Brooks, John (b. c.1710, d. p. 1756), engraver and inventor, a native of Dublin, was the son of John Brooks, and was possibly of Dutch descent. The name also occurs in Dublin at that period as van der Brooks, and there were others of the name involved in printmaking and printing. He was admitted to the Goldsmiths' Corporation in 1736 as an engraver. His earliest known works include a depiction of the Boyne obelisk in 1730, published in 1736, and the frontispiece of Odes and Satyrs of Horace published by Samuel Fuller in 1730. On his portrait of Margaret (Peg) Woffington (qv) of 1740, his place of business was said to be the back of Dick's Coffee-House, Skinners Row. In 1740 he left Dublin for London and learned mezzotint engraving, possibly under John Faber, with whom he kept a connection. He returned to Dublin in 1741, to the sign of Sir Isaac Newton's Head on Cork Hill, where he sold prints.
Brooks is credited with founding the Anglo-Irish school of mezzotint engraving, as he employed the younger men who were to become the most notable exponents of the art in London from the 1750s onward. Foremost among them was Andrew Miller (d. 1763), who may also have trained the other pupils, who included James McArdell (qv), Richard Houston (qv), Charles Spooner (qv), Michael Ford (d. 1764) and Richard Purcell. Brooks was given to money-making schemes, one of which, in 1742, was for the production of 100 prints of portraits of eminent individuals, to be paid for by subscription. A small number of prints appeared, but the scheme was prematurely abandoned. He also published several prints of views of scenery in the neighbourhood of Dublin. Miller left his employment in 1743, and Brooks seems to have been less successful thereafter.
In 1746 he departed for England with McArdell and Houston, but seems to have turned his attention away from engraving. He is credited with having invented the transfer printing system, in which ready-made designs etched on copper plates were used to apply decoration to enamel objects. He applied unsuccessfully for a patent in 1751, from his workshop in Birmingham; factories elsewhere may subsequently have profited by use of the process. Brooks was listed as a proprietor of the newly established enamel works at York House in Battersea, London, in 1753. ‘Battersea ware’ is still a generic term for transfer-printed enamel. Brooks's factory produced a small quantity of beautiful work, such as snuffboxes and étuis, much sought after by collectors, but the enterprise failed in 1756, apparently due to poor management allied to or caused by a dissipated lifestyle. This bankrupted both Brooks and his financial backer, Stephen Theodore Janssen, who was also of Dutch origin.
Little is known of the rest of Brooks's life; he lived rather disreputably in various inns, and may have done some work for English booksellers. He may also have been involved with possibly fraudulent enterprises of various sorts; it is said for instance that he convinced a Chester innkeeper that he was a wealthy man. The innkeeper looked after him without demanding payment, even during Brooks's final illness, and on his death some time after 1756 gave him a good funeral, in expectation of a promised large legacy, but was sadly disappointed when he tried to collect his inheritance.