A fan: Popularity & Fashion by Jen Jeffery

Fan depicting George III and Royal family:

Item Details:

Production Place: Great Britain

Fan Made: 1790

Artist: Antonio Poggi and Pietro Antonio Martini


Victoria and Albert Museum

Museum Number: T. 56-1933

George III was King of Great Britain beginning in 1761; his reign saw a time of revolution across the Atlantic. In the eighteenth century the government’s popularity with its subjects was immensely important to maintain order and often the dress of persons reflected the changes in and feelings towards government. Fans were a popular item of dress in the eighteenth century, ranging from simplistic to extravagant and lavish. The politics of popularity, accompanied by the presence of politics in dress, especially accessories, created a niche market for political accessories in the emerging consumer culture of Great Britain. The Poggi fan, depicting King George III and the royal family, exhibits both a political motivation and a lavish design suited for the elite class.


(A print of Ramberg’s Painting by Pietro Antonio Martini)

The Antonio Poggi fan is based on Johann Heinrich Ramberg’s painting of George III and the royal family attending the Royal Academy Exhibition in 1788. The fan differs in design from the original painting, adding the remainder of the King’s children and omitting some of the Academy’s members to allow them to fit. The recreation of the painting into print form and then into a lavish fan shows the range of influence a designer, artisan, or painter could have in the emerging age of consumerism. The fan depicts the family in its entirety while highlighting the generosity of George III, because he helped to found the Royal Academy (Poggi Fan, V&A Museum). The finer detailing of the fan signified that its intended audience was the upper class; the fan was hand colored and used imported carved ivory. Unlike the Poggi fan, the unknown artist fan has no political motivations behind its design; it was designed for a consumer. Both fans were designed for the elite, both utilizing fine ivory and hand crafted design. Fans could range from opulent and adorned with diamonds, just as the fan Duchess of York had made, to simple printed papers (Evening Mail). The fan, unlike the wig, had more visible difference between classes. Fans styling, designs, and make established a disparity between the common fan and the luxury fan. While other articles, like wigs, were more easily mimicked lavish fans were not. Both wigs and fans were big business, but the design of a fan differentiated it from the common items allowing some fans to remain luxury items (Kwass, 267).


Unknown artist

Great Britain 1730-1769

The Poggi fan was meant to promote George III and his popularity within Great Britain. It was important for the monarch to remain popular throughout their reign, to maintain peace and support. The popularity of the monarch was a public matter and often under scrutiny as was the case with John Wilkes and the Number 45 opposition (Koscak, 1/14/14).  While the number 45 was opposed to George III, the Poggi fan showed the King in a positive light. The common use of small articles as political statements politicized dress in the emerging age of consumerism. France and America would also follow in the politicization of dress though represented in a different manner. In Britain the use of politicized but individualized items ranging from snuffboxes to fans to tea sets established a trend of opinionated consumers.  The Poggi fan was not only luxurious but also focused its design on emphasizing the King’s charity for the Royal Academy program and the unity of his family.


The Coronation of George III


Bacchus and Ariadne Fan. The Victoria & Albert Museum. Museum number: 531-1869

Evening Mail. (London, England), December 28, 1791- December 30, 1791; Issue 444.

Fan Depicting George III and the Royal Family. The Victoria & Albert Museum. Museum item number: T. 56-1933.

Kearsly, George. An Account of Ceremonies Observed at the Coronation of Our Most Gracious Sovereign George III and His Royal Consort Queen Charlotte, on Tuesday the 22nd of September 1761. London: British Library, 1761.

Koscak, Stephanie. “The Great Renunciation: Commercialization, Politics, and Gender,” January 9, 2014.

Koscak, Stephanie. “Lecture: A Revolution in Fashionable Life: Radical Whigs and Radial Fashion,” January 9, 2014.

Kwass, Michael. “Big Hair: A Wig History of Consumption in Eighteenth-Century France.” American Historical Review, 2006.

McKendrick, Neil, John Brewer, and P.H. Plumb. The Birth of a Consumer Society: The Commercialization of Eighteenth-century England. London: Europa Publications, 1982.

Ramberg, Johann Heinrich, The Royal Family at the Royal Academy. The Victoria & Albert Museum. Museum item number: E.3648-1923


John Wilkes-themed Snuff Box

“Political Affiliations: a John Wilkes’-themed Snuffbox”

By Brad Zachary

Item Details:

Production Place: Birmingham, England

Materials: enamel; copper

Dimensions: Length: 7.1 cm; Width: 5.6 cm

Additional Information:


John Wilkes-themed Snuffbox

The phrase “Wilkes, Liberty, and Number forty-five” became wildly popular with John Wilkes’ political supporters after he published “Number 45” in The North Briton, his satirical newspaper that criticized the English government and royal policy. “Number 45,” criticized a speech the King gave to Parliament that praised the Treaty of Paris that ended the Seven-years War. John Wilkes gained popularity as a conservative, radical politician who stood up for the rights of the people in opposition to royal policy. After being temporarily incarcerated in the Tower of London on charges of libel against the king but subsequently released after winning the legal battle, Wilkes’ popularity exploded. John Wilkes became a symbol around which progressives and conservative radicals rallied. Many people proudly demonstrated their support for him by displaying his picture, as well as the phrase “Number 45” on various objects that were used and/or worn both inside, and more importantly, outside their homes.

