Rowlandson's Distillers

Thomas Rowlandson (1756-1827), Distillers Looking into Their Own Business (London: Thos. Tegg, 111 Cheapside. October 10, 1811). Etching. Inscribed in plate: Price one shilling coloured. Tegg no. 100. c.1 Gift of Dickson Q. Brown, Class of 1895. c.2 Gift of Bruce Willsie, Class of 1986. GA 2006.00684

Thomas Rowlandson was one of several prolific artists who sold satirical designs to the London publisher Thomas Tegg (176-1846). Tegg's bookshop was well-placed at 111 Cheapside--known for its cheap reproductions of remaindered or out-of-copyright books. He often reissued the same plate over several years, each time hand colored by whatever colorist was on staff at the time. We often collect several issues of the same image, to compare the result of different coloring.

Rowlandson's print is one of many commenting on the underground distribution of gin in London after the Gin Act of 1751, which prohibited distillers from selling to unlicensed merchants and charged high fees to those with a license. This led to hundreds of illegal stills across the city. The alcohol was often flavored with turpentine . . . or anything else that was handy.

These operations closed in 1830, when the Duke of Wellington's administration passed the Sale of Beer Act, removing all taxes on beer and allowing retail sale of beer on payment of a two-guinea fee.