Broadside on 'The vanity of human life'


Broadsheets were a common form of ‘mass media’ in the early 1800s: large single sheets of paper, sold cheaply in the streets, carrying a magazine-like mix of illustrations and text on a wide variety of subjects.

This example was published by one of the most prolific, and profitable, broadsheet publishers of the time: James Catnach (1792–1841), who worked on an ancient wooden press out of his family home in Seven Dials, London. Costing twopence – about the price of a bottle of beer – it was affordable for most working people.

The quality of broadsheets was rarely high, but Catnach gives value for money, packing the page with commissioned illustrations, quotations, decorations and verse. The gloomy subject matter – the inevitability of death (for rich and poor alike), and the religious duty to prepare for it – is reflected in the grisly and sensationalist half-skeletons of the crudely-drawn man and woman, and the sunset burial scene at the bottom.

Full title:
The vanity of human life
estimated 1830, London
Broadside / Ephemera / Illustration / Image
Usage terms
Public Domain
Held by
British Library

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