back to works by this artist

John Thomas Smith

1766 - 1833

Smith’s Beggars, Nos.5 & 6 by John Thomas Smith

Smith’s Beggars, Nos.5 & 6   1816

  Original etchings.
Each signed in the plate.
S (average) 360 x 295 mm; P & I (average) 185 x 120 mm
Two very rare complete parts issue sets containing 16 original etchings (8 in each), stitched in original blue paper wrappers, as first published.
Inscribed in ink on the original blue paper front wrappers in a contemporary hand “Smith’s Beggars No.5 (& 6) 7 Shillings each Number”.

Excellent impressions with crisp clarity of line. First published issues, as released by the artist himself in May 1816 from his home address in Covent Garden.

John Thomas Smith’s first series of etchings of the beggars and itinerant traders of the streets of London are of particular significance for their social and political import. J.T.Smith’s publication was entitled Etchings of Remarkable Beggars, Itinerant Traders and other Persons of Notoriety in London and its Environs. It was made up of 48 individual etchings issued in six parts without text between December 1815 and May 1816. This was the first publication to be devoted exclusively to the poor and to the beggars of London – at the time a major topical issue. At the time of these etchings it was a period of acute economic depression in England, following the end of the Napoleonic wars. Poverty in London was rife and the increasingly large number of itinerant traders and beggars on the streets of the capital was becoming a serious problem.

Between the years 1815 and 1820, the government appointed no less than four Parliamentary select committees to investigate the workings of the Poor Law. By the time of his second group of etched works, Vagabondiana, released in 1817, J.T.Smith was able to note in the accompanying text that the actions taken by the authorities had resulted in a reduction in the number of beggars in the metropolis and this is reflected by the characters depicted in his later publication. It is also of note that in the intervening years J.T.Smith was elevated to the post of Keeper of Prints in the British Museum.

John Thomas Smith’s concern regarding poverty on the streets of London was later taken up by Charles Lamb in his essays and is the subject of three of Theodore Géricault’s best known lithographs.

All of the etchings are on cream wove paper with full margins and deckle edge. All are in excellent original condition.

Provenance: Collection of James Watt, Esq.