European Political Print Collection

"The Rights of Man" 1791,
BM 7867
[click on image for more information]

"Tight Lacing, or Fashion before Ease" 1777, BM 5452
[click on image for more information]

"There’s No Living in England, So Here’s Off For Canada" 1833, BM Unidentified 14
[click on image for more information]

"America to her mistaken mother" 1794, BM 8460a
[click on image for more information]

This fully illustrated inventory of over 200 graphic arts items dating from 1720 to 1843 represents a traditionally out of scope area of the Society’s major collections, but 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. Titled the European Political Print Collection, the pieces 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. 

Additionally, 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 and illustrated inventory have 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 and authority work of the prints which include more text and context, consult this resource; there is also an online database by the British Museum which features many of the prints. 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 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 online catalog will yield numerous illustrated British periodicals such as the Political Register, Westminster Magazine, and London Magazine; many of these still retain their original engravings and were owned by AAS founder Isaiah Thomas. Prints in the European Political Print Collection may also be looked at alongside graphic arts items printed on the American continent such lithographs and engravings as well as the more than 600 cataloged political cartoons.

The Society has handful of cataloged engravings printed in London; to view the catalog records for these prints, please click here. In addition to these cataloged items, AAS also has an uncatalogued graphics collection of British deeds, maps, documents and broadsides. To view these items uncatalogued items, please contact the Graphic Arts department. While thumbnail images and 150 dpi scans are available for every work, those interested in ordering higher quality reproductions may visit the Society’s Rights and Reproductions page or email reproductions[at]

Finally, the Society owns the Charles Peirce Collection of social and political caricatures and ballads, a disassembled album of 65 prints; 36 of these prints appear in the CPDBM and a total of 55 are of British origin. Researchers interested in this collection can visit the illustrated box list for the Peirce Collection or follow the cross-index in this inventory. Those appearing in the CPDBM and can be found on Box 4 Folder 1.


- Jaclyn Penny, Graphic Arts Assistant

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

This site last updated: November 2009

This site and all contents © 2009 American Antiquarian Society