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Charles Peirce Collection of Social and
Political Caricatures and Ballads

Introduction to the Collection by Allison Stagg, 2009 recipient of a
Jay and Deborah Last Fellowship
at the American Antiquarian Society











Sample images from the original Charles Peirce album.
The bound Peirce album was disassembled in 1992
and each print foldered.
Note: photography done before conservation treatment was performed.




Satirical prints published in London during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries were presented in various ways for a growing consumer audience.  Social and political caricatures were often displayed on print sellers’ walls and in shop windows, where a single impression could be purchased; the price dependent on size and coloring. 

During this “golden age of caricature,” print publishers also noticed that there was a demand for humorous prints that could be lent out, rather than purchased.  In this instance, bound volumes of caricature could be lent out for the day, evening, or even for a week at a time. These volumes became increasingly popular with the London audience, as they provided sources of amusement and entertainment shared between family and friends. 


As in London, caricatures published in the United States are known to have been displayed in print sellers’ shops, however, there had not been any evidence to suggest that contemporary American audiences had access to bound volumes of visual satire, or that there was a market for them.

With the important gift to the American Antiquarian Society of Charles Peirce’s book of bound caricatures, as well as corresponding newspaper advertisements that describe his book,  it is now known that at least one volume of bound caricatures was available to be lent out in 1807. 

It is likely that Charles Peirce (1770-1851), a well-known New Hampshire bookseller, bound the caricatures in early 1807, when the first mention of his book of caricatures was published in the New Hampshire newspaper, Portsmouth Oracle:   “Entertainment for Tea Parties, &c., A BOOK of Caricatures, consisting of handsome figures, pleasing likenesses; ugly but necessary positions, etc. etc. may be hired by the hour, day or evening…” 1 Four months later, Peirce advertised again in the same newspaper that his book of caricatures, “… is now completely filled with new BEAUTIES! and ready to let for 20 cents an hour.2

Now disassembled, the collection and online illustrated inventory consists of 65 British and American satirical prints published between 1796 and 1807.  Well-known British caricaturists James Gillray (1757-1815), Isaac Cruickshank (1756-1811) and Charles Williams (active 1797-1830), are well represented with colored social satires.  As well, the publishers represented within this collection include Samuel W. Fores (1761-1838), William Holland (1757-1815), and Thomas Tegg (1776-1846), all three of whom advertised that bound portfolios of caricatures could be lent from their London shops.  Indeed, several of the caricatures found within the Peirce Collection promote this within the impression in the publication line.

Above: Details of advertisements from the Portsmouth Oracle.

Below: Detail from a map showing 'Daniel Street' where Charles Peirce operated his book-store. Whitman, T. Boston [1813] "Map of the Compact Part of the Town of Portsmouth" Surveyed and Drawn by J.G. Hales. AAS Map Collection: NH Towns.



Above: Street scene and tavern in Newburyport between 1805-1810. Prince Stetson & Co. Ephemera TradeF 0101.

Below: Business correspondence and signature from Charles Peirce for his Portsmouth book-store dated June 2, 1807. Peirce Family Papers Mss. "P" Box 1 Folder 2.




The Peirce Collection also contains a remarkable number of satirical prints, including several previously unknown impressions, by James Akin (1773-1846).  Akin is the only American caricaturist to be represented in the Peirce Collection.  Akin travelled to London in 1798 where he would have been exposed to the growing satirical print world.  He returned to Philadelphia, where he worked primarily as an engraver before moving to Newburyport, Massachusetts in 1804.  The caricatures represented by Akin within this collection were likely published while he was active in Newburyport, between 1804 and 1807.

This fully illustrated inventory features all prints which, upon being disbound from the album, were individually foldered and treated by conservation. The folders are not organized by date, place, subject or artist, but instead preserve the original order the prints appeared in the Charles Peirce album. Those of American origin have bibliographic records in the Catalogue of American Engravings [CAEP], a union catalogue of engravings through the year 1820; a live link is provided for those prints in CAEP. Prints of a British origin have their British Museum number listed which was supplied by the Catalogue of Prints and Drawings in the British Museum (AAS Call number: BIB Prints Brit C870).

Supplied in the inventory is the sheet size, title of print, publisher/artist information and year in addition to a brief description. Researchers interested in viewing additional British prints can consult the European Political Print Collection where the British Museum prints are arranged chronologically. 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.

The Charles Peirce Collection was the gift of the heirs of Harold Peirce, February 1991.

1. Portsmouth Oracle (Portsmouth, New Hampshire) June 6, 1807.
2. Portsmouth Oracle (Portsmouth, New Hampshire) October 17, 1807.


This site last updated: December 2009

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