Alderman Boydell: Printseller

Thomas Balston profiles John Boydell, Lord Mayor of London in 1790, who created the first great printselling business in Britain, and could count Reynolds, Romney, Fuseli, Benjamin West, and Wright of Derby among the artists who worked for him.

In 1732 appeared Hogarth’s six famous engravings of The Harlot’s Progress. Their publication aroused a huge demand; and, since the designs of English designers were still unprotected by law, they were immediately pirated. Not until 1734—and then chiefly thanks to the agitation of Hogarth himself— did Parliament pass the first Engraving Copyright Act, which gave engravers an exclusive right to their own designs for fourteen years from the date of publication, provided that this date and the proprietor’s name were shown on each print. Even this short period of protection sufficed to make the engraving of independent prints a remunerative profession. Hogarth obtained a substantial livelihood from his later engravings, far greater than he ever earned by his paintings; and his success encouraged many others. Among them was a young man, John Boydell, who was to become the greatest printseller in our history, and to create for English prints a Continental market.

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