Printed on the River Thames

[Souvenir tickets from the Frost Fair of 1814].

British Isles London
  • Author: ANONYMOUS
  • Publication place: London
  • Publication date: February 4, 1814.
  • Physical description: Sheet of 4 woodcut tickets on an uncut sheet.
  • Dimensions: 180 by 205mm (7 by 8 inches).
  • Inventory reference: 18164


From one of the presses working on the frozen ice of the River Thames this sheet of small tickets was printed as a souvenir commemorating the Frost Fair of 1814. It was apparently issued from a booth above which an orange banner emblazoned with the words “Orange Boven” flew, a reference to King William I Prince of Orange-Nassau (1772 –1843), the son of the last Stadtholder of the Dutch Republic, who after the Defeat of Napoleon at the Battle of Leipzig, in November 1813, was asked to become the Sovereign Prince of the United Netherlands.

Each ticket reads:
“Amidst the Arts which on the Thames appear,
To tell the wonders of this icy year,
Printing claims prior place, which at one view,
Erects monument of THAT and YOU.
Printed on the River Thames, February 4, in the 54th year of the reign of King George the III. Anno Domini 1814″.

The River Thames has been known to freeze over on several occasions, especially during the “Little Ice Age” of the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries, upon which the inhabitants of London took to the solid ice for business and pleasure. The most important of these “Frost Fairs” occurred in 695, 1608, 1683-4, 1716, 1739–40, 1789, and 1814. In 1684, during the Great Freeze of 1683-4, which was the longest in London’s history and during which the ice reached depths of around 28cm, the diarist John Evelyn recorded the attractions of the Frost Fair:

“Streetes of Boothes were set upon the Thames… all sorts of Trades and shops furnished, & full of Commodities… Coaches plied from Westminster to the Temple, and from several other stairs too and fro, as in the streets, sleds, sliding with skates, bull-baiting, horse and coach races, puppet plays and interludes, cooks, tippling and other lewd places, so that it seemed to be a bacchanalian triumph, or a carnival on water”.

Many of London’s printmakers capitalized on this carnival atmosphere by producing souvenirs of the great event. These included engraved scenes, portraits, poems and, perhaps most prolifically, personalized tickets, which gave attendees the opportunity to commemorate their trip onto the ice with a print bearing their own name.

During the fair of 1814, some printmakers actually installed their presses on the ice; their souvenirs, “printed on the River Thames”, were extremely popular. These tickets are all similar in style: they make clear that they were produced on the river itself, and several contain short verses to commemorate the event.

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