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Scope of Project

This project is to identify profiles who were subjects of John Kay and included in one of the two volumes of A series of original portraits and caricature etchings by the late John Kay, with biographical sketches and illustrative anecdotes.

Each caricature in these two volumes is listed below, and attributed as follows:

  • Numbered using Roman Numerals as per entry;
  • Titled as per entry - note some caricatures are not titled; and
  • Linked to an image of the caricature. The images themselves are visible under Photos and Documents. Individuals who were the subject of the caricature will be both invited to this project and identified in the image.
  • Bolded links indicate at least one party has been identified in the caricature.


John Kay (1742 – February 21, 1826) was a Scottish caricaturist and engraver.

He was born near Dalkeith, where his father was a mason. At thirteen he was apprenticed to a barber, whom he served for six years. He then went to Edinburgh, where in 1771 he obtained the freedom of the city by joining the corporation of barber-surgeons. In 1785, induced by the favour which greeted certain attempts of his to etch in aquafortis, he took down his barber's pole and opened a small print shop in Parliament Close. There he continued to flourish, painting miniatures, and publishing at short intervals his sketches and caricatures of local celebrities and oddities, who abounded at that period in Edinburgh society.

Kay's portraits were collected by Hugh Paton and published under the title A series of original portraits and caricature etchings by the late John Kay, with biographical sketches and illustrative anecdotes (Edinburgh, 2 vols. 4to, 1838; 8vo ed., 4 vols., 1842; new 4to ed., with additional plates, 2 vols., 1877), forming a unique record of the social life and popular habits of Edinburgh at its most interesting epoch.


Volume I

Volume II