John Boydell, an English engraver and print publisher, born Jan. 19, 1719, died in London in December, 1804. He was educated for the church, but apprenticed himself in 1740 for seven years to a London engraver. His first publication was the "Bridge Book," so called because there was a bridge in each of the views which it contained. In 1746 he published by subscription a volume of engravings, wholly executed by himself, containing 152 views in England and Wales. The profits of this volume enabled him to become a regular publisher, and to employ good artists; and in a few years the engravings of Boydell were largely exported to the continent. He established the " Shakespeare Gallery " in Pall Mall as an English school of historical painting, and employed Reynolds, Opie, West, Northcote, and other eminent painters, in illustrating Shakespeare's works. From these pictures the best engravers produced the celebrated work (3 feet by 2 in size), in royal elephant folio, entitled " A Collection of Prints from Pictures painted for the purpose of illustrating the Dramatical Works of Shakespeare." It appeared in 1803 (having been preceded, in 1792-1801, by Boydell's edition of Shakespeare, printed by Bulmer, 9 vols, folio), and the sum of £350,-000 had been expended upon it.
When he commenced this project, he had every reason to expect that, as with his previous productions, his foreign customers would take a considerable number of copies. But the war had injured foreign trade, and in 1804 he was compelled to solicit parliament to authorize him to dispose of the original paintings by lottery. He was alderman of London in 1782, sheriff in 1785, and lord mayor in 1790. The plates of Boydell's illustrations of Shakespeare were purchased in a damaged condition by an American, Dr. S. Spooner, brought to the United States, and retouched, and a new edition was printed from them.