Item #7638 Dispatch from the Emperor to General Flint, of the HEAD Department, and Most Supreme of all the Lather-ing Tribe:—. John Richard Desborus Huggins.

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[Huggins, John Richard Desborus.]

Dispatch from the Emperor to General Flint, of the HEAD Department, and Most Supreme of all the Lather-ing Tribe:—

[Likely Ballston Spa, New York, ca. 1800.]. Broadside, 12.375” x 7.75”, mounted on larger leaf removed from scrapbook, with manuscript note in ink on separate sheet (4.25” x 7.75”) mounted below original broadside; similar but unrelated note (2.625” x 7.75”) on verso. CONDITION: Good overall; loss to right margin and .5” losses at old folds, affecting just one letter.

A delightful unrecorded broadside by a famously poetical New York hairdresser and wigmaker who, in addition to adorning the heads of his clientele with flowing locks and fancy combs, entertained their ears and lampooned their politics with witty and satirical verse. Preserved with an early note on the author and subject by a historically-minded watch maker.

This broadside in praise of “General Flint, Of the HEAD Department, and Most Supreme of all the Lather-ing Tribe” begins by describing Flint’s skillful wielding of “the Comb” and ability to revive “Exhausted Wigs,” and noting accordingly that: Pale Barbers saw him, curst his prosp’rous Reign, And panting Shavers trace his Steps in vain: While flowing Ringlets wave on ev’ry Breast, The MATCHLESS FLINT will stand confest.

Hailing Flint as the “Grand Mogul of Jaw Scavingers, Shave Master General…of the Grand Order of the Shaving Box,” Huggins recommends: “Then Stranger go to FLINT and shave.” The broadside is signed only “Deborus,” a misspelling of “Desborus,” one of the author’s lesser-used middle names, but the manuscript addendum mounted below the broadside explains: “It is the production of Huggins a Hair Dresser of the city of N.Y. who from 1800 to 1812 was celebrated for his wit, and his Parodies on all the proclamations & public documents of the crowned heads of Europe & the President of the U.S. He possessed the rare ability of ridiculing every subject he touched in a most Barberous manner. He became very celebrated and eventually committed suicide at Albany.”

John Richard Desborus Huggins was a frequent presence in the New York papers between 1801 and 1808, publishing elaborate, often poetic and political advertisements for his hairdressing and wig-production services—at least one of which, though printed in the ads section, is labeled a “Proclamation” and fills an entire column with flights of fanciful commentary before, in the last lines, mentioning that he still “shaves and dresses and sells hard soap and soft pomatum, wigs, frizettes and other articles of perfumery” and wants “A journeyman hair dresser” (The Evening Post, August 22, 1807, p. 3). One ad, published in 1807 in advance of New York’s gubernatorial elections, bore the heading “Electioneering Artifice” and cast Huggins’s “head dresses” in a political light, capable of causing under-age boys to appear old enough to vote and adult candidates to look like wealthy landowners. The “fee simple head dress,” with “locks being all of them in an horizontal position, and pointed straight forward” may have been a jab at the curious friseur of Thomas Storm, on the ballot for Lieutenant Governor (The Evening Post, April 27, 1807, p. 3).

A barber with “spirit enough to assume, and talents enough to support the title” of “Empereur du Friseurs, roi du barbiers,” Huggins published a collection of his “politico-tonsorial…effusions” (Murrell, p. 55) in 1808 entitled Hugginiana; or, Huggins’ fantasy, being a collection of the most esteemed modern literary productions. Exposing the art of making a noise in the world, without beating a drum, or crying oysters…. Though the panegyric offered here seems lighthearted enough, Huggins was evidently also “an aggressive…and contentious man” and his vocal anti-Jeffersonian politics so angered one Tammany Hall leader that he “called at Huggins’s shop…and administered to him a sound thrashing with a rope” (Meyers, p. 11). In addition to publishing his own punning political commentary, Huggins both sold and commissioned political engravings, including several for Hugginiana from Elkanah Tisdale, who was among the first American-born artists “to be definitely connected with a number of plates of a humorous or satirical nature” (Murrel, p. 54). Huggins’s suicide in 1816 was mourned in the New York papers, although one loyal subject’s poem “on the demise of the celebrated John Richard Desborus Huggins, ‘Emperor of the all the Friseurs,’ who valuntarily abdicated his baberous kingdom” notes that Huggins’s wife, a perfumist, had taken over his “throne” as “empress” (The Evening Post, Dec. 10, 1816, p. 2).

This broadside was formerly in the annotated scrapbook of one Lyman Barker Langworthy (1787–1880), an American jeweler and watchmaker who worked in Quebec for many years before leaving at the start of the War of 1812. Langworthy was active in Ballston Spa, Rochester, and other New York locales, and in addition to his regular trade served stints as Sheriff of Saratoga County and Superintendent of the Tonawanda Railroad. As the Langworthy Family history outlines, “He was a prominent Mason, trustee of the Rochester Savings Bank, trustee and deacon of the First Baptist Church, associate editor of the Rural New Yorker and prominent in many other ways” (p. 223), and is also the author of his own family history, entitled Memorandum and Reminiscences: Personal Sketches and Memoirs of the Family Langworthy.

Although we have found little record of the subject of Huggins’s poem except that he was born in Dunkirk in 1837, lived in Ballston Spa, and was buried there in 1870, Langworthy notes:

The man [John] Flint was an Englishman an eccentric kind of monomaniac, a universal genius. Poet, Doctor, Tobacconist, Landlord & Barber, & with whom Huggins amused the visitors at the springs. To help along I wrote the following Epigram, which at the time was thought a good hit

John Flint to save expense & labor—gives Rum instead of Lather to his neighbor By this droll means, his credit’s saved. They all go home at least half shaved.

In addition to maintaining his “Emporium of taste” in New York City, first at 42 Pine Street and then, after 1803, at 92 Broadway, Huggins evidently traveled for work, probably following wealthy clients to their summer watering places. Since both Flint and Langworthy lived in Ballston Spa, this broadside was likely printed there.

Shaw and Shoemaker record only four items by Huggins: two 1808 editions of Hugginiana and two broadsides. No physical holdings of Huggins’s work are listed in OCLC. An example of Hugginiana and the broadside “A solemn fact. Suaviter in modo--fortiter in re” are at AAS.

A rare and highly eccentric window into the New York scene of the early 1800s by its famously witty tonsorial “Emperor.”

REFERENCES: Murrel, William. A History of American Graphic Humor, vol. 1: 1747–1865 (New York: Whitney, 1933); Meyers, Gustavus. History of Tammany Hall (New York: Boni & Liveright, 1917). For Huggins’s recorded works, see Shaw & Shoemaker 15282, 35332, 15279, and 15281.

Item #7638

Price: $2,750.00

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