Edmunds' elegant print shop in Soho is a time capsule of Georgian London, beloved by art museums around the word. It was originally the front room of a Georgian house, and its fireplace, mantelpiece and panelled walls haven't changed since the 18th century. The prints themselves are housed in late-18th century mahogany haberdashers' drawers (one still bears the label "riding things") and a Regency portfolio stand.
If you want to browse, Edmunds will give you a guided tour of the history of print-making over the past 200 years. To illustrate a technical point he may pick up a print that is casually lying around in loose-sheet covers on a table. In my case, it was two prints of The Enraged Musician by Hogarth. Prints of this engraving were being made by Boydell (the printer who bought up Hogarth's plates from his widow) until the First World War, but each time the prints were made, the quality of the plate would deteriorate further: "The last gasp of being acceptable is 1790, as the plate was made in 1741." So a print made during Hogarth's lifetime was worth pounds 1,200, whereas the slightly fainter one, made 40 years later, was worth only pounds 350.
History lesson over, Edmunds' showed me a sheath of lewd lithographs depicting mass orgies and overwrought scenes of bedlam. "Apart from politics, it's all tits and bums," he admitted. One, by Gillray, was so subtle and prettily done, it was hard to discern its scurrilous intent. Fashionable Contrasts; - or - The Duchess's Little Shoe Yeilding [sic] to the Magnitude of the Duke's Foot (1792) shows two feet, encased in a tiny pair of embroidered slippers, nestling either side of a pair of larger feet in buckled boots. It refers to the gush of fatuous adulation which journalists showered on the newly married Duchess of York and her "dainty little shoe".
The "assorted" drawer contains late-18th and early-19th-century caricatures, all with original colouring, for around pounds 100. George Cruickshank's The Cholic (1819) shows a howl of anguish coming from an aristocratic lady in yellow-and-pink finery, as she is tormented by two demons tightening a cord around her waist. Far too vicious for me. I wanted to buy a deliciously plump lady entitled Fat, Fair and Forty for a friend of mine who is, well, exactly that, but Edmunds hinted it might be taken amiss.
Instead, I bought an 1820s William Heath brothel scene, Dandies Sans Souci, showing two semi-conscious shop boys being robbed by prostitutes. "Like kids with trainers these days," Edmunds explained, "they'd spent all their money on clothes." The satirist's point is always worth making.
Andrew Edmunds, 44 Lexington Street, London W1 (0171-437 8594). He can also be found, today and tomorrow, from 10am to 6pm, at the London Original Print Fair, Royal Academy of Arts, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London W1 (0171-300 8000). Entrance costs pounds 5Reuse content