LET ME GIVE YOU MY CARD – A Brief History of Early Business Cards

Louisa Cornell

These days anyone in any sort of business knows the advantage and efficiency an attractive and well-worded business card can provide. These small embossed pieces of card stock are a relatively inexpensive and quick way to get the word out about the services one offers. Tucked away in a potential customer’s wallet or kitchen drawer they offer a chance of repeat customers or of custom from someone who discovers themselves in need of a particular service.

Brilliant idea, right? But where did the idea come from? We will likely never know precisely, but here are some things about early business cards in England, or rather trade cards, as they were more frequently called, that we do know. Their history is quite fascinating and presents a microcosm of the development of business and trade in the British Isles.

Trade cards first came into current use after 1700. There are a few examples from as early as 1630, but their consistent use is not documented until after 1700. They were originally sheets of paper ranging up to folio size. They were called by a variety of names – tradesmen’s cards, tradesmen’s bills or shopkeepers’ bills. By the nineteenth century, with the advent of so many printing techniques they ranged from calling card size to highly colored handbills known as counter cards.

The cards of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries featured some aesthetic qualities to rival and even surpass those of today. They reflect the skills of artisans through two centuries. The lettering is well-drawn and spaced with machine-like precision. The designs and devices that appear on the cards are direct and eye-catching. These early cards belonged primarily to those in professions or those of the merchant class. Their designs were created to appeal to the educated classes.

Many of the early trading cards show the influence of Thomas Chippendale, especially his work in the popular Chinese style. This was especially true once the public menace of ornate hanging signs to denote a business location was replaced with the street numbering of addresses around the year 1762. The focus of the cards also changed. The script of the cards came to include the type of goods advertised and directions to the establishment.

Richard Severn, Jeweller and Toyman

The corner of Paul’s Grove-Head-Court

near Temple Barr, London

 

John Suffield was an engraver and desiger of lettering, although he was also known through his signed metal work and made a medal commemorating the election of Sir Charles Cockerell to Evesham in 1819. Suffield is also listed in the 1817 Johnstone’s London Commercial Giude, and Street Directory.

 

 

Trade Card for R. Ackermann, Printseller and Art Dealer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trade card of Thomas Waring, bow and arrow maker

 

 

 

 

For those who want to learn more on this intriguing subject I suggest the book:

London Tradesmen’s Cards of the Eighteenth Century by Ambrose Heal.

If you are interested in the role trade cards have played in discovering the role of women in business in 18th and 19th century England, stay tuned. I will be adding a post dedicated to that subject quite soon!

 

 

ARTISTS / CARICATURISTS OF THE REGENCY ERA – HENRY ALKEN(1785-1851) – PART TWO

Louisa Cornell

I spent the three best years of my childhood in a little village in Suffolk – Kelsale – where I learned to ride and, more important, how not to ride. One of my prized possessions from those years is a little book of young rider themed cartoons entitled Angels on Horseback by the English cartoonist, Norman Thelwell.

 

His work pokes fun in a harmless and hilarious way at the efforts of young equestrians to meet the expectations of their pushy horsey parents and their tyrannical riding instructors.

There is an entire series of books of Thelwell’s horsey themed cartoons. Fifty years later I still find them amusing and, in many cases, far too accurate for comfort when it comes to my own early riding adventures.

Perhaps that is why I am such a fan of the work of Regency era artist and caricaturist, Henry Alken (1785-1851.) The great majority of his work depicts various sporting activities associated with horses, horsemen, the hunt, and horse racing. His serious work is elegant, polished, and includes little details that make it impossible to view a piece without finding something new and intriguing at each viewing.

However, it seems Mr. Alken had a sense of humor similar to that of Mr. Thelwell. Between 1780 and 1840, the material and style of clothing worn by those riding to hounds was transformed from the rough and billowy style of the country squire to the sculpted, flattering, and stylish fashions preferred by the young men of Town who sought to join the hunt in order to prove their masculinity and physical prowess. For these young urban Corinthians appearances, style, and the show of an athletic physique were paramount. For many, horsemanship came second.

