George Timmons III

Phone
843-290-1746
Address
P.O. Box 1147
Woodbine, GA 31569 US
Interests
Any and All !

The Road to Prohibition

Did prints help outlaw liquor in the United States?

On January 17, 1920, Prohibition went into effect in the United States. The 18th Amendment was ratified in 1919, but it gave the country a whole year to prepare for the actual outlawing of the “manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors.”

The story doesn’t begin in 1919 or 1920, though. It took a lot of time—more than a century of work—to persuade the entire nation to give up its liquor. Generations of reformers worked tirelessly to convince Americans that alcohol was a scourge that destroyed lives and families.

In 1784, Dr. Benjamin Rush, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, published the first American medical treatise against drinking: An Enquiry into the Effects of Ardent Spirits upon the Human Body and Mind. In subsequent decades, regional temperance associations were formed, and the first national group, the American Temperance Society was established in 1826.

Reformers made steady progress throughout the 19th century. In 1845, Maine became the first state to prohibit alcohol, and by 1913, more than 50% of the United States population lived in a state or region with some type of liquor prohibition. As the temperance movement grew, American prints reflected the changing culture.

In 1848, Nathaniel Currier published Washington Taking Leave of the Officers of his Army. This print depicted Washington’s final words to his officers following the end of the American Revolution in 1783. According to Colonel Benjamin Tallmadge who attended the meeting, the officers met in a tavern, and “the General filled his glass with wine” before turning to address his officers.

N. Currier, Washington Taking Leave of the Officers of his Army, at Francis’s Tavern, Broad Street, New York, Decr. 4th. 1783 [Lithograph, 1848]

N. Currier, Washington Taking Leave of the Officers of his Army, at Francis’s Tavern, Broad Street, New York, Decr. 4th. 1783 [Lithograph, 1848]. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

When Currier & Ives returned to the print in 1876, the image was nearly identical—except for two notable differences: Washington was no longer holding a wine glass, and his hat had replaced the decanter and glasses at the center of the picture.

Currier & Ives, Washington’s Farwell to the Officers of his Army. At the old Tavern, corner Broad and Pearl Sts. New York, Dec. 4th 1783 [Lithograph, 1876]

Currier & Ives, Washington’s Farewell to the Officers of his Army. At the old Tavern, corner Broad and Pearl Sts. New York, Dec. 4th 1783 [Lithograph, 1876]. Courtesy of the Museum of City of New York (58.84.6).

The changes in Washington’s Farewell reflected the growing influence of the temperance movement on American life. But, prints could be more than just a mirror of the times; they could also be used as agents of the movement.

Strong words, both spoken and written, were the central vehicle for denouncing America’s culture of drinking. In a representative example, Virginia doctor Richard Carter took the time in his 1825 memoir to remind his readers that,

It is proven to a demonstration, that the immoderate use of ardent spirits, is more baneful to our commonwealth than devastation and war. For drunkeness is the annoyance of modesty, the trouble of civility, the spoiler of wealth, the destruction of reason. … A drunkard is a wife’s woe, his children’s sorrow, and resembles more the brute than the man.

Images also could communicate these temperance messages. A year after Dr. Carter published his memoir, New Haven engraver J. W. Barber published a pictorial denunciation of intemperance, The Drunkard’s Progress, or the Direct Road to Poverty, Wretchedness & Ruin.

J. W. Barber, The Drunkard's Progress

J. W. Barber, The Drunkard’s Progress, or the Direct Road to Poverty, Wretchedness & Ruin [Engraving, 1826]. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Barber’s engraving is one of the earliest American examples of a trope that would be regularly used by temperance reformers throughout the 19th century: drinking as the road to ruin. Many prints told cautionary tales that delineated a clear path from a man’s innocent first drinks to ruin (and even death).

Edward Gaullaudet, The Progress of Intemperance, 1831

Edward Gallaudet, The Progress of Intemperance [Engraving, 1831]. Courtesy of the American Antiquarian Society.

E.B. & E.C. Kellogg, The Drunkard’s Progress [Lithograph, 1846].

E.B. & E.C. Kellogg, The Drunkard’s Progress [Lithograph, 1846]. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

With prints, artists could include a literal “road,” steps, or even railroad tracks down which the drunkard descended. The storyline stayed remarkably consistent all the way from Barber’s 1826 engraving to lithographs published in the 1890s.

New York Lithographing and Engraving Co., Inebriate’s Express [Lithograph, 1870].

New York Lithographing and Engraving Co., Inebriate’s Express [Lithograph, 1870]. Courtesy of the Huntington Library.

Currier & Ives, The Progress of Intemperance, 1881

Currier & Ives, The Progress of Intemperance [Lithograph, 1881]. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Haasis and Lubrecht, The Drunkard's Progress

Haasis & Lubrecht (publishers), The Drunkard’s Progress [Lithograph, 1884]. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

A.B. Graham Co. (lithographer), Milton W. Garnes & Co. (publisher), The Railroad that Leads From Heaven to Hell [Lithograph, 1894 or 1895].

A.B. Graham Co. (lithographer), Milton W. Garnes & Co. (publisher), The Railroad that Leads From Earth to Hell [Lithograph, 1894 or 1895]. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

This general theme of progression allowed the prints to communicate a didactic message through a compelling narrative that was accessible to viewers of any age. Artists could also embed interesting visual details into the tale of woe to keep the viewer entertained. As the temperance movement grew, reformers began focusing their work towards children—hoping to teach them about the ills of drinking before they were old enough to take a sip. These prints were visually captivating, making them perfect for younger audiences.

One of the most well-known prints of this genre was Black Valley Railroad, which first appeared in 1863. Surrounding the detailed scene of a demonic railroad train fueled by alcohol are names of forty rail stops including Sippington, Brothelton, Idiot Flatts, and finally Smashup Rock and Destruction.

S. W. Hanks, Black Valley Railroad [Lithograph, 1863].

S. W. Hanks, Black Valley Railroad [Lithograph, 1863]. Courtesy of the Huntington Library.

 

Black Valley Railroad advertisement, 1869

Advertisement in The National Temperance Almanac and Teetotaler’s Year Book (1869). Courtesy of the HathiTrust.

The print was copyrighted by New England minister Steadman W. Hanks and then widely reused by temperance groups including the National Temperance Society. It was advertised in Christian and temperance periodicals.

If we wonder where Americans would have seen these prints in daily life, the advertisements give us some idea. One 1869 ad in The Christian World emphasized, “It should be hung in every Depot, School-Room and Workshop.”

For all of the speeches, sermons, articles, canvassing, songs, parades, and prints that helped lead to national prohibition, the 18th Amendment would prove to be a failure. It became the only United States constitutional amendment to be repealed (by the 21st Amendment in 1933). Not surprisingly, the movement to repeal prohibition would have its own images.

