A Victorian version of a very ‘modern’ crime

Collinson, Robert, 1832-after 1890; Ordered on foreign Service

Ordered on Foreign Service, by Robert Collinson (The Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology)

One of the most modern of crimes is the sale of fake goods and the evasion of copyright. Most of us will have seen street traders selling what purports to be expensive perfume, handbags and watches at knockdown prices, and some of us may even have been offered unrealistically cheap electrical goods from someone called ‘Nigel’. Many people I know download movies or music from the internet without the creators getting the full (or any) remuneration for their talent and others live stream football or other sports events directly, bypassing Sky or BT’s commercial operation.

I say this is ‘modern’ but of course, like most crime, it really isn’t. There are new methods for criminality (like cyber crime and identity fraud) but the underlying crime remains the same. The same is true for selling things without the license to do so and ripping off the creator of art or music in the process. This is what brought three men before the Lord Mayor of London at his Mansion House courtroom in December 1868.

William Coleman, John Lawrence, and William Hooper were severally charged with conspiring to ‘sell pirated copies of photographs of copyright paintings and drawings’. The prosecution was led by George Lewis ,a  lawyer representing Graves and Co, a well established firm of publishers and engravers based in London’s Pall Mall.  All three defendants had engaged lawyers of their own, including Mr St John Wonter (who has appeared elsewhere in this series).

The facts were thus: detectives employed by Graves & Co. had been watching the trio for some time.  He had bought several pirated copies of famous paintings including William Powell Frith’s ‘Railway Station’, and other works such as ‘The Last Kiss’, ‘Nutcrackers’, and ‘Ordered on Foreign Service’.

To give some idea of the value of these the Lord Mayor was told that on its own the copyright for ‘Railway Station’ had cost Graves & Co. £24,000. That was a huge sum of money in 1868, about the equivalent of £1.5m today. This shows that the market for reproductions of Frith’s famous painting (below) was vast, so no wonder the three men were prepared to take a risk to make money for themselves.

William_Powell_Frith_The_Railway_Station

The Railway Station by William Powell Frith

A picture dealer who operated out of premises in Vauxhall testified that he’d bought several copies of each of the images (including ‘Railway Station’ and ‘Last Kiss’) for 1s 6da dozen. At such low prices he could make money on top and he saw nothing wrong in doing so. In court the defense was that the men had no intention to injure Graves & Co. by selling cheap copies, there were just filling a hole in the market. Hopper said he was sent similar photos every day for mounting and he hadn’t seen there to be any crime in creating photos of his own.

The Lord Mayor saw things differently however and committed all of them to face trial at the Old Bailey in the New Year. Lawrence and Hooper he released them on significant bail  (£100 each) but Cooper was unable to find sureties and so was locked up again. He would spend Christmas in gaol.

It took until May 1869 for the three men to be brought to trial at the Central Criminal Court. There Coleman pleaded guilty to the charges and Lawrence was convicted and sent to prison for 12 months. Hooper was acquitted and left court a free man.

[from The Morning Post, Friday, December 25, 1868]

I’d like to take this opportunity to wish everyone reading this (and amazingly there are quite a lot of you now!) a very merry Christmas! I’ve been writing this blog since April 2016 and the numbers of readers has steadily increased. I’d be interested to know if ‘regulars’ would like something different or more of the same in 2019. Leave a comment or email me at drewdgray17@gmail.com if you have any thoughts.

Thanks for reading!

Drew 

One thought on “A Victorian version of a very ‘modern’ crime

  1. I have read your blog most days since you started it – can’t believe it’s that long ago – and always enjoy it. Merry Christmas!

    Like

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