William Roscoe (1753–1831) of Liverpool epitomises the encyclopedic range of interests and activities of the eighteenth-century English polymath, widely known as a lawyer, banker, politician, poet, and historian. Roscoe was also active as an art patron and collector: he was arguably the most important patron of the eccentric Swiss-born British painter Henry Fuseli and was instrumental in promoting the early career of the Neo-classical sculptor John Gibson; his collection of ‘Primitive’ paintings—pictures produced before the High Renaissance—was undoubtedly ahead of his time. Based on a close reading of primary sources, some so far unpublished, the purpose of this article is to revisit Roscoe’s activities as a patron and collector not so much to glorify him as to critically interrogate the underlying cultural politics of patronage and art collecting within the context of emerging provincial middle-class culture in eighteenth-century England. In particular, with the support of a newly-discovered archival document, this paper will question the originality of Roscoe’s conception of forming his Primitive collection and offer a reinterpretation of the origins of his collection. Finally, it will be argued that although there were individual variations, the nature of middle-class tastes was not radically different from that of traditional aristocratic cultural aspirations in general, that is, conspicuous consumption as a means of materialising their status and power.