Addison's Lion and the social media of the 1700s

Addison's Lion and the social media of the 1700s

IN-DEPTH RESEARCH: This box is a repository of some of the raw research we gathered when we were investigating the history of a once-famous Lion's Head post box that was the talk of London's coffee-houses in the early 1700s.


Newspaper pioneer Joseph Addison installed it in Button's coffee-house in Covent Garden in 1713 to encourage contributions to his daily newspaper The Guardian. Coffee-houses were the social networks of the 18th century –where you gathered to share the latest news and gossip – and Addison and his fellow editor Richard Steele relied on them for their source material.


The Lion's Head was set up so contributions could be delivered into its mouth for Addison to collect from the locked box below, promising: “Whatever the Lion swallows I shall digest for the use of the publick.”


We set out not just to uncover the full, largely forgotten story of Addison's Lion but to create a full-size replica that we took to the SXSW Interactive Festival in Austin, Texas. We tracked the Lion down to its current home at Woburn Abbey, where the team who curate the Duke of Bedford's collections kindly helped us piece together the story and examine Addison's Lion up close so we could recreate it as near as possible to the way it would have looked in 1713.


This Shooglebox contains some of the things we collected and explored along the way – photographs, original copies of The Guardian, and lots of useful material gleaned from books, illustrations and old documents.

Addison's Lion and the social media of the 1700s