Woman’s Organization for National Prohibition Reform, Their Security Demands You Vote Repeal [Poster, 1932]. Courtesy of the Princeton University Posters Collection, Archives Center, National Museum of American History.

~~~~~

Top image credit: National Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, National Constitutional Prohibition by Your Vote Help Conserve Your Country’s Resources [Poster, undated]. Courtesy of the Princeton University Posters Collection, Archives Center, National Museum of American History.

 

 

 

 

Print Prices in a Pandemic

What did 2020 mean for print collecting?

Currier & Ives (after A. F. Tait), Life of a Hunter. ‘A tight fix’ [Lithograph, 1861].Currier & Ives (after A. F. Tait), Life of a Hunter. ‘A tight fix’ [Lithograph, 1861].

Since the beginning of the pandemic, print sellers and collectors have been trying to figure out how to continue doing what they love in a socially distanced world. One of our dealer members was pleased to sell some prints online in early spring only to realize that because of local shelter-in-place rules, the purchased prints were trapped in a closed storage facility.

The art world was already growing increasingly proficient in the virtual realm before 2020; Covid-19 only accelerated the shift. But according to industry reports, the pandemic hasn’t been kind to art galleries forced to close their doors: online art buying may be up, but overall sales are down.

What did this year mean for historic print collectors? Many were already comfortable scrolling eBay listings and making online bids. But these activities were enjoyed in addition to the in-person parts of collecting that disappeared: visiting fairs, dropping into print galleries, and getting together with fellow enthusiasts.

Print collectors were also now part of what one writer termed “a captive audience” for one of the last remaining outlets open to them: online auctions. In an entirely unscientific review, we decided to take a look at the auction results recorded on the site liveauctioneers.com and share the highest prices realized for a Currier & Ives print each month in 2020.

The Year in Currier & Ives

Note: The sold prices listed below do not include the buyer’s premium or any other additional fees or taxes; multiple-print lots were not included.


December 2020

$7,500 (21 bids)

American Forest Scene. Maple Sugaring.

Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait (artist), N. Currier [Lithograph, 1856]

Jackson’s Auction (December 1, 2020)

 

 


November 2020

$9,000 (1 bid)

The City of Philadelphia

Parsons and Atwater (artists), Currier & Ives [Lithograph, 1875]

Arader Gallery (November 7, 2020, sale)

 

 


October 2020

$5,000 (18 bids)

“Trotting Cracks” at the Forge

Thomas Worth (artist), Currier & Ives [Lithograph, 1869]

California Auctioneers (October 11, 2020, sale)

 

 


September 2020

$1,200 (17 bids)

Fashionable “Turn-Outs” in Central Park

Thomas Worth (artist), Currier & Ives [Lithograph, 1869]

Nye & Company (September 2, 2020, sale)

 

 


August 2020

$25,000 (6 bids)

Life of a Hunter. ‘A tight fix.’ 

Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait (artist), Currier & Ives [Lithograph, 1861]

Nate D. Sanders (August 20, 2020, sale)

 

 


July 2020

$1,100 (1 bid)

Holidays in the Country. Troublesome Flies.

Currier & Ives [Lithograph, 1868]

Arader Galleries (July 25, 2020, sale)

 

 


June 2020

$6,000 (21 bids)

Abraham Lincoln. Andrew Johnson, Grand, National Union Banner for 1864.

Currier & Ives [Lithograph, 1864]

Cowan’s Auctions (June 26, 2020, sale)

 

 

 

 


May 2020

$5,000 (3 bids)

The Life of a Hunter. ‘Catching a Tartar.’

Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait (artist), Currier & Ives [Lithograph, 1861]

Concept Art Gallery (May 15, 2020, sale)

 

 


April 2020

$7,500 (28 bids)

The Port of New York. Birds Eye View from the Battery, Looking South.

Parsons & Atwater (artists), Currier & Ives [Lithograph, 1872]

Arader Galleries (April 25, 2020, sale)

 


March 2020

$3,000 (9 bids)

New York and Brooklyn. With Jersey City and Hoboken Water Front.

Parsons & Atwater (artists), Currier & Ives [Lithograph, 1877]

Shapiro Auctions (March 22, 2020, sale)

 

 


February 2020

$17,500 (14 bids)

Across the Continent. “Westward the Course of Empire Takes its Way”

F. F. Palmer (artist), J. M. Ives (lithographer), Currier & Ives [Lithograph, 1868]

Kotler Galleries & Auctioneers (February 13, 2020, sale)

 

 


January 2020

$1,200 (11 bids)

A Parley. Prepared for an Emergency.

James Cameron (artist), Currier & Ives [Lithograph, 1866]

Arader Galleries (January 25, 2020, sale)

 

 


The anecdotal conclusion among some print collectors is that there has been an increased interest in historical prints, including Currier & Ives, during the pandemic. And with rising interest comes rising prices. One member estimated that online auction prices seemed to have gone up even as much as 25% for C& I prints.

The big seller during the pandemic was an old favorite: Life of a Hunter. ‘A tight fix’ (1861). It sold for $25,000 in August. Sotheby’s website also recorded a $30,000 sale price for another copy of the print in January.

It’s fun to look at the pricey prints, but one of our dealer members doesn’t think that’s where the real story is to be found. He has noticed that the notable change isn’t with the big-ticket items, which have regularly commanded high prices. The increased interest is for his less-expensive Currier & Ives prints, including ones with condition issues. In recent years, most of those wouldn’t have sold at all.

In a 2019 post on his Antique Prints Blog, AHPCS board member Chris Lane assessed that antique prices had been dropping since the turn of the millennium and that he’d noticed a decline in serious collectors: “The economic disaster of 2008 knocked most of these collectors out of the market, and frankly, few have come back in even a decade later.”

While stalwart collectors feel the burn from increased bidding, for the field of historic print collecting in general, it brings new optimism. As one member shared, “What the increase means to me, is there is an increasing in interest in Currier & Ives, after almost two decades of decreasing interest. Personally, I am loving it and hoping it continues.”

~~~~~~

Image Credits

Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait (artist), N. Currier, American Forest Scene. Maple Sugaring [Lithograph, 1856]. Courtesy of Yale University Art Gallery.

Parsons and Atwater (artists), Currier & Ives, The City of Philadelphia [Lithograph, 1875]. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Currier & Ives, “Trotting Cracks” at the Forge [Lithograph, 1869]. Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Thomas Worth (artist), Currier & Ives, Fashionable “Turn-Outs” in Central Park [Lithograph, 1869]. Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Currier & Ives (after A. F. Tait), Life of a Hunter. ‘A tight fix’ [Lithograph, 1861]. Courtesy of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas, 2007.186

Currier & Ives, Holidays in the Country. Troublesome Flies [Lithograph, 1868]. Courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York [58.300.19].

Currier & Ives, Abraham Lincoln. Andrew Johnson, Grand, National Union Banner for 1864 [Lithograph, 1864]. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Currier & Ives (after A. F. Tait), The Life of a Hunter. ‘Catching a Tartar’ [Lithograph, 1861]. Courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York [57.300.64].

Parsons & Atwater (lithographers), Currier & Ives, The Port of New York. Birds Eye View from the Battery, Looking South. [Lithograph, 1872]. Courtesy of the Yale University Art Gallery.

Parsons & Atwater (lithographers), Currier & Ives, New York and Brooklyn. With Jersey City and Hoboken Water Front.[Lithograph, 1877]. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

F. F. Palmer (artist), J. M. Ives (lithographer), Currier & Ives, Across the Continent. “Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way” [Lithograph, 1868]. Courtesy of the Yale University Art Gallery.

James Cameron (artist), Currier & Ives A Parley. Prepared for an Emergency.  [Lithograph, 1866]. Courtesy of UC Berkeley, Bancroft Library.

Saving an Endangered Lithograph

On May 15, 1858, Colonel Thomas Pearson August ordered the First Regiment of Virginia Volunteers to assemble on May 22nd for a four-day encampment in Ashland, Virginia. This 1858 meeting was notable as the last peaceful encampment of the militia before the start of the Civil War.

The event was memorialized in a hand-colored lithograph by Richmond printers Ritchie & Dunnavant: First Regt. Va. Volunteers: Col T P August – Camp Robinson. Hanover Co. May 22, 1858.

Today only two copies of this print are known to exist.

One of these, owned by the Ashland Museum, was in such bad condition that, in 2016, it landed on a top-ten list of Virginia’s most endangered artifacts. The heavily stained, deteriorating print was so vulnerable that it could not be handled or exhibited.

First Regt. Va. Volunteers: Col T P August – Camp Robinson. Hanover Co. May 22, 1858 before conservation
First Regt. Va. Volunteers: Col T P August – Camp Robinson. Hanover Co. May 22, 1858 before conservation treatment. Photo courtesy of the Ashland Museum.

