If you’re a fan of 18th century caricature artist James Gillray, then you’re probably familiar with the signature “H. Humphrey” that appears on many of his works.
But who was the woman behind that signature?
Her name was Hannah Humphrey, and she was an entrepreneur in her own right.
Hannah Humphrey was a successful 18th century entrepreneur who overcame obstacles to build a thriving business.
Through hard work and determination, she became one of the most respected shopkeepers in London.
She was the businesswoman, the publisher, printer and publicist of James Gillray – essentially – she allowed Gillray to become who he was/
Hannah Humphrey: Who was James Gillray?
James Gillray was an English caricaturist and printmaker who became popular for his satirical illustrations of political and social figures during the late 18th century.
He is considered to be one of the most important cartoonists of his time, and his works continue to be influential today. To this day he is considered one of the most influential English caricaturists.
Gillray’s early career was spent working as a bookseller and printseller in London.
It was during this time that he first started experimenting with caricature and satire.
In 1770, he published his first caricature, which depicted the Duke of Cumberland as a butcher.
This early work caught the attention of publisher William Hogarth, who helped to promote Gillray’s career. Gillray went on to produce a large body of work, much of which was published in the popular satirical magazine The Londoner.
Gillray’s fame rose during the Napoleonic wars with his caricatures mocking the French dictator.
Many of Gillray’s works were signed with the initials “H. Humphrey”, which was a reference to his wife, Hannah Humphrey.
Humphrey was a successful businesswoman in her own right, and she played a vital role in Gillray’s career.
In 1786, Humphrey opened a printshop and publisher’s business on St. James’s Street in London. The business was a success, and it helped to cement Gillray’s reputation as one of the foremost caricaturists of his time.
Hannah Humphrey: Early Life & Background
Hannah Humphrey was born in Convent Garden, London in 1748.
Her father was a successful businessman, and her mother came from a family of printers.
From an early age, Humphrey showed an aptitude for business.
She began working in her father’s shop at the age of 14, and by the time she was 18, she was running the business herself.
She later went into business with her older brother William, and they quickly had a very successful shop in London.
When Humphrey met James Gillray, she saw an opportunity to promote her business through his work.
Hannah Humphrey: Business Career As Publisher
Gillray was one of the most popular caricature artists of his day, and Humphrey seized on the opporutinity.
She signed an exclusive deal with him to be the only promoter, seller, and commisioner of his work.
Humphrey opened a shop in West End that was the only place in London where you would be able to buy Gillray’s caricatures.
And then she began commissioning him to produce prints bearing her signature.
This not only helped to increase awareness of her shop, but it also lent an air of respectability to her business.
Humphrey’s business strategy was simple but effective: she provided high-quality products at reasonable prices.
And, she was the only place in London where you could buy Gillray’s original caricatures.
This allowed her to appeal to a wide range of customers, from the wealthy elite to the working class.
As word of her business spread, Humphrey became one of the most successful shopkeepers in London.
The two were not only business partners, they were also very close friends. After Gillray passed away, he left all of his inheritance to Humphrey.
Sadly though, despite the fact that Humphrey owned and operated a super successful publishing store in London, very little is known about her life.
We don’t even have a picture of her, but this picture is widely considered to be a caricature of her.
We do know that she was wealthy enough to have a domestic household with several domestic staff, and that when she died, she left all of her inheritance – including her store – to her nephew.
Hannah Humphrey’s: Legacy
Humphrey’s legacy as a successful female entrepreneur is significant.
In a time when women were largely relegated to the home, Humphrey proved that they could be just as successful as men in business.
She also shows that successful businesswomen always existed – but they tended to be forgotten.
Today, Humphrey’s legacy serves as an inspiration to women everywhere who dream of achieving success in business!
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