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William Davison Collection of Satirical Prints

Identifier: Modern-MS-Davison

Scope and Content of the Collection

The collection contains 15 prints created by William Davison, a publisher in Alnwick, England circa 1811-1817. They depict or parody various aspects of everyday life, such as medical care, business, and sport.


  • Creation: Approximately 1811-1817



Materials are in English.

Conditions Governing Access

The William Davison Collection of Satirical Prints is open for research in the Special Collections Reading Room; 1 box at a time (Priority III).

Ownership and Literary Rights

The William Davison Collection of Satirical Prints is the physical property of the Newberry Library. Copyright may belong to the authors or their legal heirs or assigns. For permission to publish or reproduce any materials from this collection, contact the Roger and Julie Baskes Department of Special Collections.

Biography of William Davison

English printer and pharmacist.

William Davison (1781-1858) was a pharmacist and copper-plate and letterpress printer. The younger son of William Davison, a husbandman, gardener, and farmer, and his second wife Mary, Davison was apprenticed at the age of 14 as a chemist in Newcastle. He returned to Alnwick in 1802 to set up his business as a pharmacist. Soon he expanded his business to include books, drawing materials, and musical instruments, and shortly later he formed a publishing partnership with John Catnach. Catnach provided the technical expertise and contacts while Davison provided the financial backing. The partnership ended two years later, leaving Davison to publish on his own.

Davison is known for his innovative and prolific publishing style, printing his own broadsheets, small and large chapbooks, pamphlets, children’s books, school books, guidebooks and history books (particularly those related to his home town of Alnwick), advertisements, and many other works. Davison began using stereotyping early in his career, an uncommon medium at the time. In 1814 he opened a small foundry at his shop on Bondgate Street where he produced the metal stereotypes.

Between about 1812-1817 Davison published a set of caricatures (thought to number around 50 prints) of small, single sheets each featuring a topical subject. The 15 prints in this collection constitute part of this caricature set. Davison’s most significant works were likely his Book of Common Prayer and his folio Bible that contained extensive commentaries and was originally sold in 100 parts for a shilling each. Davison’s Bible was a financial failure, but has since been recognized as an effective way to promote learning of the Christian faith. The Davison Bible is on display at the Bailiffgate Museum in Northumberland due to its historical significance.

Throughout his career as a printer Davison remained active as a pharmacist and established a medical school through his pharmacy, where his son William studied to become a doctor. In 1854 Davison published the first edition of his newspaper, The Alnwick Mercury, Northumberland Advertiser and Entertaining Miscellany. Its circulation rose to 2,600 as the time of his death in 1858, a success in a region known at the time for failing newspapers. Davison was also active in local affairs, eager to promote the interests of both the town of Alnwick and its residents. As a churchwarden he was one of several men responsible for the building of a workhouse for the poor in 1810. He was also instrumental in bringing gas to Alnwick in 1825.

Davison is buried in Alnwick Cemetery.


0.2 Linear Feet (1 box)


Fifteen satirical prints of everyday life in the early-nineteenth century by publisher William Davison of Alnwick, England; also includes a biographical summary of Davison.


The prints are arranged alphabetically, following a biographical summary of Davison.

Collection Stack Location

1 13 1


Gift of Carol Ann Knowles and John Brian Everlove, 2015. The prints were acquired by Carol Knowles's paternal grandfather, Murray Jackson Knowles, during a business trip to Ohio, year unknown.

Processed by

Mariana Brandman, 2016.

Inventory of the William Davison Collection of Satirical Prints, approximately 1811-1817
Mariana Brandman
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the The Newberry Library - Modern Manuscripts and Archives Repository

60 West Walton Street
Chicago Illinois 60610 United States