Between 1760 and 1800, enterprising London engravers & printmakers produced and marketed hundreds of mezzotint prints aimed at the growing popular market (comprised mostly of the urban middling sort) who were hungry for affordable prints.
Often these mezzotints, also called drolls, were humorous or satirical and were almost always created in a small 10 x 14 inch format which could be easily and cheaply framed. They were advertised in contemporary print catalogues and easily fit into a print shop display window or into a portfolio case. A traditional mezzotint print would sell for about 8 shillings. A colored droll would be only 2 shillings, and these mezzotints uncolored would cost 1 shilling.
One of the targets of mezzotint satire was a macaroni (or earlier maccaroni), which in mid-18th-century England referred to a fashionable fellow who dressed & spoke in an outlandishly affected manner. The term pejoratively referred to a man who exceeded the ordinary bounds of fashion in terms of clothing, dining, speech, & entertainment.
Young Englishmen who had traveled to Italy on the Grand Tour often adopted the Italian word maccherone — a boorish fool in Italian — and called anything that seemed fashionable "very macaroni."
In 1764 Horace Walpole mentioned “The Maccaroni Club (which is composed of all the travelled young men who wear long curls and spying-glasses).” A writer in the Oxford Magazine wrote in 1770, “There is indeed a kind of animal, neither male nor female, a thing of the neuter gender, lately started up amongst us. It is called Macaroni. It talks without meaning, it smiles without pleasantry, it eats without appetite, it rides without exercise, it wenches without passion.”
The song “Yankee Doodle,” popular during the American Revolutionary War, mentions a man who "stuck a feather in his hat and called it macaroni." The terms dandy (from the song) and fop also referred to fancy, fashionable gentlemen. At least 2 of the mezzotints focusing on macaronis depict well-dressed young men declaring their undying love to rather homely older women for their money.
Engravers & printsellers Mary & Matthew Darly in the fashionable west End of London sold sets of satirical "macaroni" caricature prints, between 1771 & 1773. Because of its location & merchandise, the Darly print shop became known as "The Macaroni Print-Shop."
Detail. M. Darly, Macaroni Dressing Room, London, June 26, 1772.
The austerity, anger, & abridged trade of the American Revolution dampened the desire for these mezzotints during the late 1770-80s on both sides of the Atlantic. By the 1790s, the leading droll printsellers, Robert Sayer (1725-1794) and Carington Bowles (1724-1793), were handing their businesses and stock over to others.
By 1800, the enthusiasm for the mezzotint droll was exhausted, soon to be replaced by other emerging engraving techniques, such as stipple and aquatint, as the media favored for the popular print market. Lithography was invented by Alois Senefelder (1771-1834) in Germany around 1798. In 1811, Senefelder published The Invention of Lithography, which was soon translated into English, French, & Italian, and the popularity of the technique soared.
Spectators at a Print Shop. Carington Bowles. London. 1774. New York Public Library. (This depiction is a detail from a lecture slide. Do not copy or reproduce. Contact the library for an accurate image.)
The Marcaroni Print Shop (The shop of Mary & Matthew Darly). Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. (This depiction is a detail from a lecture slide. Reproduction at allposters.com. Contact CWF for an accurate image.)
London Print Shop of William Humphrey (c.1740-c.1810). Promotional Print. (This depiction is from a lecture slide. Do not copy or reproduce.)
Courtship for Money. Carington Bowles, London 1772. New York Public Library. (This depiction is a detail from a lecture slide. Do not copy or reproduce. Contact the library for an accurate image.)
Courtship for Money. Philip Dawe Fecit. for John Bowles, London. 1772. New York Public Library. (This depiction is a detail from a lecture slide. Do not copy or reproduce. Contact the library for an accurate image.)