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Collection Cartoon Prints, British

About this Collection

The Prints and Photographs Division holds one of the largest collections of British political and satirical prints in America. The approximately 9,000 prints (approximately 8,500 distinct images) in the collection highlight British political life, society, fashion, manners, and theater. They were published primarily between 1780 and 1830, an era dominated by the prodigious talents and prolific efforts of such famous caricaturists as James Gillray and George Cruikshank.

The Library of Congress purchased the vast majority of the prints in this collection from the Royal Library at Windsor Castle in 1921. About two thousand of the cartoons in the collection are not found in the British Museum, the institution which holds the largest collection of British political and satirical prints in the world. The Prints and Photographs Division's holdings at the Library of Congress are thought to be the second largest collection outside Great Britain. (The Lewis Walpole Library at Yale University has about thirty thousand.) The acquisition of the Windsor Castle collection enriched the Library's collections of satires from other European nations as well. (See Related Resources for further information on the Prints & Photographs Division's other cartoon holdings and related collections in other institutions.)

Descriptions for all of the Library's collection can be searched online. A portion of the descriptions are accompanied by digital images--generally those cartoons for which researchers have requested reproductions.

Cartoonists Represented in the Collection

Cartoonists amply represented in the Library of Congress collection include:

Smaller groups of works by others are also included, among them:

While there were gaps in the collection acquired from Windsor Castle -- the Royal Library retained the works by William Hogarth, Thomas Rowlandson, James Sayers, Robert Seymour, and John Doyle -- the Library of Congress has acquired works by these artists from other sources over the years.

The Royal Collection

The caricatures form a collection of unsurpassing research value and historical interest not only for the breadth and quality of the impressions, and their depiction of British life, but also for their close association with the British royal family.

The Prince of Wales (later George IV), built on the collection created by his father George III. The two monarchs shared a passion for satires and acquired contemporary works, as well as those from earlier periods. On occasion, when confronted by a particularly offensive royal caricature, they attempted to suppress distribution of the offending cartoon by purchasing the entire edition and the plate from which it was printed. This practice is evidenced by several Windsor caricatures which bear the inscription "suppressed" within the margin below the image.

The golden Georgian age of English caricature lasted from 1770 to 1820. By the time of George IV's death in 1830, the popularity of the individually published political print was waning and artists were turning their talents to the field of illustration of books, magazines, and newspapers. The collection remained in Windsor Castle, stored in albums, until it arrived at the Library of Congress.

Cartoon Themes

The cartoons cast a satirical light on many of the political events and issues of the time, as well as on manners and mores. Among the subjects represented in the online portion of the collection, for instance, are:

The cartoons poke fun at a variety of individuals, including rulers and their consorts, prime ministers, and politicians. For example, the cartoons portray the foibles of:

Arrangement and Access

Arrangement | Finding and Viewing Cartoons | Ordering Reproductions

Descriptions for all of the Library of Congress British cartoon prints are available online in the Prints & Photographs Online Catalog. A portion of the descriptions are accompanied by digital images–generally those cartoons for which researchers have requested reproductions. The remaining cartoons are accessed through book catalogs and microfilm.

Because most of the caricatures were purchased shortly after they were printed and have only rarely been handled or exposed to light, the majority remain in pristine condition. To maintain this condition, the Library of Congress asks researchers to work initially with microfilm or, where available, digitized images. Original prints are served only as research needs require, balancing these needs with the preservation needs of the objects themselves.

Arrangement of the Collection

The British cartoons are in three groups:

  1. British political cartoon prints, social satires, and illustrated broadsides, 1655-1832, listed in the British Museum's Catalogue of Political and Personal Satires (BMC). (Call number begins with "PC 1")
  2. British political cartoons, as described above, which are NOT LISTED IN BMC and which are NOT DATED. Arranged by title. (Call number begins with "PC 2")
  3. British political prints, as described above, which are NOT LISTED IN BMC and which ARE DATED. Arranged by date, then by title. (Call number begins with "PC 3")