AHPCS’s Shadwell Conservation Grant was created for just such conservation emergencies. Thanks to the generosity of former AHPCS president Wendy Shadwell (1942-2007), institutional members without in-house print conservation facilities can apply for funding to preserve their important American historical prints.

In 2017, AHPCS awarded a Shadwell Grant to the Ashland Museum to save their lithograph. And this past year, the print underwent an amazing transformation thanks to Marianne Kelsey, a book and paper conservator in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Kelsey determined that the lithograph’s 1850s cotton paper had been treated with alum sizing, which breaks down over time and contributed to its extreme fragility.

On November 20th, the conserved 162-year-old print was unveiled at the museum. During the unveiling, Kelsey described her fascinating process.

To treat the print, Kelsey put it through eleven washing sessions—double what she would normally do, and she mended the paper with archival materials. Before-and-after photographs of the lithograph reveal the dramatic difference.

The Wendy Shadwell Conservation Grant program offers a great opportunity for AHPCS institutional members to help ensure the longevity of their significant historical prints. Learn more about how to apply!

Little Snow-Ball

When collectors take the deep dive into popular 19th-century American prints, they often begin noticing similarities. In the days before robust copyright protections, images were shamelessly copied and reused. It can become a chicken-and-egg detective game trying to figure out which image came first. In some cases, the answer is easy; for others, mysteries remain.

AHPCS board member Jim Brust has done extensive research into the duplication of pirated Currier & Ives prints onto smaller cartes-de-visite photographs. He recently stumbled upon the wood engraving on the right, which is very similar to the well-known Currier & Ives print on the left.

Little Snow-Ball prints

Fig. 1

The girl on the left appears as one of a pair of very small folio Currier & Ives prints Throw If You Dare and Shall I? (Figs 2-3) originally printed on one sheet but often found separated now. The girl on the right showed up as a full-page illustration (Fig. 4) in the January 1872 issue of Peterson’s Magazine, a popular monthly magazine published in Philadelphia.

 

Throw if you Dare! Shall I? Currier & Ives prints

Fig. 2. Currier & Ives, Throw if You Dare! and Shall I? [Lithographs, ca. 1872-4]. Courtesy of Dr. James S. Brust.

 

Shall I Currier & Ives print

Fig. 3. Currier & Ives, Shall I? [Lithograph, ca. 1872-4]. Courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum.

 

Little Snow-Ball wood engraving

Fig. 4. “Little Snow-Ball” [Wood engraving in Peterson’s Magazine, January 1872]. Courtesy of Dr. James S. Brust.

The prints were made using very different processes–the Currier & Ives print is a hand-colored lithograph about 7 1/2 inches in height, and “Little Snow-Ball” is a wood engraving on paper about 10 inches tall (illustration height 6 1/2 inches). No artist is named for either print. The image backgrounds and details differ, but the similarities are undeniable. The lower margin of the Currier & Ives print includes their address, 125 Nassau Street, New York City, which indicates that the print was produced during the two years (between 1872 and 1874) when the publishing firm was located at that address.

The obvious question is who copied whom?

The two images are contemporaries, but “Little Snow-Ball” must have been created no later than late 1871 in order to be published in the January 1872 issue. Currier & Ives didn’t move to 125 Nassau until 1872. Based on the dates, “Little Snow-Ball” would be the presumptive “original.” There is, of course, is a third possibility. Both could have been copied from an even earlier source.

Plagiarism was rampant in the world of popular prints. Nancy Finlay writes in Picturing Victorian America that “The appearance of identical motifs in the prints of different firms, sometimes within a few days or months, sometimes over a period of many years, is one of the most characteristic features of the business between the 1830s and the 1870s.”

Baseball’s Most Valuable Prints

AHPCS is pleased to welcome a new member: John Thorn, who, in addition to being a print collector, is the Official Historian of Major League Baseball. Sporting prints form a vibrant component within the print-collecting world, and we are thrilled to have John share his knowledge with us. 

E. Butterick & Co (publisher), New York Fashions for March 1870 [Multi-stone lithograph, 1870]. Courtesy of the Old Print Shop.

Last year’s holiday issue of the Old Print Shop’s Portfolio featured a print I knew well: “New York Fashions for March 1870.”  I knew that the print, published by the Butterick sewing-pattern company, was beautiful and exceedingly scarce (fewer than ten copies extant, I had surmised). And yet I was a bit taken aback by its price: $16,500 for a small lithograph, just shy of 10” x 14”.

Should I have been? On page 2 of that Portfolio, Henry Sandham’s glorious gravure of a Temple Cup game of 1894, uncolored and complete with cameos, was offered at $35,000. Might it be a bargain at that price, too?

Henry Sandham (artist), Boussod Valadon & Co. (printer), A Base Ball Game [Photogravure, proof before title, 1896]. Courtesy of the Old Print Shop.

I collect prints, and not only in baseball, so while I am more concerned with aesthetics than with values, I track the latter pretty closely, too. What, I thought, have been the highest prices paid for baseball lithos or engravings? As with baseball cards or memorabilia, the drivers of valuation are not quality or scarcity alone but also desirability, which is often enhanced by an item’s association with a star player.

According to Rich Mueller of Sports Collectors Daily May 2019: “The highest price ever paid for a Wagner [baseball card] was $3.12 million for the PSA 5 ‘Jumbo’ example, which sold through Goldin Auctions in 2016 and remains the most valuable baseball card ever sold, just ahead of the PSA 9-rated 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle which sold last year for $2.88 million.” Cards are produced as multiples, just like prints, and if scarcity alone were paramount, the famous Slow Joe Doyle card in the T206 series would be worth more than a Honus Wagner or Mickey Mantle — the latter is not even his rookie card.

Last December, a Babe Ruth bat went for $1.08 million at SCP Auctions — which a few years ago sold “The Magna Carta of Baseball,” the handwritten “Laws of Base Ball” from 1857 for $3.26 million. And a 1928–1930 Ruth jersey fetched $5.6 million last June.

Currier & Ives, The American National Game of Base Ball [Lithograph, 1866]. Courtesy of the Old Print Shop.

I offer these few indicia to support my growing suspicion that in the immature hobby of baseball collecting — still refining its criteria as, over the years, equivalents have taken shape among aficionados of stamps or coins — the iconography of the game may yet be undervalued. Some lithographs or aquatints are so scarce that no sports auction house nor print shop has ever handled one. I have in mind, particularly, the large folio version of the Currier & Ives “American National Game: Grand Match for the Championship at the Elysian Fields, Hoboken, N.J.” which has never sold publicly for six figures, and the 1867 J.L. Magee litho “The second great match game for the championship, between the Athletic Base Ball Club of Philadelphia and the Atlantics of Brooklyn, on the grounds of the Athletics, Fifteenth & Columbia Avenue, Phila., Oct. 22nd, 1866.” To my knowledge, this has never come up for sale.

J. L. Magee, The second great match game for the championship[Lithograph, 1867]. Courtesy of the Library Company of Philadelphia.

Of the two images above I have written: “This 1867 depiction of a baseball game played in the previous year is less well known than the Currier & Ives image above, but if one were to come to market today, it would probably bring about the same figure, nearly $200,000. Both are exceedingly scarce, but the Magee has more brilliantly crisp detail. It gives us a real flavor of being right there, right then.” If I could choose one to own, it would be the Magee.

From my hasty and unscientific research, the ten most valuable baseball prints (including auction commission) are listed below, in declining order of price received. It is notable that items associated with actual players and the advertising of a product have yielded more than even the rarest examples of lithography. I will mention as the highest-priced baseball painting Norman Rockwell’s study for “Tough Call,” ultimately a cover for the Saturday Evening Post, which sold in 2017 for $1.68 million.

Red Stockings Cigar … [Lithograph, 1869]. Courtesy of Robert Edward Auctions.

