Farthing, William

Date and place of birth:
bapt. 20.03.1759 Milverton, Somerset
Date and place of death:
bur. 25.01.1834, St.Michael, Cornhill, London
(fl) ca. 1804 - 1807
Known places of work:
12 Cheapside, London
Known techniques:
Painted on paper, plaster and convex glass*
Known materials:
Paper, plaster, convex glass*
Oval Fruitwood and papier mâché
Trade label


While jeweller and pocket-book manufacturer WILLIAM FARTHING (1759-1834) produced no profiles himself, a relatively large body of work bears one or other of his 3 printed trade labels*.

Between ca.1804-07, when he vacated the premises, Farthing employed an anonymous artist who without doubt was the versatile profilist Henry Hervé (1784-1853), at 12 Cheapside, London, . Employed too, was one of the tirelessly inventive, perennially bankrupt John Issac Hawkins' (1772-1855) "Patent Likeness Machines" which traced the outline of a sitter's profile.

Farthing's initial trade label prominently promoted both the accuracy of Hawkins' profile machine and his employee's worth. "Having engaged an Artist whose talents are acknowledged to be of the highest rank in the Profession and who, having had much practice on the Patent Machines...[can]...furnish a likeness...not to be equalled". The second and third trade labels are more briefly descriptive. Worded the same, but with different typefaces, jewellery work and "Miniatures at 2 guineas upwards" were now offered.

Curiously, no mention is made of profiles on plaster or on convex glass, as the latter constitutes the bulk of the studio work at this time. All likenesses are bust-sized, all bustline terminations are of shallow concave-convex type, all are delicately and neatly painted. Work on convex glass is made singular by the space immediately behind the profile being filled with a 'buffish-pink' composition. And Henry Hervé would continue using this same presentation when, on his first independent trade label of 1807, he advertised himself as "...Successor to Mr. FARTHING" at 12 Cheapside, an address that Hervé would continue using as a studio into the 1840s.

Research also traced Farthing's main strand of business. In the MORNING CHRONICLE in February 1805 and October 1806, a Patent Polygraph "newly invented...[by Hawkins]... for writing with 2 or more pens...[together with a large assortment of]...improved copying machines and portable writing desks..." were advertised for sale by "Farthing 12 Cheapside and 43 Cornhill".

The Farthing in Cornhill was William's brother John Handford Farthing (1762-1840). In the 1810 sale catalogue of Hawkins' (bankrupt) "Mechanical Museum" of 79 Great Titchfield Street, Hawkins relates his polygraph patent sold to "Mr. Farthing of...Cornhill who manufactures them". The catalogue lists polygraph machines for sale at 10 guineas and also Hawkins' "Machines for Drawing Likenesses..." at £4 each.

The clue why William Farthing vacated 12 Cheapside in 1807 is found in 1808 -1812 Battersea land tax records as, with his brother, both partnered serial inventor Marc I. Brunel (1772-1849), providing financial and much-needed business acumen for Brunel's Thames-side steam-driven sawmill. Though initially highly profitable, the Farthings withdrew from the venture in 1812. Thereafter, the Farthing brothers both lived and worked in Cornhill with cutlery, pocket-books, writing desks, copying machines and patent pens variously recorded as their stock-in-trade.

Regarding their family backgrounds, their father John (1733-N/K), a Somerset serge cloth maker, wed 'Betty' Handford (1732-1796) in the county in 1754. Daughter Eleanor (1757-1819) and sons William and John Handford were all baptised in Milverton, Somerset. At some later point the family relocated to London.

Regarding his personal life, William Farthing married Jane Charity Church (1765-1843) daughter of a Thames river pilot, in September 1793. Six offspring were born between 1795-1805. Two daughters, Charlotte (1799-1847), Elizabeth (1801-1883) and son John (1805-1867) survived to adulthood. In 1842 John married 1st cousin Agnes (1795-1845), only surviving child of John Handford Farthing. She died 3 years later as a result of her husband losing control of their carriage.

Aged 73, William Farthing was buried at St.Michael's, Cornhill. on the 25th of January 1834.

Revised 12 February 2024 (Brian Wellings)

Additional research about William Farthing:

Source: McKechnie (Author of, British Silhouette Artists and their Work 1760-1860)

Farthing, William (McKechnie Section 2)
Farthing, William (McKechnie Section 3)
Farthing, William (McKechnie Section 4)
Farthing, William (McKechnie Section 5)
Farthing, William (McKechnie Section 6)