There were a number of names given to these young toffs. The most prominent, however, was that of Meltonian. This is the term Henry Alken used to describe the riders in his humorous prints of the hunt. The name is derived from the town of Melton Mowbray in Leceistershire, a popular place for young Corinthians to gather and ride to hounds. Getting out of Town and spending time in the country engaged in hunting and shooting was a vital part of a young gentleman’s social life. I’ll do a longer post on the Meltonians soon as they definitely deserve a closer look.

However, Henry Alken’s prints concerning the Meltonian set leave his opinion of these gentlemen sportsmen in no doubt. In fact he did an entire series of prints entitled How to be a Meltonian.

How to be a Meltonian. Henry Alken

 

 

 

 

 

I hope you have enjoyed a brief look at Henry Alken’s humorous prints. And I wonder, am I the only one who sees the similarity in vision between his work and that of Thelwell? Either way, both artists present views on horses and horsemanship that both entertain and delight.

Part Three of this post will take a look at Alken’s more serious prints. Stay tuned!

WOMEN IN BUSINESS – REGENCY STYLE – ELEANOR COADE (1733-1821)

Louisa Cornell

A fellow author recently told me about a review of one of her Regency historical romances in which the reader objected to the heroine being in possession of her own fortune and business. As March is Women’s History Month, I thought it appropriate to blog about a woman who not only owned her own business, but was considered a leader in her field even by the rather chauvinistic men of her era.

Eleanor Code

Eleanor Coade was born in June of 1733 in Exeter. Her father was a wool merchant. The family moved to London in 1759 after Eleanor’s father’s business went bankrupt. Eleanor set up a linen and drapery business not long after they arrived in London. Here is where she gained her first experience and knowledge as to how to run a business. After her father’s death in 1769 Eleanor went to work setting up her own stone factory at King’s Arms Stairs, Narrow Wall, in the Lambeth area of London.

An engraving of the Coade Stone Factory yard at Narrow Wall, Lambeth, London, in about 1800.

The source of her funding for opening and operating such an endeavor is not well-known. However, as her family were dissenters-Protestants who did not adhere to the tenets of the Church of England – it is believe the money came from a combination of her linen and drapery business and investments from other dissenters. These sorts of investments were common in an age when many dissenters were shunned for their religious beliefs. However, as a woman Eleanor must have been incredibly professional and persuasive to gain the sort of investors it likely took to found such an expensive concern.

A number of factors came together to make Eleanor Coade the right person in the right business at the right time. She was sharp enough and insightful enough to know that and to take advantage of the situation. The local Building Act of 1774 banned all but the absolute necessary use of wood in building due to the fire hazard wood presented. Stone became the preferred high status building material of choice in spite of its expense, labor intensity, and the taxes involved.

Eleanor Coade’s artificial stone made from a ceramic process came along at the perfect time. Because of its malleability, it became the most used material when it came to creating stunning architectural embellishments for beautiful exteriors and interiors. Throughout the first half of the eighteenth century many different kinds of artificial stone had been created to serve this purpose. Most of these, however, failed the tests of the elements or where inferior to the task of producing detailed stonework.

Coadestone statue, Lady Gandes, 1794

The material produced at Mrs. Coade’s Lambeth facility was workable enough to create details as fine as those by French and Italian artisans working in actual stone. It shrank very little in the firing process and best of all the color mimicked that of actual stone. Under her direction, her factory produced a kiln-fired ceramic made of a somewhat secret formula of clay, grog, flint, sand, and glass. It could be cast in molds and was impervious to weather and the attachment of lichens and other discoloring agents.

Coadestone caryatids and architectural decorations on a porte cochere in Pall Mall.