An Unofficial List of the Ten Most Valuable Baseball Prints

1. Red Stockings Cigar Advertising Display Poster Featuring George Wright (1874): $189,600

2. Cap Anson and Buck Ewing “Burke Ale” Beer Poster (1889): $188,000

3. Cracker Jack Ball Players Advertising Poster (1915): $152,750

4. A35 Goodwin Round Album Advertising Poster (1889): $105,750

5. Currier & Ives, American National Game (1866): $76,375

6. Sarony, Major & Knapp, Union Prisoners at Salisbury, N.C. (1864): $46,400

7. Pittsburgh Baseball Club Schedule Poster (1894): $25,000

8. New York Fashions for March 1870 (1870): $22,325 (in 2007) and $15,275 (in 2010)

9. Home Run Cigarettes Advertising Poster (1910): $11,162.

10. Hastings (photographer), Galaxy of the National League (team composite; mix of photographs with art) (1888): $8,888.

 

Otto Boetticher (artist), Sarony, Major & Knapp (lithographers), Union Prisoners at Salisbury, N.C. [Lithograph, 1863]. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

 

An earlier version of this article appeared on ourgame.mlblogs.com in December 2019.

Collector Favorites: Political Prints

When we think of American political prints, many of us immediately visualize Thomas Nast’s savage cartoons in Harper’s Weekly as he famously went after the corruption of Tammany Hall and Boss Tweed in the early 1870s. But the tradition of using illustration to convey political messages stretches back to America’s origins.

Political art can communicate everything from mockery and resistance to hope and patriotism. The images are often embedded with themes of race, religion, gender, and class.

As we get close to November’s Election Day, we asked AHPCS members to share a few favorite historical American political prints.

 


Two prints shared by Robert Newman, AHPCS member since 1982 and president of the Old Print Shop:

The Times, A Political Portrait. Triumph Government: perish all its enemies. Traitors, be warned: justice, though slow, is sure, engraving

The Times, A Political Portrait. Triumph Government: perish all its enemies. Traitors, be warned: justice, though slow, is sure [Copper plate engraving with original handcoloring, image size 10 5/16 x 17 3/16″, circa 1798]. Courtesy of The Old Print Shop.

This is an extremely rare American imprint relating to the XYZ Affair, a diplomatic scandal that lasted from 1797 to 1800. Three French agents, originally publicly referred to as X, Y, and Z, demanded enormous concessions from the United States as a condition for continuing bilateral peace negotiations. This “affair” resulted in the limited, undeclared war known as the Quasi-War. The United States and French negotiators restored peace in 1800.

In this caricature, George Washington is shown riding in the Federal Chariot, a representation of the United States Government. He is being pulled by a team of horses and militiamen, shown here marching under a flag entitled “volunteers.” In the right background are additional  troops, who are marching under a flag entitled “Jersey.”  Three men, recognizable as Congressman Albert Gallatin, former French Ambassador Citizen Genêt, and Vice-President Thomas Jefferson, are shown attempting to “Stop de wheels of de gouvernement.” Being trampled on the ground is Benjamin Bache, a Jeffersonian journalist and editor of the Philadelphia Aurora. Further insulting Bache is a dog shown urinating on his newspaper. On the left are French troops shown killing and maiming, one of whom is shown dancing with a head on a pike. Below is the caption “The Cannibals are landing.” Above them is an image of the great seal of America, the “Shield & Eagle,” shooting lightning bolts towards them.

 

LOOK ON THIS PICTURE, and ON THIS, 1807

LOOK ON THIS PICTURE, and ON THIS [Etching and engraving, image size 9 5/16 x 11 1/4″, 1807]. Courtesy of the Old Print Shop.

This is one of the earliest negative political items containing portraits of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.

The title is taken from a line in Shakespeare’s Hamlet: “Look here, upon this picture, and on this.” When this image was produced, Jefferson was the seated president of the United States of America. Jefferson was seen as almost too scholarly at the time. He spoke five languages and was deeply engaged in the sciences.  He had been narrowly elected as the third President in 1800 and was re-elected in 1804. He ran on the Democratic-Republican ticket and was loathed by the other major party at the time, the Federalist Party.

Washington is flanked by a lion and eagle with a laurel wreath above. Jefferson is flanked by a snake and crocodile with a smudgy candle above. Washington’s portrait is propped up by three books labeled: Order, Law, and Religion. Jefferson’s books are labeled: Sophisms; Notes on Virginia; Tom Paine; Condorcet; and Voltaire.

Under Washington’s portrait below the title are the lines:

See what a grace was seated on this brow.
An eye like Mars to threaten and command,
A combination, and a form, indeed,
Where every God did seem to set his seal,
To give the world assurance of a man.
THIS WAS __

Below Jefferson’s portrait it reads:

HERE IS __
Like a mildew’d ear,
Blasting his wholesome brother
Vide Hamlet.

It is very likely that this image was produced to help sway the Presidential election of 1808 to the Federalist Party candidate Charles Cotesworth Pinckney. However, the election was won by Democrat-Republican James Madison. Fear of reprisals is likely why the engraver and artist left their names off the image, though we believe this is the work of Peter Maverick, Jr., who was working in New York.


A print shared by Michael Buehler, AHPCS member since 2006 and owner of Boston Rare Maps:

Natural and Political History OF THE GERRY-MANDER! IN TWO CHAPTERS …………. WITH CUTS

Natural and Political History OF THE GERRY-MANDER! IN TWO CHAPTERS …………. WITH CUTS [Broadside, , 19 3/8 x 13 5/8″, ca. 1813-1822?]. Courtesy of Boston Rare Maps.

This rare broadside satirizes one of the most toxic yet enduring features of American politics. I love this print because of the brilliant design, the great backstory and, of course, its continued relevance to the American political scene.

In 1812 Massachusetts Republicans led by Governor Elbridge Gerry engineered a radical redistricting, designed to disadvantage the Federalist majority in the upcoming state senatorial elections. The legislation was enormously successful, and the Republicans’ majority grew even though the Federalists actually received more votes. On viewing a map of the redistricted Essex County, one wag—the painter Gilbert Stuart, some say—combined the governor’s name with that of the mythical beast, and so the “Gerrymander” was born. Soon after the first image of the Gerrymander appeared in print in the Boston Gazette.

This broadside was issued somewhat later, perhaps about 1820 or so, apparently on the occasion of another redistricting effort. The Gerrymander woodcut is almost identical to the one that appeared in 1812 and the first column of text is a reprint from the original Boston Gazette piece. The second column gives a “Political History” that may be original.


A print shared by Allison M. Stagg, AHPCS member since 2008 and author of the forthcoming book, Prints of a New Kind: Political Caricature in the United States, 1789-1828 (Penn State University Press):

James Akin, Caucus Curs in full Yell, or a War-Whoop, to saddle on the People, a Pappoose President, 1824

James Akin, Caucus Curs in full Yell, or a War-Whoop, to saddle on the People, a Pappoose President [Etching with aquatint and engraving, sheet 19 1/2 x 21 2/3″, 1824]. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

This caricature print by James Akin, in support of Andrew Jackson’s 1824 presidential campaign, has long been a favorite of mine, although largely because of what the print represented to the artist.

James Akin was one of the first artists to work primarily in caricature in the United States, and he saw the 1824 election as an opportunity to gain patronage by Jackson. Although Jackson lost the race in 1824 to John Quincy Adams, he was elected as the 7th President in 1828 and this is when Akin attempted to use the success of this print as a means to obtain a position in the Jackson administration. Letters and petitions were addressed to both Jackson and his Vice President Martin Van Buren requesting consideration. Akin campaigned for this: letters of support came from wealthy and important Philadelphia citizens while the petitions were signed by some of the most important artists and engravers of the period, including Bass Otis, Thomas Birch, and David Edwin. Akin did not receive a position, and he quickly reversed his stance on Jackson, who became one of his most favorite subjects to portray negatively in caricature throughout the 1830s.

