Friday, June 26, 2009
Tart of the Week: Hannah Humphrey
Hannah Humphrey is one of those women who is amazing in the sense that she was a self-sufficient female who managed to be one for most of her life, and come out unscathed. I can't tell you much about dear Hannah's beginnings (possibly born around 1745) but I can tell you her brother, William was a publisher and print seller on Gerrard Street in London. Hannah likely learned the tricks of the trade from her brother and decided to begin her own print shop where she would publish as well. This was quite a risk for a woman in London, on many accounts. In order to protect her reputation, Hannah did as many actresses tended to, and went by Mrs. Humphrey, for a married or widowed woman with a business was much more acceptable than a single one.
Hannah established her print shop on Old Bond Street. The storefront was black with gold lettering which read, Humphrey's Print Shop. A large Bay window was covered from head to toe in all the prints Hannah published. The inside of the shop was just as posh, with mahogany counters. People would stop, gawk, and giggle over the storefront and be enticed into spend a few shillings on a satirical print. The shop was one of the most successful print shop in London and it even attracted customers like the Prince of Wales, who was usually on more than one of the prints in the window. One of the decisions Hannah made as a print seller was to exclusively sell (usually bawdy) satirical prints and to exclude prints made after paintings. This was another risk, but Hannah was looking for a certain clientele.
Hannah's shop not only attracted a particular clientele but a particular artist. James Gillray knew Hannah through her brother, who published some of his prints. In 1791 Gillray exclusively published with Hannah, so if you wanted to buy one of his prints there was only one place to get them. Above the Humphrey's Print Shop was apartments where Hannah took residence. Gillray also conveniently moved into a room above the shop. Now I would be the last to start rumours here, but isn't it a little suspicious to have a single man and woman living in such close proximity? There were many rumours going around about Hannah's and Gillray's "professional" relationship, especially when he followed her when she moved her shop to New Bond Street and then again to fashionable St James Street. It is said that Gillray thought of proposing to Hannah numerous time, and even did one day on their way to church. But that could just be the talk of romantic gossipers.
Hannah was with Gillray up until his death. Poor Gillray went insane after a bout of depression and failing to commit suicide and was looked after by Hannah for the remainder of his life (six years after producing his last print). Hannah, herself died a few years later in 1818. She died a respected and extremely successful businesswoman.