In a clever PR move Eleanor hired celebrated sculptor John Bacon (1777-1859) and showcased his classically Greek pieces in a showroom in London. Coade stone was in demand by architects like John Nash, Robert Adam, and John Soane to name a few. Pieces from her factory graced the finest homes in England and her factory even produced pieces for King George III and the Prince of Wales aka Prinny.

 

 

South Front of Kedleston Hall designed by Robert Adam, Coadestone Urns flank the entrance on the piano nobile.

Though Eleanor used the name Mrs Coade, she never married. Unmarried women in business at this time adopted the title Mrs. as a sort of protection and mark of respectablity. Apart from the 14 years from 1799 when she was in partnership with her cousin, John Sealy, she remained in sole charge of the business. In 1799 the company opened a spacious showroom, Coade’s Gallery, near the south end of Westminster Bridge to better display their wares.

In later life Eleanor Coade was an active philanthropist, helping those in need – usually women in difficult circumstances. The bequests she left to three married women in her will stated that none of their husband’s were to have access to the funds, despite her actions not being supported in law at the time.

Sealy died in 1813, and the firm continued to flourish until Eleanor’s death in 1821, aged 88. On her death her manager, William Croggon, a distant relation, bought the factory, and Coade stone remained in use for at least a decade before the firm eventually closed in the 1840s.

All her life she protected the ‘secret’ of her stone’s success. It was said its recipe went to the grave with her. However, recently Coadestone, a phenomenon of the Regency, had its recipe rediscovered and today a range of Coade sculpture can be found at new workshops in Wilton. The formula she used was: 10% grog, 5-10% of crushed flint, 5-10% fine quartz, 10% crushed soda lime glass and 60-70% of Ball clay which came from Dorset and Devon.

Her business acumen was so greatly admired that her obituary noticed appeared in The Gentleman’s Magazine, Volume 91, December 1821.

November 18th at Camberwell in her 89th year, Mrs. Eleanor Coade, sole inventor and proprietor of an art which deserves considerable notice. In 1769 a burnt artificial stone manufactory was erected by Mrs. Coade at King’s Arms Stairs, Narrow Wall, Lambeth. This manufactory has been carried on from that time to the present on a very extensive scale, being a property peculiar to itself of resisting the frost and consequently of retaining that sharpness in which it excels every kind of stone sculpture and even equals marble itself.

At the height of her success, Eleanor Coade bought her uncle’s house in Lyme Regis as her personal retreat and holiday home. Many of the stone accents and features are made of Coade stone. The author John Fowles, who bought Belmont House in 1968 and lived there until his death, described her as ‘that very rare thing, both an artist and a successful early woman industrialist’.

Belmont House

 

ARTISTS / CARICATURISTS OF THE REGENCY ERA – HENRY ALKEN(1785-1851) – PART ONE

Louisa Cornell

Henry Alken was an English painter and engraver best known for his caricatures and sporting and coaching scene illustrations.Whilst his work is not as well-known as that of others who specialized in similar artistic endeavors, his talent was every bit as great and his influence on the British art of the sporting world cannot be measured.

Henry Alken as Ben Tally-O

He was born on October 12, 1785 in the Soho neighborhood of Westminster London. His father was Samuel Alken who was a sporting artist. His brother, Samuel Alken the Younger, also became an artist. The father’s success as an artist enabled the family to move to Bedford Square when Henry was around four years of age.

Henry first studied art with his father. He showed such promise, he was soon under the tutelage of the miniaturist, Thomas Barber Beaumont (1774-1841,) who was also known as T.J. Barber. In 1801, at the age of sixteen Henry submitted a miniature portrait of Miss Gubbins to the Royal Academy Exhibition. He would exhibit a second miniature at the Academy before moving on from miniature painting to regular painting and illustrating. Early in this part of his career he painted sporting subjects under the name of “Ben Tally-O.” It is believed he used this name until 1816.