 

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Interested in viewing more political cartoons? Visit some of these great digital collections!

 

American Cartoon Prints from the Library of Congress

 

 

 

Political Cartoons from the Library and Archives of Canada

 

 

 

Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum, The Ohio State University Libraries

 

 

Political Cartoons Collection at the Library Company of Philadelphia

 

 

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Top Image Credit

Thomas Nast, Tweed-le-dee and Tilden-dum [Wood engraving in Harper’s Weekly, July 1, 1876]. Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.

 

Capturing the “Swedish Nightingale”

N. Currier, First Appearance of Jenny Lind in America. [Lithograph, 1850]
Fig. 1. N. Currier, First Appearance of Jenny Lind in America. [Lithograph, 1850]. Courtesy of the New York Public Library.

October 6, 2020, was the bicentennial of the birthday of Jenny Lind—one of the most famous women of the 19th century.

Born in Stockholm in 1820, Lind entered the Swedish Royal Theater School in 1830—the youngest student ever accepted. By 18, her voice had made her famous in Sweden, and during the 1840s she created a frenzy across Europe giving concerts to sellout crowds. Her reputation crossed the Atlantic. In 1845, American newspapers began printing short notices about the “celebrated songstress Jenny Lind,” and soon her name was listed on sheet music titles pages and also used to promote a variety of goods (Fig. 2). A “Jenny Lind Ice Cream Saloon” even opened in New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1848.

T. I. Keily (engraver), Jenny Lind Cap [Page with instructions for making the “Jenny Lind Cap” from Godey’s Lady Book, May 1849]

Fig. 2. T. I. Keily (engraver), Jenny Lind Cap [Page with instructions for making the “Jenny Lind Cap” from Godey’s Lady Book, May 1849]. Courtesy of the New York Public Library.

Lind’s name may have gained some footing in America, but it was nothing compared to what would happen when the notorious showman P.T. Barnum brought the “Swedish Nightingale” herself to the United States. For a hefty sum, Lind signed a contract in January 1850 to sing in 150 concerts for Barnum within a year to eighteen months of arriving in New York.

Lind was set to arrive in September, leaving Barnum, an expert promoter, eight months to start a publicity wildfire around the upcoming tour. His main medium was newspapers, and a biographer reported that “At one time he had no less than twenty-six private newspaper reporters in his employ.”

But newsprint only went so far. Barnum later remembered, “The people soon began to talk about Jenny Lind, and I was particularly anxious to obtain a good portrait of her.”

Luckily for Barnum, a stranger identifying himself as a Swedish artist soon appeared in his office eager to sell an oil painting of Lind for fifty dollars (approximately $1650 in today’s money). Barnum purchased the piece, only to learn later that same day “that it was a cheap lithograph pasted on a tin back, neatly varnished, and made to appear like a fine oil painting to a novice in the arts like myself. The intrinsic value of the picture did not exceed thirty-seven and a half cents!”

Barnum’s desire to show Jenny Lind to the American public must have clouded his common sense. Thanks to the advent of lithography decades earlier, Americans expected (and enthusiastically purchased) inexpensive, mass-produced prints and sheet music emblazoned with portraits of celebrities of the day. Lithography reproduced drawings, though—it was not a photographic method. Which meant the printmakers needed some sort of source material to accurately depict a person. The other option was artistic license.

Beautiful Austrian ballerina Fanny Elssler (1810-1884) was something of a precursor to Lind when she arrived in New York in 1840 for a well-publicized tour. When printmakers didn’t know the specific details of Elssler’s face they pulled from several iconic details—her dances, roles, costumes, hair—to successfully communicate their subject.

Prints of Fanny Elssler. Courtesy of the New York Public Library. For source information (from left to right): Fig. 3, Fig. 4, Fig. 5

Especially in the early days when most American artists had little idea what Lind looked like, prints and sheet music covers often depicted her in a style similar to Elssler, relying on costume, hair design, and (of course) a printed name in place of accuracy.

Prints of Jenny Lind. Courtesy of the New York Public Library. For source information (from left to right): Fig. 6, Fig. 7, Fig. 8

The problem with Jenny Lind was that she was a different sort of celebrity. In 1849, she “retired” from operatic performances, which diminished the opportunity to connect her to particular roles. She also didn’t fit the mold of a typical headliner.

Journalists regularly noted that Lind’s physical appearance wasn’t the reason for her popularity: “It is not for her beauty; for in this respect she does not equal many other women who have been before the people … It is her high moral character—her spotless name, which the breath of slander has never tainted—her benevolence—her charity—her amiable temper—her religious sentiment which she so carefully cultivates … Take her moral and intellectual qualities with her originality of vocal power, and we shall probably ‘never look upon her like again'” (The New York Herald, September 6, 1850).

Barnum’s ventures had always relied on the promise of spectacle: a 3-foot tall man, a 161-year old woman, a mermaid. For Lind, Barnum was prepping the American public to clamor for a plain, modest, seemingly near-angelic songstress. But wholesomeness isn’t a spectacle easily depicted in images. For this sort of persona, only an authentic likeness would suffice, and for that artists needed reliable source material.

Prior to Lind’s arrival in New York, two paintings by German artists from the mid-1840s were most often credited as the source of portrait prints: one by Edward Magnus (Fig. 9) and one by Conrad L’Allemand (Fig. 10).

Edward Magnus, Portrait of Jenny Lind [Oil on canvas, 1846]

Fig. 9. Edward Magnus, Portrait of Jenny Lind [Oil on canvas, 1846]. Courtesy of Alte Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (photographer: Andres Kilger).

Daguerreotype copy presumably of portrait of Jenny Lind by Conrad L’Allemand

Fig. 10. Daguerreotype copy presumably of portrait of Jenny Lind by Conrad L’Allemand [Daguerreotype, undated]. Courtesy of Det Nationale Fotomuseum, Denmark.

These two portraits (or derivatives of these) became the obvious inspiration for a mountain of lithographic and engraved prints. Even in the cases where the print didn’t credit the painting, it is usually easy enough to spot the similarities.

As late as September 4, 1850, the New York Tribune reported on “a very handsome lithograph” just received from lithographer Napoleon Sarony containing vignette portraits of Lind along with her accompanists, conductor and pianist Julius Benedict and baritone singer Giovanni Belletti. The newspaper assessed that “the portrait of Jenny Lind though rather youthful, is the best we have seen.” It, too, relied on Magnus’s painting.

Napoleon Sarony (lithographer and publisher), Jenny Lind, Giovani Belletti, Jules Benedict [Lithograph, 1850].
Fig. 19. Napoleon Sarony (lithographer and publisher), Jenny Lind, Giovani Belletti, Jules Benedict [Lithograph, 1850]. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

An artist’s copy of another artist’s depiction was the best American printmakers could do while they waited for Lind to arrive. Commercial photography did exist in 1850 in the form of the daguerreotype, but it had significant limitations. The process could create only one unique image at a time on a silvered copper plate. There was no negative. That meant that if sitters wanted five images of themselves, they had to sit before the camera for five separate exposures. If they wanted a copy of one specific photograph, the only means of reproduction was to take another daguerreotype of that photograph. It would not be until later in the decade that technology advanced enough to allow for easy photographic duplication by means of a glass plate negative that could be printed multiple times on light-sensitive paper.

Barnum’s promotion between January and September 1850 worked. A crowd estimated at more than 30,000 showed up at the docks on September 1st to catch a glimpse of Lind as she took her first steps on American soil. And it is telling that almost immediately upon arriving in New York, Lind sat for a number of daguerreotype portraits. By September 14th, she was being photographed in Mathew Brady’s Portrait Studio (Fig. 20).