As Neil McKendrick argues in the chapter ” The Commercialization of Fashion” of his book The Birth of a Consumer Society, by the year 1700, the consumer revolution had begun. While there are many factors that led to the consumer revolution, which can be argued at length, one of the results of the consumer revolution was that there people began to buy luxuries as well as necessities. Generally speaking, before the consumer revolution began in the mid-to-late 1600s, only the wealthy were able to purchase luxuries. However, from the mid-to-late 1600s on, an increasing number of people in the middling class were able to purchase non-essential goods and to take part in conspicuous consumption.[1] By the middle of the 1700s, it was very popular for people to purchase snuffboxes. While these items had a practical purpose, there was a great deal of showmanship involved in their use. People would spend large amounts of money on ornate and expensive snuffboxes, and the public display of one’s snuffbox became a popular way of showing off. Not only were many snuffboxes used a indicators of one’s wealth, but they were also used to display political affiliations.[2]

The 1765 John Wilkes-themed snuffbox, and one’s like it were used by his political supporters in the mid-1700s as public displays of political affiliation. His supporters rallied around him after his brief incarceration, and he was elected and re-elected to office multiple times despite heavy political and royal opposition. Even though his support was basically confined to Middlesex, he was a well-known political rascal who took every opportunity to oppose royal policy in what he deemed defense of the rights of his constituency and the common people.

The 1765 John Wilkes snuffbox that is the topic of this blog, was a fashionable and convenient way for his political supporters to demonstrate their support for and affiliation with John Wilkes. After Wilkes’ publication of “Number 45” In The North Briton, his support base became even more emphatic in their support for him. His supporters openly displayed their support for him by plastering his picture on many different items. For instance, his photo appears on bowls, which were used as displays of support inside peoples’ homes, and on rings, which when worn in public were open displays of support outside one’s home. John Wilkes’ face became a type of political brand displayed by his supporters. In order for a behavior to be emulated by the middling class, all it took for something to become popular was for influential people of wealth to wear or use something. Not only did political dress became increasingly popular for those in the middling class, but dress also opened the door for women to symbolically express their political affiliations through their clothing. A seventeenth century example of a woman who was able to make political statements through her attire was the Duchess of Devonshire. The Duchess was known for her involvement in radical politics. She supported Charles Fox, another radical Whig, and satires accused her of trading kisses for votes. An summation of her political involvement is in her obituary, which reads, “The Duchess of Devonshire may be said almost to have produced a revolution in fashionable life. The influence derived from her rank and fortune gave a kind of credit to her example.”[3] The Duchess is an example of a woman who, like the supporters of John Wilkes, was able to dress in a way that permitted her to express her political views.

The 1765 John Wilkes snuffbox demonstrates that fashions were, and still are, very fickle. Even though it was common for his supporters to plaster his face on various items they thought would show their political support for a certain MP, John Wilkes, that fashion faded away with Wilkes popularity towards the end of his political career. This snuffbox allows current, contemporary viewers to see one way that his supporters demonstrated their support.


  1. http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O75488/punch-bowl-unknown/
  2. http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O126073/ring-unknown/


“The Duchess of Devonshire,” in Belle Assemblee; or, Court and Fashionable Magazine (April 1806): pp. 122-29.

Koscak, Stephanie. “Lecture: A Revolution in Fashionable Life: Radical Whigs and Radial Fashion,” 1-14-14.

McKendrick, Neil, John Brewer, and P.H. Plumb. The Birth of a Consumer Society: The Commercialization of Eighteenth-century England. London: Europa Publications, 1982.

Wilkes, John. “Number XLV,” The North Briton. Saturday, April 23, 1763.

John Wilkes-themed Punch Bowl. The Victoria & Albert Museum. Museum item number: C.20-1951.

John Wilkes-themed Ring. The Victoria & Albert Museum. Museum item number: M.152-1962.

John Wilkes-themed Snuffbox. The British Museum. Museum item number: 1895,0521.21.

[1] Neil McKendrick, John Brewer, and J.H. Plumb, The Birth of a Consumer Society: The Commercialization of Eighteenth-century England (Europa Publications: London, 1982), p. 13.

[2] Stephanie Koscak, “Lecture: A Revolution in Fashionable Life”:  Radical Whigs and Radial Fashion,” 1-14-14.

[3] “The Duchess of Devonshire,” in Belle Assemblee; or, Court and Fashionable Magazine (April 1806): pp. 125.