print; whether it was coloured; the complexity of the engraving methods used; the reputation of the artist; and the type of customer the publisher hoped to sell it to.
When caricature prints first began to appear in the 1760s and 1770s they were considered to be a form of printed ephemera; fun and diverting but essentially disposable, and they were priced accordingly. The humorous engravings listed in Sayer & Bennet’s catalogue for 1775 were all priced at 6d each and even the larger mezzotint satires were only sold for a shilling (this includes a number of prints on the unfolding rebellion in the American colonies which are worth many thousands of pounds each today) .
This standardised approach to pricing was abandoned as satirical prints began to become more popular during the early 1780s. Publishers began to invest more in the production of satirical prints, commissioning larger designs from professional artists and increasingly having them coloured for sale, all of which had to be factored into the final retail price. Consumer habits also changed, with the rise of collectors and customers who were willing to pay considerably more for satirical prints than they those of the previous generation. By the early 1790s, prices in the West End of London had increased to a range of anywhere between 1s 6d and 8s for coloured copies of most averagely-sized satirical prints .
Comparison between the catalogues of Sayer & Bennett for 1775 and William Holland’s for 1794 illustrates the degree to which pricing structures had changed by the end of the century. Holland’s caricatures were all individually priced, with rates ranging from 1s for a small engraving by Thomas Rowlandson to £1 1s for Richard Newton’s A Dance in the Temple of Hymen. Coloured copies of line engraved satires such as Newton’s Resurrection Men and G.W. Woodward’s A Clerical Rebuke and a Parochial Reply cost 2s each and made up the bulk of his stock, but the average price of a print from Holland’s shop was much higher at around 5s – 6s. Holland’s prices appear to have been influenced by three main factors: firstly, the size of the design, with large decorative prints such as F.G. Byron’s Hue and Cry after a Highwayman and the aforementioned Dance in the Temple of Hymen being the most expensive items in his catalogue. Secondly, the complexity of the engraving method(s) used to produce the print, with a complex multi-paneled design such as Newton’s Sketches in a Shaving Shop, or prints incorporating elements of stipple and / or aquatint, being priced at around 4s – 5s. Thirdly, was the reputation of the artist, with prints by famous artists such as Gillray and Rowlandson typically costing 6s – 8s each .
By the end of the first decade of the nineteenth-century the expensive printshops of the West End were coming under sustained pressure from a new generation of publishers. The most famous of these was Thomas Tegg of Cheapside, who produced large quantities of cheaply coloured line engraved satires which were sold at the standard price of 1s. Tegg made pricing a central theme of his advertisements, assuring potential customers that as “at 1s each” his prints were “equal to any, and superior to most, published at double the price” elsewhere . John Johnston, another City printseller in the Tegg mould, went even further, dubbing his shop the “Cheap Caricature Warehouse” and boasting that he would publish a new caricature every day for the price of 1s – 2s .
So to return to our original question, the answer would appear to be – “it depends on which print you were hoping to buy and from which shop you intended to buy it.”
- Sayer & Bennett’s Catalogue of prints for the year 1775, (London, 1970).
- Rudolph Ackermann, A Catalogue of Various Prints (London, 1805). S.W. Fores publication lines and newspaper advertisements indicate a similar range of pricing to William Holland. See Times 20 February 1790, 12 July 1790, 18 February 1793.
- S. Turner & D. Alexander, ‘William Holland’s Satirical Print Catalogues, 1788-1794’, Print Quarterly, Vol. 16, No. 2 (JUNE 1999), pp. 127-138.
- Advertisement in flyleaf for Chesterfield Travestie; or a school for modern manners, (London, 1808).
- BM Satires 11249.