Lithographic prints based on the Brady photograph were hurriedly created. It was all front-page news. The New York Tribune reported on the 26th that eight pictures were taken; two were exhibited in Brady’s gallery and “one of them which now lies before us, lithographed by D’Avignon, is an exact type of her face in repose, and so far, is the only engraving we have seen which conveys a just impression of her face” (Fig. 21). Other printmakers would soon follow with their own renditions of the Brady image.

Brady’s Studio wasn’t the only stop Lind made. Newspapers spoke favorably about the daguerreotype taken in the New York City studio of brothers Marcus and Samuel Root (Fig. 22). On September 27, 1850, the New York Tribune reported that one print publisher was working on a “magnificent portrait of Jenny Lind taken from Root’s superb daguerreotype.” The print was advertised at $2 or $4 colored. In November, the public was invited to the Roots’s studio “to call and see the best Daguerreotype ever taken on Jenny Lind” (New York Tribune, November 8, 1850).

M. A. & S. Root (photographer), Jenny Lind [Daguerreotype, ca. 1850].
Fig. 22. M. A. & S. Root (photographer), Jenny Lind [Daguerreotype, ca. 1850]. Courtesy of the Houghton Library, Harvard University.

For source information (clockwise from left): Fig. 23, Fig. 24, Fig. 25

The irony was that even with the existence of photography in 1850, a photographed face still had to be channeled through an artist’s hand to create a mass-produced portrait. The practice remained the same as before, except instead of working from a painting (like that by Magnus or L’Allemand), an artist could create a likeness from a daguerreotype. 

The images above emphasize that artists brought varying skill levels to their work. Certainly, the results were better when they worked from a daguerreotype rather than a copy of a painting. In many cases, of course, printmakers didn’t have access to either a daguerreotype or a painting, so they copied prints of the originals (or even copies of copies), which added additional layers of separation between the sitter and the portrait print.

Newspapers were always willing to assess how well the artist fared. The New York Tribune described a Lind portrait print that one pen manufacturer presented to his customers: “It is evidently copied from a daguerreotype, and gives the features with tolerable correctness, without their expression” (Sept. 4, 1850).

Critics identified both the photographer and lithographer as artists who either succeeded or failed at accurately “capturing” not only Lind’s facial features but her spirit as well. The language of critique used for both prints and daguerreotypes was not that of a documentary medium but of an art form.

The sheer variety of engraved and lithographic portraits of Lind remains as evidence of her popularity in the United States. Barnum achieved his goal. For her part, Lind returned to Europe in 1852 having received over $175,000 (more than $5 million today) from her North American tour.

 

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Image Credits

Fig. 1. N. Currier, First Appearance of Jenny Lind in America. [Lithograph, 1850]. Courtesy of the New York Public Library. Return to print.

Fig. 2. T. I. Keily (engraver), Jenny Lind Cap [Page with instructions for making the “Jenny Lind Cap” from Godey’s Lady Book, May 1849]. Courtesy of the New York Public Library. Return to print.

Fig. 3. J. Bouvier, Fanny Elssler (fac. sig.): In the Cracovienne Dance, in the Ballet of The Gipsey [Lithograph, 1839]. Courtesy of the New York Public Library. Return to print.

Fig. 4. N. Currier, Fanny Ellsler [sic] in The shadow dance [Lithograph, 1846]. Courtesy of the New York Public Library. Return to print.

Fig. 5. N. Currier, Fanny Elssler in the favorite dance La Cachucha [Lithograph, 1838-1846]. Courtesy of the New York Public Library. Return to print.

Fig. 6. Jenny Lind as Vielka [Lithograph, undated]. Courtesy of the New York Public Library. Return to print.

Fig. 7. Jenny Lind [Print, undated]. Courtesy of the New York Public Library. Return to print.

Fig. 8. Jenny Lind. Aged 29 [Print, undated. Courtesy of the New York Public Library. Return to print.

Fig. 9. Edward Magnus, Portrait of Jenny Lind [Oil on canvas, 1846]. Courtesy of Alte Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (photographer: Andres Kilger). Return to print.

Fig. 10. Daguerreotype copy presumably of portrait of Jenny Lind by Conrad L’Allemand [Daguerreotype, undated]. Courtesy of Det Nationale Fotomuseum, Denmark. Return to print.

Fig. 11. Sarony (lithographer), William Hall & Son (publisher), Jenny Lind [Lithograph sheet music cover, 1850]. Courtesy of Houghton Library, Harvard University. Return to print.

Fig. 12. C. G. Crehen (lithographer), Nagel & Weingartner (printers). Jenny Lind [Lithograph, copyrighted August 29, 1850]. Courtesy of the American Antiquarian Society. Return to print.

Fig. 13. Kellogg & Comstock. Jenny Lind [Lithograph, 1851]. Courtesy of the Connecticut Historical Society. Return to print.

Fig. 14. N. Orr (engraver), Life of Jenny Lind [Wood engraved cover of Memoir of Jenny Lind, 1850]. Courtesy of Harvard University through the HathiTrust. Return to print.

Fig. 15. Albert Newsam (lithographer), P.S. Duval (printer), A. Fiot (publisher) Jenny Lind’s Songs [Lithographed sheet music cover, undated]. Courtesy of Lester S. Levy Sheet Music Collection, Johns Hopkins University. Return to print.

Fig. 16. Sarony & Major, Jenny Lind [Lithograph, ca. 1846-50]. Courtesy of the American Antiquarian Society. Return to print.

Fig. 17. J.H. Bufford (lithographer), Geo. P. Reed (publisher), Jenny Lind’s Songs[Lithographed sheet music cover, ca. 1850]. Courtesy of Lester S. Levy Sheet Music Collection, Johns Hopkins University. Return to print.

Fig. 18. Burt (engraver) after painting by L’Allemand, Jenny Lind [Engraved frontispiece to Jenny Lind: Her Life, Her Struggles, and Her Triumphs by C. G. Rosenberg, 1850]. Courtesy of Harvard University through the HathiTrust. Return to print.

Fig. 19. Napoleon Sarony (lithographer and publisher), Jenny Lind, Giovani Belletti, Jules Benedict [Lithograph, 1850]. Courtesy of the Library of Congress. Return to print.

Fig. 20. Mathew Brady Studio, Jenny Lind, three-quarter length portrait, [Daguerreotype, September 14, 1850]. Courtesy of the Library of Congress. Return to print.

Fig. 21. F. D’Avignon from a daguerreotype by Brady, Jenny Lind [Lithograph, 1850]. Courtesy of the Library of Congress. Return to print.

Fig. 22. M. A. & S. Root (photographer), Jenny Lind [Daguerreotype, ca. 1850]. Courtesy of the Houghton Library, Harvard University. Return to print.

Fig. 23. C. G. Crehen (artist), Nagel & Weingartner (printer) after a daguerreotype by M.A. & S. Root, Jenny Lind [Lithograph, 1850]. Courtesy of the National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution. Return to print.

Fig. 24. T.B. Welch (engraver) after a daguerreotype by M.A. & S. Root, Portrait of Jenny Lind [Engraving, ca. 1850]. Courtesy of the New York Public Library. Return to print.

Fig. 25. Sarony & Major (lithographer), William Hall & Son (publisher), Jenny Lind [Lithograph, 1850]. Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution. Return to print.

The Business of Mourning: Currier & Ives and the Death of President Garfield

Currier & Ives, Death of General James A. Garfield, Twentieth President of the United States [Lithograph, 1881].

Fig. 1. Currier & Ives, Death of General James A. Garfield, Twentieth President of the United States [Lithograph, 1881]. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

September 19th marks the 139th anniversary of the death of James A. Garfield, the 20th President of the United States. Garfield died from infection a little more than two months after he was shot by an assassin on July 2, 1881, in Washington, D.C.

The Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art hold an interesting letter from Ned Currier to his father, publisher Nathaniel Currier, written two days after Garfield’s death. Writing at nearly midnight, Ned recounted the day’s activity in the Currier & Ives print shop in New York City.