From How to Be a Meltonian – A series of works satirizing aristocrats posing as sportsmen. Signed Ben Tally – O

From 1816 forward Henry Alken produced an innumerable number of paintings, drawings, and engravings of every variety of field and sporting activity. His soft-ground etchings were often colored by hand. His success was such that he moved his wife and children over a shop in Haymarket which was owned by a print publisher, Thomas McLean. McLean published the Repository of Wit and Humor in which many of Alken’s satirical prints first appeared. He paid Alken a salary of thirty shillings a day, considered an excellent income at this time.

Alken worked in oils and watercolors. He was a skilled etcher as many of his prints show.

Hunt Scene
Etching by Henry Alken
1820

In 1816 he issued the first major collection of his work under his own name. The beauties & defects in the figure of the horse / comparatively delineated was published by S. & J. Fuller, at the Temple of Fancy, 34, Rathbone Place, London. It contains a series of hand- colored soft-ground etchings which are essentially studies in equine anatomy. One can view this work at the link below.

https://collections.britishart.yale.edu/catalog/orbis:12524527

From 1816 until 1831 he created many sets of etchings of sporting scenes and subjects. They were colored for the most part and some were quite humorous in nature. These sets included:

 Humorous Specimens of Riding – published in 1821

Symptoms of Being Amazed – published in 1822

Symptoms of Being Amused – published in 1822

Flowers from Nature – published in 1823

A Touch at the Fine Arts – published in 1824

Ideas – published in 1830

He also published a number of books. These included:

Illustrations for Landscape Scenery – published in 1823

Scraps from the Sketch Book of Henry Alken – published in 1823

New Sketch Book – published in 1824

Sporting  Scrap Book  – published in 1827

Shakespeare’s Seven Ages – published in 1827

Sporting Sketches – published in 1831

Illustrations to Popular Songs – published in 1831

Illustrations of Don Quixote – published in 1831

Alken’s work was appreciated in his day to such a degree he provided the plates that pictured hunting, coaching, racing, and steeplechasing for The National Sports of Great Britain published in 1821. In fact, he is best remembered for his hunting prints, both serious and satirical, many of which he engraved himself until the 1830’s. He created prints for Ackermann. In 1842 Ackermann published Life of a Sportsman by Charles James Apperley (1779-1843) who was also known as Nimrod. The book included 32 etchings by Henry Alken.

From Nimrod’s Life of a Sportsman
From Nimrod’s Life of a Sportsman

 

 

 

 

 

Alken died in April 1851. He left behind a widow, Maria Gordon Alken, and five adult children. Two of his sons followed in their father’s footsteps and had careers as artists – Henry Thomas Alken and Seffererien Alken.

IN PART TWO – We will explore Alken’s work in a difference areas in a bit more detail.

CHRISTMAS AT HOME – CHATSWORTH

Louisa Cornell

For our next Christmas visit we will stop to marvel at the glory that is Chatsworth in the Derbyshire Dales. Home to the Dukes of Devonshire, it has belonged to the Cavendish family since 1549. The house is home to some of the most important collections of art, furniture, books, Old Master drawings, and neoclassical sculptures in the world. Beneath Chatsworth’s half-a-hectare lead roof there are over 300 rooms, 17 staircases, 459 windows and 2,084 light bulbs.

The house has been featured in numerous period films, including the 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice where it played the role of Mr. Darcy’s Pemberley. I visited Chatsworth in 1968 when I was ten years old. I will admit I was so awestruck I could not really fully appreciate everything about this amazing home. Hopefully the next time I visit I’ll be much better able to appreciate it!

 

 

 

 

The dining room.

 

 

Now THIS is dining in style!

 

 

 

 

 

                                                                        

 

I have included several views of the painted hall in different years as the people who come up with the themes each year do an amazing job! Wouldn’t you agree?

Chatsworth is another house featured in Number One London Tours Country House Tour (September 16-24, 2022. Check this link for more information!

http://numberonelondontours.com/tours/upstairsdownstairs-country-house-tour/