Humphrey Shop Album Conserved and Cataloged

February 28, 2019

In 2014 the library acquired a blue paper shop album created by the London satiric print publisher George Humphrey (1773?-1831?). George Humphrey was the nephew and successor to Hannah Humphrey, the exclusive publisher of James Gillray for most of his career. George Humphrey continued his aunt’s successful print business at the same fashionable West End address in St. James’s Street. George Humphrey’s trade  card is pasted inside the original front board.

Over the past few years, the album has undergone significant treatment by library conservator Laura O’Brien Miller, including extensive cleaning and providing a new custom binding so that pages can be turned. Scholars and students may now browse the volume in person as contemporary customers would have done, while researchers from afar may browse images of the volume online thanks to digitization efforts. After conservation treatment was completed, library assistant Scott Poglitsch cataloged the individual prints in Orbis, where the records provide increased access using summary notes, subject headings for the depicted figures, and references to the British Museum catalogue.

This large folio album (approximately 66 x 50 cm) includes 130 early nineteenth-century prints, 117 of which were not previously represented in the Lewis Walpole Library collection. All are etchings and engravings with original, fresh publisher’s hand color, with more than a dozen of the titles not held by the British Museum. Among the printmakers represented are Theodore Lane (54 prints), George Cruikshank (17), Robert Cruikshank (14), William Heath (6), J.L. Marks (6) and Charles Williams (5). Although offered for sale by George Humphrey, the album also includes prints published by competitors S.W. Fores, William Benbow, J.L Marks, and John Fairburn. Virtually all the prints are satires dedicated to the scandal over the trial of George IV’s divorce from Queen Caroline and the Queen’s alleged affair with Count Bergami. The album spans roughly one year of prints published from June 1820, when the Queen returned from Europe to London, through May 1821. She died shortly thereafter on August 7, 1821. The satires feature many major figures involved in the scandal. In addition to Queen Caroline, King George, and Bergami, other prominent figures are repeatedly depicted in the prints: Sir Matthew Wood, the London Alderman who advised the Queen; the politicians Castlereagh, Sidmouth, and Liverpool; and the Queen’s lawyers, Brougham and Denman. 

This album is a unique and exciting acquisition for the Lewis Walpole Library print collection for several reasons. First, the volume provides strong material evidence for the history of the London print market for satire in the long eighteenth century that has been a growing strength of the Library’s research and educational programs. The album is a rare surviving example of a volume that a print seller would put together in order to showcase for clients visiting the shop the satirical prints available for purchase either from existing inventory or to be printed to order from copper plates in the publisher’s stock. Most such albums are broken up and sold by later dealers. Further, the prints in the album are fine examples of prints with publisher’s hand coloring. The solid provenance as such provides an important resource for future collaborative projects between conservators and curators on hand-coloring that have been under discussion for some time. In recent years the Library has been building the collections in this period including a very nice impression of Theodore Lane’s print Honi Soit Qui Mal Y Pense (1821), depicting Humphrey’s shop window, that was acquired in 2010 to support growing research, master classes and workshops focusing on the comic image and the print market in the early nineteenth century.

In fall 2019, the Humphrey album will be featured as part of an exhibition project Trial by Media: The Queen Caroline Scandal at the Yale Law Library (September 9 to December 20, 2019). The exhibition is a collaboration between Cynthia Roman, Curator of Prints, Drawings and Paintings, The Lewis Walpole Library, and Mike Widener, Rare Book Librarian & Lecturer in Legal Research, Lillian Goldman Law Library. A conference is planned for the fall and a related online exhibition will feature brief essays by scholars from across disciplines.

–Scott Poglitsch and Cynthia Roman