28 W. 27th St.
Sept. 21st 1881
11:30 P.M.

My dear Father,

The demand for Garfield pictures is perfectly overwhelming, it surpasses everything.

We took twelve hundred and twenty-five dollars in hard cash over the counter today!! We could have sold more but we could not get them from the steamers.

We closed up tonight with not a stock print of Garfield in hand. All day the store has been crowded with people.

All the old campaign banners are sold. Six hundred of Bufford’s 22 x 30, bought today are nearly all sold. We raised the price three times and still they wanted them.

We expect a big day tomorrow. The demand for Lincoln is starting up a little.

Your affectionate son,

Ned

Source: Ned Currier to his father, Sept. 21, 1881, microfilm reel 2323, frame 0809-10, Nathaniel Currier Papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC.


 

The frenetic business that Ned Currier witnessed that day reflected a public clamoring for any visual memento of the dead President. Newspapers reported that cities across the nation were draped in black. On September 22nd, the New-York Tribune described the city streets: “One could not turn in any direction without seeing emblems of mourning … Now and then could be seen a flag suspended across a street bearing a portrait of the dead President framed in black. Portraits were also framed in with drapery above doorways and displayed in shop windows.”

Currier & Ives had a long history of catering to the public’s hunger for images following tragedy. Nathaniel Currier’s national reputation originated from his success in quickly producing lithographs that depicted the deadly explosion of the steamboat Lexington in 1840. When a newsworthy event might translate into the increased sale of prints, Currier & Ives wasted no time focusing their manufacturing might towards the production of applicable images. The Library of Congress’s copy of Currier & Ives’s Death of General James A. Garfield (fig. 1) is stamped with a September 24, 1881, copyright date—only five days after Garfield’s death.

In his letter, Ned reported that production was stalled due to the limitations of the steam-powered printing presses. With their own stock of Garfield-related prints exhausted, Currier & Ives even purchased and resold the prints of a competitor: J. H. Bufford. Interestingly, Ned also observed an uptick in requests for Abraham Lincoln images—presumably, some customers felt reverberations from the shocking assassination of President Lincoln sixteen years earlier.

Currier & Ives wasn’t the only lithographic firm capitalizing on Garfield’s death. It was good business for any publishing house. Bufford’s firm reissued its lithographic portrait of Garfield in October 1881—identical except for additional text and a poem about Garfield’s death in the margin.

J. H. Bufford, James A Garfield. President of the United States [Lithograph, 1881]
Fig. 2a-b. From left to right: J. H. Bufford, James A Garfield. President of the United States [Lithograph, 1881]. J. H. Bufford, James A. Garfield. President of the United States [Lithograph, copyrighted October 25, 1881]. Both images courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Who was Little Fannie?

A collector recently queried us about a print she had of “Little Fannie” published by Currier & Ives. The collector wanted to know: Was this a famous child? How had Fannie ended up immortalized in a print? Who was Fannie?

Currier & Ives, Little Fannie [Lithograph, undated].

Currier & Ives, Little Fannie [Lithograph, undated]. Courtesy of the Yale University Art Gallery.

The truth is that Little Fannie could have easily have been Little Mary or Little Kate. Her picture falls into a genre known as “juvenile prints”—a large group of small-folio prints (usually 8 x 12.5 inches) of posed girls and, to a lesser extent, boys. While some were given broad titles like Little Sweetheart or Little Brother, many were titled with a specific first name.

Henry R. Robinson, Adelaide [Lithograph, ca. 1843].
Henry R. Robinson, Adelaide [Lithograph, ca. 1843]. Courtesy of the Harry T. Peters “America on Stone” Lithography Collection, Smithsonian National Museum of American History.

N. Currier, Little Kate [Lithograph, circa 1851].

N. Currier, Little Kate [Lithograph, circa 1851]. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Kellogg & Bulkeley, Little Bobbie [Lithograph, 1867].

Kellogg & Bulkeley, Little Bobbie [Lithograph, 1867]. Courtesy of the Connecticut Historical Society.

These prints were most popular in the 1840s and 1850s when the average American could little afford to have a portrait of their child painted or even photographed. Small-folio lithographs typically cost between 10 and 25 cents each. Daguerreotypes, made using a popular photographic process of the time, were more costly. In the early 1850s, newspaper advertisements promoted “daguerreotype likenesses” for 50 cents or more.

“American Girl Store NYC” by Margalit Francus, licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

There were many unusual first names given to children in Victorian America, but the juvenile print titles are common ones. These names might be better understood as similar to the miniature license plates one finds in highway convenience stores engraved with hundreds of different names or even the “Truly Me” dolls from the American Girl company. The publishing houses didn’t want potential consumers wondering who the posed Fannie was–they wanted them thinking about their own Fannie or Mary or Kate.

In the mid-1800s, a number of lithography firms took advantage of a ready market desiring personalized prints, as well as a culture that sentimentalized and idealized childhood. In particular, N. Currier (and later Currier & Ives) in New York City and the Kelloggs of Hartford, Connecticut, published many of these prints.

Detail from a Currier & Ives sales list, ca. 1860s

For a 2009 Imprint article, collectors James Brust and John Zak explored which Currier & Ives prints were most popular in the 19th century. They noted that while the most desirable (and expensive) prints among modern collectors are steamboat, railroad, and winter scenes, the ones more commonly found for sale on eBay and in antique stores are juvenile, sentimental, and religious themes. They asked, “Does that mean these were leading sellers in their day, or do they simply accumulate in the marketplace because they are not popular with modern collectors and hence are not purchased?”

The article reviewed Currier & Ives sales catalogs dating from the late 1850s to the early 1880s to gauge which broad subjects appeared most frequently. Among five different catalogs, each listing between about 500 to 1200 small-folio prints, juvenile themes consistently accounted for between 11 and 14% of the total titles.

One interesting feature of these prints, noted by Brust and Zak, is their variety: “It would have been possible for Currier & Ives to create four or five generic pictures, vary them further with different hair coloring, then issue multiple versions of each with different names printed in the title. This would have left one family’s Mary looking like the next one’s Jane, but enabled buyers to find the name they needed for their child or loved one. But virtually each title is a distinct image, despite the fact that today’s collector likely sees little difference between the numerous portraits of pretty women and children.”

While discussing a similar type of print of stylish young women issued by these same lithographic firms, costume and textile historian Lynne Zacek Bassett writes in Picturing Victorian America, “Lithographs such as Emeline, Eliza, and Lucina served as fashion plates for the style-conscious American Woman.” Given the similar attention paid to clothing, accessories, and hairstyles in the prints of children, it’s possible that the juvenile portraits played a similar role. If this was the case, then it also explains why there would be such variety; the prints would require regular updating to keep up with the newest style trends of the moment.

Kellogg & Bulkeley, Little Martha [Lithograph, c. 1867-1871].

Kellogg & Bulkeley, Little Martha [Lithograph, c. 1867-1871]. Courtesy of the Connecticut Historical Society.

One of the reasons our querier asked about Little Fannie is that her print had a handwritten note on the back from a relative about a family member named “Fannie.” A print held by the Connecticut Historical Society of “Little Minnie” includes a faded handwritten inscription below the title: “Presented to Minnie …” from her teacher. Both of these examples, coupled with the sheer number produced, reflect that these prints must have been appealing (and inexpensive) personalized gifts in the 19th century.

E. B. & E. C. Kellogg, Little Minnie [Lithograph, 1863-1866].

E. B. & E. C. Kellogg, Little Minnie [Lithograph, 1863-1866]. Courtesy of the Connecticut Historical Society.

 

Kellogg & Bulkeley, Little Minnie [Lithograph, 1867-1871].

Kellogg & Bulkeley, Little Minnie [Lithograph, 1867-1871]. Courtesy of the Connecticut Historical Society.

