European Political Prints

The American Antiquarian Society's collection of over 200 European political prints dating from 1720 to 1843 represents a traditionally out of scope area of the Society's major collections. However, it remains a rich resource for those studying the cultural capital of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. While the advent of American caricatures and cartoons is found with Paul Revere, William Charles and the comic popularity of David Claypoole Johnston, this collection traces the source of such artists to the Transatlantic world. The prints are of British, French, German and Dutch origin, and feature content in various languages. Some of the prints are hand-colored and others have text or poems beneath referencing the visual material; the processes represented are mezzotint, aquatint, engraving and etching.


The box list of the entire collection, which also serves as an inventory, is fully illustrated.

Some of the pieces were issued as separately published prints while others were extracted from illustrated periodicals. Whereas a significant portion of the collection is of a humorous nature, there are also historical scenes, social satires, allegorical representations and portraits. Common subjects include the figure of Britannia, King George, Lords North, Fox and Bute, John Wilkes, Thomas Paine and Benjamin Franklin as well as the American Revolution and the War of 1812. More than half of the items relate directly to America, and a large number of the remaining prints highlight dealings with the West Indies, Canada, trade in the Atlantic and international relationships between European rivals. In addition to fictitious artists and publishers, well-known satirists include Isaac Cruikshank (1756-1811) and George Cruikshank (1792-1878), James Gillray (1757-1815), and Thomas Rowlandson (1756-1827).

The collection has been arranged chronologically and divided into four standard-sized boxes and one folio sized box; the numbering system (BM ####) refers to the bibliography Catalogue of Prints and Drawings in the British Museum,(AAS call number: BIB Prints Brit C870, hereafter referred to as CPDBM). For descriptions of the prints which include more text and context, consult this resource. Items without a number in this text or which are a variant of a print are annotated with the letter 'a'. In addition to a 2-3 sentence description of the print, the sheet size, title of print, or first line of text, known publisher/artist information and year have been supplied.

The majority of the prints in this collection were given to the Society by J. Percy Sabin in the 1930s 1. While the Graphic Arts department is still actively collecting items for the European Political Print Collection, the prints featured here are not exhaustive of the Society’s holdings. A search of the Society’s General Catalog will yield numerous illustrated British periodicals. Many of these still retain their original engravings and were owned by AAS founder Isaiah Thomas.

1. “Report of the Librarian” in Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society Oct. 1934 pp. 254-5.

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