Printing plates for watchpapers, c. 1766

£1,200

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JUNE, John, fl. 1740-1770, after Sir Joshua Reynolds

3 Printing plates for watch papers.

London: Sold by Robt. Sayer in Fleet Street, c.1766.

1. Lady Selina Hastings. Sold by Rob.t Sayer in Fleet Street. Signed ‘J. June Sc.’

Plate: 63 x 70 x 1.27mm, rounded corners. On the back: closely spaced lightly scratched lines. Later wrapper 192 x 168mm, printed in sepia, dustsoiled and worn, holes in corners of folds. 

2. Countess of Waldegrave. Printed for Rob.t Sayer, at N.o  53 in Fleet Street.

Plate: 63 x 55 x 1.27mm, barely rounded corners. On the back: makers stamp B.W. under a crown (B. Whittow of Shoe Lane) with burin trials around and filling in the letters; punched for correction; lightly scratched lines, traces of ink. Later wrapper 189 x 165mm, printed in sepia, dustsoiled and worn, holes in corners of folds.

3. Miss Nelly O’Brien. Printed for Rob.t Sayer, at N.o  53 in Fleet Street.

Plate: 164  164 x 1.15mm, barely rounded corners. On the back: punched for correction; engraved outline of a man in a large hat crossed through. Later wrapper 186 x 168mm, printed in sepia, dustsoiled and worn, holes in corners of folds.

Three engraved copperplates for printing watch papers in wrappers – not original – with impressions of the plates. Watch papers were circular engravings to be placed between the inner and outer cases of pocket watches often bearing portraits of famous women, here the religious leader Lady Selina Hastings, Countess of Huntington (1707–1791); Maria, the beautiful illegitimate daughter of Sir Edward Walpole (1736–1807), Countess Waldegrave from 1759 until 1766 when she remarried and became Duchess of Gloucester and Edinburgh; and the well-known beauty and courtesan Nelly O’Brien, (d. 1768), mistress of Viscount Bolingbroke and, from 1764, Sackville Tufton, 8th Earl Thanet. All were the subjects of paintings by Sir Joshua Reynolds reproduced in mezzotint; it was probably the mezzotints that were the sources for the engravings. The original painted portrait of O’Brien, now in the Hunterian Art Gallery in Glasgow is particularly fine. 

Only the first plate is signed by the engraver, but we can assume they are all by the same hand, that of John June, fl. 1740-1770. He is best known for his portraits and book illustrations (see Susanne Fischer in ODNB). His watch paper of Miss Kitty Fischer on Wikepedia commons and is dated c. 1759 with Sayer’s address as ‘opposite Fetter lane, Fleet Street. It is BM 1902,1018.67.

The publisher, Robert Sayer, was a major publisher, map- and print-seller. His address is given on the Hastings plate as ‘in Fleet Street’ but at 53 Fleet Street on the Waldegrave and O’Brien plates. The premises would not have been numbered until c. 1766, which, with the sitters’ biographies, dates the plates to around this time.

The plates are in good condition and have some interesting marks on the backs, including a plate maker’s stamp on one, punch marks which show where the engraver had to rework certain passages, burin trials and on one a sketch of a man in a large hat, possibly also done as a burin trial or practice rather than an abandoned work. The wrappers are later, probaby twentieth century.

Several museums have large collections of watch papers which were once fashionable to collect, but they have now almost disappeared from the print market. The BM has impressions of Hastings (1902,1018.63); and Waldegrave (1902,1018.56).