Aug 292012

Some of the more remarkable groups of papers surviving from my ancestor’s miscellany are the cut-out illustrations. There are dozens of them, and each must have taken a fair amount of time, concentration, a steady hand – and sharp scissors!

 The blades of the scissors would almost certainly have been made of steel, and in all probability have been around one and a half inches long (with two-inch handles). The ones shown are modern embroidery scissors, but of a traditional design. Richard would have kept two areas of paper uncut at opposite sides, so that he could hold on to these while he turned the paper around and cut out the detail. These holding ‘knibs’ would then have been the last two bits to be chopped off, leaving the cut-out as an incredibly delicate art-work.

I like the way Richard appears to catch movement by showing different images of the same object (in this case, deer in a forest setting). He used the same technique when showing a marching column of men, or a troop of cavalry on horseback.


The marchers.


Cavalry on the move

Richard often recorded familiar  ‘stories’ of travel by coach with (the pre-Turnpike Trust) bumpy roads, as with this scene with a coach and four:

Contrast this with a scene where the roads are less bumpy:



Any traveller would have been familiar with the risks from highway robbers:



but equally would know that when caught they would get their come-uppance (on the gallows).




Richard also cut out everyday scenes of country pursuits and farming activities:

The art of paper-cutting  was popular in Germany and Switzerland in the 18th Century and emigrants took the craft to the United States, where its popularity is such that it merits its own museum, and magazine. There is even a Guild of Paper Cutters. It has to be said however that the ‘art form’ was never really popular in England, and for that reason many paper cutters showed an interest in The Journal of a Georgian Gentleman when it was published, because it showed a style with which they were not familiar.

Me, well I am happy to enjoy them for what they are – fragile mementos of  family history.

  12 Responses to “Paper cut-outs, illustrating life in the Eighteenth Century”


    Another stella post! And what lovely vignettes of Georgian Life are in those delicate paper cut outs. Richard certainly was gifted.
    There was a gentleman in Australia who was well-known for his paper cutting silhouettes. As a child, I remember seeing him at work on several occasions at the Sydney Royal Easter Show. I was fascinated by how deftly he used his pair of scissors (much longer than Richard’s pair) to make accurate silhouettes. My parents had their portraits cut by him when they were courting. I still have the cut outs. Here is a link:
    Thanks for sharing.


      Thanks for the link! I remember having my silhouette done, in a matter of just a few minutes, in Paris at Montmartre. For the Georgians it was a poor man’s picture – the wealthy could afford to have miniatures etc but for the majority of people a cut-out, often costing one shilling, was a cheap way of keeping a likeness.


    I couldn’t draw something that detailed and certainly never have cut it from paper.
    I have difficulty cutting cloth when I have a pattern pinned to it.
    Lovely work, How are you preserving them now? Have you framed them?
    The English did do filigree and some cutouts but I think they did more silhouettes than detailed pictures. It took a steady and artixstic hand and eye.


      Incidentally the paper was exactly the same as Richard used for his diaries etc. In America nowadays they often make cut-outs on black paper, but back in the 18th Century black paper was difficult to come by because it had the texture of sandpaper and hence was no use for fine cutting. The alternative was to buy white paper and then blacken it with ink.


    Should have asked this first. What kind of paper was used? How were those bottom edges kept straight when they were cut away? Was an outside edge left?
    How thin some of the lines are! Looks as though those were made by something like an Exacto knife.


      I do still have Richard’s knife but I am absolutey sure he used scissors. I think he started with a drawing on a separate piece of paper and used this as his template (some of the cut outs show pin marks where the two pieces would have been held together). The illustrations are generally four or five inches long but some are minute and the horses’ reins etc are hardly wider than a human hair! Amazing when you consider the lack of electric lighting…
      My guess is that the last cut made was to “free” the illustration from the corners which were used for holding and turning it
      I have framed a few of them to take as demos to talks etc but the majority are stil kept in Richard’s loose leaf book, sandwiched between the pages…. somehow they have survived that way for 250 years but they are very fragile and delicate. I will show a few more in later posts…


    I have loved Richard’s cut-outs from the first I saw, and I really think there’s a whole book waiting to come out of them. I’d certainly be happy to purchase one… maybe as they are white on black a budget book from Create Space with print on demand paperback?
    Pretty please with a cherry on the top?


    I have to say they are also remarkable vernacular records of everyday life as well, whether the memorial ones illustrated elsewhere or this combination of related subjects.


    I have done paper cutting a few years ago. It is a beautiful art form. What I’ve read is that the scissors to be used are the cuticle scissors, which confused me at first but I used them nonetheless. Gingher Scissors have been around for years. I use them for my sewing and quilting. Those are priceless and there’d be collectors who would love to buy them from you! Thanks for sharing this “hobby” of your ancestor. Those cuts were very detailed!


    Oh, and please, please do make a book out of your ancestor’s cuts. That would be a delightful thing to share with others. You are right in that the scissors the Germans used were those huge shearing scissors, from what I’ve read. X-acto knives are much definitely easier to work with when scissors find difficult places. Also, please get some information on how to care for your prints. They are made of paper and need to be checked for acid in the paper because that will eventually cause their demise. They are quite liked here in the US. BTW, the German name for this art is scherenschnitte, spelling should be correct but I wouldn’t swear on it. See, here is your second book idea for your publisher!



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