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William Hogarth:
Plates, Pirates,
& Publishers

Editions Overview
Lifetime Editions
J. Hogarth Editions
Boydell Editions
Baldwin, Cradock
& Joy Editions

Comparing the
Later Editions:
Four Prints
of an Election

Plate I
Plate II
Plate III
Plate IV

Piracies & Copies
After Hogarth

Tim Bobbin:
Human Passions

James Gillray

The Golden Age
of the English

Books on
British Caricature

Books on
William Hogarth

Books on
James Gillray

© Great Caricatures

In Development  •  In Development  •  In Development




Plates, Pirates, & Publishers


2nd state, 1738
Lifetime Edition

3rd state, c. 1800
Boydell Edition

4th state, 1822
BCJ Heath Edition

These details illustrate three states and three editions of "Evening" from Hogarth's Four Times of Day series. The prints were pulled from Hogarth's original plate over a period of 84 years.


Hogarth's Plates

The plates Hogarth engraved for his prints are at the heart of a tale that offers insights into the history of British commerce, the evolution of copyright and the development of printing.

From 1720 until his death in 1764 Hogarth worked to bring his art to as wide an audience as possible. He published thousands of prints: individual editions, suites of prints, and bound volumes. These Lifetime Editions were internationally recognized and became the works upon which his reputation is based.

Hogarth's first painted his images on canvas and then, working alone or with the assistance of master engravers, carefully transfered them to copper plates. The images were rendered with intricate linework that captured minute details, delicate lighting effects, and subtle characterizations. When published on large sheets of heavy laid paper, the images had a broad range of silver-grey tones.


Hogarth fought hard to be compensated for his work. When he began his career the London print market was dominated by a handful of printsellers who kept artists at an economic disadvantage and often financed pirate editions of popular works. Hogarth set up his own studio but found that before he could publish his prints, his work was pirated by artists who viewed his paintings and engraved unauthorized editions.

In the early 1700s England did not have a law that protected the rights of artists. After learning a bitter lesson of piracy, he withheld publication of the Rake's Progress until he and his fellow artists lobbied Parliament to pass a new Copyright Act.

Kirkall and others.

Other Publishers

When Hogarth died he left his wife Jane over 200 engraved plates. She supported herself by publishing new editions.

In 1780, Horace Walpole, an author and Member of Parliament, wrote an enthusiastic analysis of Hogarth's work. Five years later John Nichols published the Biographical Anecdotes of William Hogarth. He wrote that Walpole's work was "followed by an immediate rage for collecting every scrap of our Artist's designs". 2

Throughout the 1800s, editions and folios were continuously published by a series of publishers. In 1789 Jane Hogarth sold the plates to John Boydell. He published editions until until 1818 when the plates were bought by Baldwin, Cradock and Joy who sold them to Henry Bohn in 1835. Over time, the plates became worn and some publishers hired artists to "restore" the plates. Often their linework replaced what Hogarth had originally created.

In the early 20th century many of Hogarth's plates were sold to the British government. During the first World War they were melted down and used to make bombs. The remaining plates were sold to private collectors.


The market for Hogarth's work went beyond the prints published from his plates. Beginning in the late 1700s and throughout the 1800s books were published with illustrations and commentaries on Hogarth's work.

Problems of Attribution


he enduring popularity of William Hogarth's engravings has created a complex legacy of print states, multiple editions, pirated copies, and works "after Hogarth."

Most collectors and students know Hogarth's work through later editions and reproductions often without being aware of the authenticity of the work or the difference in quality between editions.

The task of accurately dating Hogarth's prints can challenge even the most dedicated researcher. Prints published from Hogarth's plates are recognizable by the size of the image (although in the late 1700s Thomas Cook engraved copies of Hogarth's works that were the same size as the originals). Additional criteria such as image details, paper type and watermarks help determine when it was printed.

Each print has a date inscribed at the bottom of the image that documents when the first edition was published. These dates appear unchanged on all later editions, so in almost all cases they don't represent the actual publication date of the print.

After Hogarth's death, publishers acquired his plates. Sheets of paper were often transferred with the plates to the new owners. Generally, laid paper were used in the 18th century and wove paper were used in the 19th century. Some of the early 19th century editions were printed on sheets dated with watermarks, but the print might have been published years after the watermark. In one instance, the year 1790 is displayed on the title page of a bound volume of Hogarth prints, but the prints themselves are watermarked 1801 and 1802.

Pirate copies and works "After Hogarth" are recognizable by their size and style. Beyond this, it can be difficult or even impossible to tell exactly when a print was published and who published it.



Vladislav Ruchkin and Fred Tempereau


1. Horace Walpole, Anecdotes of Painting in England, Volume IV, Chapter XX, 1786; Reprint by Alexander Murray, London, 1871

2. John Nichols, Biographical Anecdotes of William Hogarth, Third Edition,1785, p. iii; Facsimile by Cornmarket Press, London, 1971

Additional Sources

Ronald Paulson, Hogarth's Graphic Works, Third Revised Edition, The Print Room, London, 1989

Richard Vogler, Reading Hogarth, Introduction to Catalogue Exhibition, Grunwald Center for the Graphic Arts, Wight Art Gallery, UCLA, 1988

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