Finding and Viewing Cartoons

  1. PC 1 (Cartoons in BMC)
    • Finding Cartoons: All are described online. They are also described in the Catalogue of Political and Personal Satires (Full citation: British Museum. Dept. of Prints and Drawings. Catalogue of prints and drawings in the British Museum: Division I. Political and personal satires. [London] Printed by order of the Trustees, 1870-1954.) (BMC) P&P reference book collection. 11 volumes.
      Call number: NE55.L7A3 P&P Ref. 17,400 English satiric prints from the British Museum listed chronologically with BMC catalog numbers running consecutively. Cartoons owned by P&P are checkmarked. Partially annotated with LC negative numbers.
      • Vols. 1-4 (1655-1770) not indexed save for a title index at end of Vol. 3, Part 2.
      • Vols. 5-11 (1771 to 1832) fully indexed by titles, people, selected subjects, artists, printsellers and publishers.
    • Viewing: For those not viewable online, use the microfilm of English Cartoons and Satiric Prints, 1320-1832, in the British Museum. Cambridge, England: Chadwyck-Healey, Ltd.; Teaneck, NJ: Somerset House, 1978. 21 reels.
      Call number: Microfilm 83/26(N) - P&P reference microfilm collection The British Museum made this microfilm of its prints. The Library of Congress holds impressions of many of the same prints. The British Museum's prints and the prints held by the Library of Congress may differ in condition or in notations such as "suppressed." The prints are arranged on the microfilm by BMC number. Catalog numbers are listed at the start of each reel; with the corresponding volume no. of BMC given for looking up title, commentary, etc.
  2. PC 2 (Not in BMC; undated)
    • Finding Cartoons: All of the descriptions are online, converted from volume 1 of the unpublished 1968 checklist, "British Political and Social Caricatures, 1655-1832, a checklist ...of the cartoons in the Prints & Photographs Division of the Library of Congress which are not in the public catalogs of the British Museum, London." The unpublished checklist, partially annotated with microfilm reel and frame numbers, is available in the P&P reference book collection (Call number: NC1470.M4 vol. 1 P&P Ref). Card indices of artists, publishers, and printsellers are also available in the P&P reading room.
    • Viewing: For those not viewable online, use Microfilm LOT 12022, reel 1, "British Political and Social Cartoons, 1655-1832," not in the British Museum," produced by the Library of Congress' Photoduplication Service, 1970. The microfilm is available in the Prints & Photographs Reading Room, the Lewis Walpole Library, and the Print Room of the British Museum. The microfilm is also available for purchase from the Library of Congress Photoduplication Service (microfilm positive).
  3. PC 3 (Not in BMC; dated):
    • Finding Cartoons: All of the descriptions are online, converted from volume 2 of the checklist of British cartoons owned by P&P not listed in BMC. The unpublished checklist, partially annotated with microfilm reel and frame numbers, is available in the P&P reference book collection (Call number: NC1470.M4 vol. 2 P&P Ref). Card indices of titles, artists, publishers, and printsellers are also available in the P&P reading room.
    • Viewing: For those not viewable online, use Microfilm LOT 12022, reels 2-4, "British Political and Social Cartoons, 1655-1832, not in the British Museum," produced by the Library of Congress Photoduplication Service, 1970. The microfilm is available in the Prints & Photographs Reading Roomand the Print Room of the British Museum. The Lewis Walpole Library holds photostats made from the microfilm. The microfilm is also available for purchase from the Library of Congress Photoduplication Service (microfilm positive).

Ordering Reproductions of Cartoons

The Library of Congress Photoduplication Service can produce photographic copies of cartoons; it does not make facsimile copies of the prints.

  • Cartoons With Reproduction Numbers If the cartoon already has a reproduction number (usually LC-USZ----), a patron should provide that number to the Photoduplication Service.
  • Cartoons With No Reproduction Numbers If the cartoon does not yet have a reproduction number, a patron should cite the original cartoon call number:
    For PC 1: PC 1 + [BMC number] P&P
    For PC 2: PC 2 + [title] P&P
    For PC 3: PC 3 + [date + title] P&P
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