 

Currier & Ives, Little Minnie Taking Tea [Lithograph, ca. 1857-72]. Currier & Ives, Little Minnie Taking Tea [Lithograph, ca. 1857-72]. Courtesy of the Flint Institute of Arts.

 

Currier & Ives, Little Minnie [Lithograph, circa 1862]. Currier & Ives, Little Minnie [Lithograph, circa 1862]. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

 

An Early Etching by Henry Farrer

 

Henry Farrer (1844-1903) was one of the most celebrated of the American painter-etchers during the late 19th century, and someone who today is far too underappreciated. He held leadership positions in the New York Etching Club, which became one of the prime movers in generating interest in etching within the American public for the majority of its existence. Farrer served as president for over twelve years, from 1881 to early 1894, when the club ceased to function. During the same time, he served as secretary of the American Water Color Society and achieved tremendous accolades for his work in that medium as well as in etching.

Henry Farrer was born in London, England, in 1844, and he immigrated to New York City in 1863. To date, Farrer’s Old New York series of fifteen views of historic buildings and locations in and around Manhattan, etched between 1870 and 1877, are considered to be his earliest etchings.

Farrer’s Tree Study (Fig. 1) may be an even earlier etching, dating from about 1870. This print, now in a private collection, had previously been sold by the Kennedy Galleries of New York City to a longtime print dealer. Tree Study clearly shows Farrer’s pre-Raphaelite roots and stylistically foreshadows his Old New York series. It predates the huge interest in etchings that developed within the United States—well before the formation of the New York Etching Club in 1877.

Henry Farrer, Tree Study [etching, circa 1870

Fig. 1. Henry Farrer, Tree Study [etching, circa 1870, plate 5-1/2″h x 3-7/8″w. Signed in pencil, lower left: “Etched by H. Farrer”]. Private collection, Maryland.

Farrer’s attention-to-detail when studying trees—their overall shape, the branching structure, the arrangement of limbs, and the way that the foliage emerged from the branches—lasted throughout his entire artistic life as a focused fascination. This study represents one of his earliest etched attempts at such documentation. The variety of tree recorded here may have been the black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) captured during its blooming season.

Fig. 2. Views of the black locust. Left: Flower cluster. Center: Lower tree formation with an open side branch and tree in bloom. Right: Character and pattern of bark and leaf formation.

This would explain the otherwise somewhat curious “whipped cream” splotches seen in the upper branches. Farrer provided no clues as to the scale of the tree, other than what might be an indistinct and minuscule church tower seen off to the distant right. The very low ground plane and horizon line, as well as the large expanse of sky, created the sense of an immense tree dominating an open countryside. Another early undated etching by Farrer, a fine study of a tree titled Pelham Bay (Fig. 3), warrants comparison.

 Henry Farrer, Pelham Bay [etching, ca. 1875].

Fig. 3. Henry Farrer, Pelham Bay [etching, ca. 1875]. Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Note: The MET dates this print to c1875, but it may be as early as 1870.

Examples of Farrer’s studies that focused on trees abound. An undated watercolor (Fig. 4) undoubtedly done during this same early period, shows a tall, lone tree with a scale and perspective similar to that found in the etching.

Fig. 4. Henry Farrer, undated watercolor tree study, size: 7″ x 4-1/2″. Provenance: Hirschl & Adler Galleries, NYC, 1971. Currently unlocated.

Three pencil sketches, Figs. 5-7, all undated, may be studies at different seasons of the same type of tree depicted in this etching. The branch, leaf, and upper floral arrangement and treatment are all sympathetic.

Figs 5-7. Three undated pencil sketches for a tree study by Henry Farrer. Fig. 5 (Left). Tree Study, perhaps a black locust in winter. 11-1/2” x 8-1/4”. Courtesy of the Columbus Museum, Georgia. Fig. 6 (Middle). Tree Study, perhaps a black locust in bloom. 8-1/2” x 4-3/8”. Courtesy of the Los Angeles Museum of Art. Fig. 7 (Right). Tree study, perhaps a black locust in bloom. 5-1/4” x 4-7/16”. Courtesy of the Davis and Longdale Gallery, NYC.

The circa 1870 date for the etching is conjecture, but the artistic style in the work places it within Farrer’s earliest period, when he maintained a strong reliance on the Pre-Raphaelite doctrines. Pre-Raphaelite doctrines became popular thanks in large part to British art critic, author, and lecturer John Ruskin (1819-1900) and his five-volume Modern Painters series, written in the 1840s and 1850s. Ruskin advocated the need for artists to study Nature diligently, to work close-up and in detail, and not to editorialize on or adjust how Nature presented things.

Farrer’s attempt at etching began in 1869 and this work must date to shortly thereafter. The plate has no date or signature, but the pencil signature definitely appears to be in Farrer’s hand, comparing it to an 1870 dated signature (Fig. 8).

Fig. 8. Henry Farrer, pencil signatures. Top: detail from Tree Study etching. Below: Detail from signature on a rowboat print, Bunte auction, Illinois, May 2017, private collection.

It may seem a bit strange that the etcher would add the phrase “Etched by” before his signature. Only one other example, a print from his Pelham Bay etching, has been seen that included such a qualifier.* Today, when we encounter such an attribution, it might signal that someone other than the original artist signed the piece, perhaps to help future viewers understand the work’s authorship. Or in some cases, such signatures point toward a misguided forging effort to increase the work’s value. In this case, however, since the handwriting matches so well Farrer’s authentic script, other possibilities need to be considered.

Perhaps Farrer felt that this etching— being one of his earliest and done c1870—needed the “etched by” qualifier in order to help the viewer understand what the medium actually was. In 1870, the American public had an extremely limited understanding of the process. At this early date, only a handful of artists in America understood or actively practiced etching. Of note, Farrer’s early studio neighbor, R. Swain Gifford, actually signed his 1868 etching of Storm Beaten Cedars on Martha’s Vineyard, in the plate, lower center, “Drawn and etched by R. Swain Gifford” (Fig. 9), which may have prompted Farrer’s pencil notation of several years later.

Robert Swain Gifford, Storm Beaten Cedars on Martha’s Vineyard [etching, 1868]

Fig. 9. Robert Swain Gifford, Storm Beaten Cedars on Martha’s Vineyard [Etching, 1868]. Size: 6-1/2” x 8-1/2”. Private collection, Maryland.

Another anomaly with this early etching concerns the lack of an open bottom margin (Fig. 10)—an area free of etched line within the plate—something that Farrer included in almost all of his earliest etchings.

Fig. 10. Bottom margin of Farrer’s Tree Study.

Most likely he created this work before he established that convention. Alternatively, but less likely, the date of this etching could be later—as late as 1877—when he entered into a transition phase with some of his etchings continuing to include the blank bottom margin, and others abandoning it.

In 1879, Farrer provided a list of his early etchings to Sylvester R. Koehler, who published a record of his most significant etchings to that time in the American Art Review (December 1879). That list did not include this example. The etching is rare and seen in only one private collection.

*Henry Farrer. Old Storm-Beaten Cedar, on the Sound, aka Pelham Bay (New York Public Library, Prints and Photographs Department, Farrer collection #23).

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An architect by profession, David G. Wright, FAIA, has spent close to thirty years researching the lives and work of the American painter-etchers of the last third of the nineteenth century, a group of men and women who captivated the American art scene–and thrilled the American public–with evocative and stunning prints. He has written articles discussing the etchings of Robert Swain Gifford, Emily Kelley Moran, Mary Nimmo Moran, Thomas Moran, Stephen Parrish, and Stephen Ferris, to name but a few. In 2010 he published a two-volume work on Peter Moran, Domestic and Wild: Peter Moran’s Images of America, which received the Ewell L. Newman Book Award from the American Historical Print Collectors Society in 2011. For the past decade, he has been studying the life and work of Henry Farrer and recently completed a 150-page in-depth discussion of Farrer’s early etchings.