P is for Portraitist
By COX, James; and John Keyse SHERWIN , 1774

Mr. Cox's Museum.

  • Author: COX, James; and John Keyse SHERWIN
  • Publication place: [London]
  • Publication date: January 7th, 1774.
  • Physical description: Engraved portrait
  • Dimensions: 270 by 200mm. (10.75 by 7.75 inches).
  • Inventory reference: 17773


Portrait of George III, engraved by Sherwin (“Pupil of Mr, Bartolozzi”), to accompany the ‘Descriptive Inventory of Mr. Cox’s Museum’, when it was sold by lottery in 1774.

James Cox, London jeweler, watchmaker and manufacturer of “expensive automata that had a great vogue in China. Opened a museum of his productions in Spring Gardens in early 1770s. Whole contents disposed of by lottery in 1774 (for which a printed prospectus was issued)” (BM)

A trade card in the Heal Collection (Heal 67.99) advertises “James Cox, Goldsmith at the Golden Urn, in Racquet Court, Fleet Street, London. Makes Great Variety of Curious Work in Gold, Silver, and other Mettals [sic]: Also in Amber, Pearl, Tortoisshell [sic] and Curious Stones. N.B. Buys Gold, Silver, curious Stones, Amber, Jewels and Curiousities”.

Cox is best known for his extravagant musical clocks, made under the supervision of John Joseph Merlin (1735–1803), his chief craftsman, and his Museum. “The possibility of a lottery may already have been in Cox’s mind in February 1772, when he opened his museum in the lavishly refurbished Great Exhibition room in Spring Gardens, Charing Cross, in central London. The museum had originally been planned as a way of publicizing articles destined for export, and was on a grand scale, including twenty-two spectacular automata ranging from 9 feet to 16 feet high. In spite of the substantial entry fee of half a guinea, the museum immediately became one of London’s fashionable sights. Dr Johnson recommended it to Boswell soon after it opened: ‘For power of mechanism and splendour of show’, Johnson told him, it ‘was a very fine exhibition’ (Altick, 69). Boswell agreed, though some visitors regretted the lack of ‘utility’: in Evelina (1778) Fanny Burney’s heroine observed that the museum was ‘very astonishing, and very superb; yet, it afforded me but little pleasure, for it is a mere show, though a wonderful one’ (ibid., 70). In spite of its popular success the museum could not resolve Cox’s financial difficulties and after a year he petitioned parliament for permission to dispose of its contents by lottery” (Roger Smith for DNB).

Heal writes: “Some account of Cox’s Museum is given in MacMichaels ‘Charing Cross’ pp.26 & 291. In 1781 the Museum was in Spring Gardens. Later this gallery was Wigley’s Auction Rooms. The contents of Cox’s Museum in Spring Gardens were dispersed in a Lottery in 1773. An elaborate catalogue or ‘Inventory’ of 45 pages was issued describing all the lots in great detail. A transcript of this catalogue is on the back of this mount. James Cox carried on a jeweller’s business at No.103, Shoe Lane 1757-1777”.

Few of the more opulent automata made by Cox’s workshop survive, but they include the elaborate Swan now in the Bowes Museum, and the Peacock clock in the Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg.


  1. BM 1850 1014.223
  2. O'Donoghue, 'Catalogue of Engraved British Portraits preserved in the Department of Prints and Drawings in the British Museum', 25

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