New Shaving Machine detail showing captions
Creative Commons LicenseJeremy Norman Collection of Images - Creative Commons

The "New Shaving Machine," Satirizing Mechanization & Factories During the Industrial Revolution, Before the Invention of Small Steam Engines

Circa 1780
New Shaving Machine
Creative Commons LicenseJeremy Norman Collection of Images - Creative Commons
Around 1780, an anonymous British printmaker, perhaps from Birmingham, issued a satire of mechanization and factories occuring during the Industrial Revolution, in the form of an imaginery "New Shaving Machine, whereby a number of persons may be done at the same time with expedition, cease, and safety. Manufactured and sold by D. Merry and Son, Birmingham." This print, which was issued without the name of a publisher, a place or publication, or a date, contains elaborate explanatory captions engraved in the copperplate. The website of the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford,

Notably this imaginery machine was driven by a man turning a large hand-crank, rather than the more elaborate steam-driven imaginery machine depicted by Robert Seymour in his print, issued circa 1825. In creating the later print Seymour was undoubtedly inspired by this earlier rendition.

The artist/ author of this 18th centuryprint could not have imagined that his machine would be driven by steam power because small steam engines, such as Maudslay's Table Engine, needed to operate a process in a small shop were not developed until around 1810. Inspired by this earlier print, Seymour also incorporated a long explanatory caption in his print, and powered it by a steam engine that could have been used by 1825.

The caption of the print reads:

To the Public. Whereas the wonderful powers of this useful Machine are yet but little known, and doubted by those who have not seen it, the Inventor has, for their satisfaction, prefixed a Plate representing his Shaving and Dressing Room, with six Customers sitting, Pledges himself that his Machine will be found to do its work in the most safe, smooth, and efficacious manner, with three scapes or movements, and that those shall have once tried it, will no longer entertain any doubts on the subject; but will smile at the thoughts of being again shaved in the ordinary manual way--the Large Machine, including brushes, cheek and chin razors, completely fitted for shaving from one to twenty persons at a time, seven guineas-- and small one for Gentlemen's private use, at three guineas each--the Large Machines are practicuarly recommended to the Barbers in Fortfied and Manufacturing Towns and Villages, on account of their expedition.

References to the Print, & Explanation.
A. a small barrel of Soap Suds-- B. Soap brush--C. the razor--D. the Master of the shop, who directs the position of his Customers faces. Here he is desiring the Gentleman with the large nose to keep it more to the left, that it may be out of the way. The Pinion wheel, E. being turned round, the Machine A,H. is put in motion & brought to E, and in passing along, the brush, followed by the razor, performs on the right cheek. The faces, the brush, & the razor, being then reversed, a contrary motion of the Wheel does the left Cheek. And the faces being again turned to the front, the fore-beard is done by the instrument at I, which finishes the shaving--The Boy on the foreground is employed in the ordinary & tedious mode of dressing a Wig. The Inventor of the Shaving machine hopes soon to present a much more expeditious Plan of dressing: part of which is exhibited by the Figure in the background, discharging the hair powering gun along the line of Wigs--Seated near him, is a Gentleman already dressed, reading the Newspaper--And behind him is a Stranger whose doubts are removed by seeing the ease and safety of the Shaving operation."

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