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Discovering Audubon’s Biggest Birds

Copy of J.W. Audubon portrait of John James Audubon

Copy of portrait of John James Audubon after John Woodhouse Audubon. Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.

John James Audubon’s Birds of America (1827-1838) has always been worthy of superlatives. After the early prints were released, one newspaper proclaimed that Audubon was “executing the most magnificent work ever ventured upon, we suspect, by individual enterprize [sic].”

In 1827, Audubon laid out his plan to potential subscribers: to publish prints of his drawings of all birds native to the “United States and its territories.” He estimated there would be about 400 plates when finished. When the very last birds were finally distributed in 1838, 435 hand-colored prints filled four volumes.

His achievement led one contemporary critic to declare that, “To paint like Audubon will henceforth mean to represent Nature as she is.”

As an artist and naturalist, Audubon strove for conventional goals, of course. He wanted to accurately depict the proportions and shape of the birds and present them in colors true to nature. But his project also had an audacious component. He didn’t just want to draw every bird accurately; he wanted to depict them at their actual size, or as he termed it, “of the full size of life.”

In a 2013 Imprint article, historian Robert Vitz described Audubon’s method for capturing the correct specimen dimensions:

Using a board marked with a wire grid, he would secure a freshly killed bird to it in a lifelike manner by means of additional wires and threads. He then sketched the bird on drawing paper marked with an identical grid, so that the result was an image both lifelike and life-size. Background and foliage could be added later.

Audubon’s “Bird of Washington” photographed above a fireplace in the National Academy of Design gives a sense of its relative size. Courtesy of the Gottscho-Schleisner Collection, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

When it came time to create the prints, the paper had to accommodate the biggest birds. For consistency, all birds big or small would end up on the largest paper available, a size known as “double elephant folio,” measuring 26.5 x 39.5 inches. In practice, this means that just one volume of Birds of America weighs nearly 40 pounds. Audubon acknowledged it was so large as to “require two stout arms to raise it from the ground.”

Audubon defended his decision: “As to the size of the paper, which has been complained by some, it could not be avoided without giving up the desire of presenting to the world those my favourite objects in nature, of the size which nature has given to them.”

Audubon recognized that size was a crucial selling feature to set his project apart. He planned to send prints to subscribers in “moderate intervals,” five at a time, and from the start, he promised that each group would contain a bird from “the largest drawings, one from one of the second size, and three from the smaller drawings.” Historian Gregory Nobles explains that Audubon “was careful not to use up the big birds too soon, so he doled them out slowly, keeping his customers waiting for the next number. This sequence didn’t make for good science—it certainly had nothing to do with the ornithological classification of birds—but it was very smart marketing.”

The Birds of America were numbered sequentially from 1 to 435 with a plate number printed in Roman numerals in the upper-right corner of each print. By browsing through the prints, one discovers that just as Audubon had promised, the first print in each group of five (i.e. prints with plate numbers ending with a 1 or 6) is almost unfailing a large bird. In the very few cases where this isn’t the case, Audubon worked hard to make up for any potential disappointment. If he couldn’t bring the size, he certainly brought the drama, as with the now-extinct Carolina Parakeet (“Carolina Parrot” – Plate 26) and the Brown Thrasher (“Ferruginous Thrush” – Plate 116).

Big or small, Audubon’s birds are works of art. But the smaller species, like the Ruby-crowned Kinglet (“Ruby crowned Wren” – Plate 195) or the Boreal Chickadee (“Canadian Titmouse” – Plate 194), would have fit just as happily on much smaller sheets. Most birds didn’t require their more than 2 x 3 feet paper cages, which brings up an interesting question:

What are the biggest birds in Audubon’s Birds of America?

True to Audubon’s objectives, his biggest birds are North America’s biggest birds. Size, though, can refer to multiple measurements: wingspan, body length, or weight. The North American bird with the longest wingspan (California Condor, plate 426) is neither the tallest bird (the Whooping Crane, plate 226) nor the heaviest (the Trumpeter Swan, plates 376 and 406). Even with the expansiveness of the double-elephant paper, Audubon faced challenges making some birds fit. He aimed to depict each species in a natural pose, though, as you’ll see, these big birds didn’t always make that easy.

Wild Turkey – Plate 1

John James Audubon, Wild TurkeySusanne Low notes in A Guide to Audubon’s Birds of America, “It is difficult to find this print in pristine condition. As the first one sent to subscribers, it was proudly shown off to family and friends, so that it was much handled.”

Current name: Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo)

LengthWeightWingspan
43.3-45.3 inches88.2-381.0 ounces49.2-56.7 inches

 

Bird of Washington – Plate 11

Audubon thought he had discovered a new species when he saw this bird in the wild. It was later identified as an immature Bald Eagle.

Current name: Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)

LengthWeightWingspan
27.9-37.8 inches105.8-222.2 ounces80.3 inches

 

White-headed Eagle – Plate 31

John James Audubon White Headed EagleAlong with his misidentified “Bird of Washington” (Plate 11), Audubon created this print of an adult bald eagle and another of a young one (Plate 126).

Current name: Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)

LengthWeightWingspan
27.9-37.8 inches105.8-222.2 ounces80.3 inches

 

Fish Hawk, or Osprey – Plate 81

John James Audubon Fish Hawk Osprey
Current name: Osprey (Pandion haliaetus)

LengthWeightWingspan
21.3-22.8 inches49.4-70.5 ounces59.1-70.9 inches

 

White-headed Eagle – Plate 126

John James Audubon, White Headed Eagle
Current name: Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)

LengthWeightWingspan
27.9-37.8 inches105.8-222.2 ounces80.3 inches

 

Golden Eagle – Plate 181


Current name: Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos)

LengthWeightWingspan
27.6-33.1 inches105.8-216.1 ounces72.8-86.6 inches

 

Great blue Heron – Plate 211

John James Audubon Great Blue Heron
Current Name: Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)

LengthWeightWingspan
38.2-53.9 inches74.1-88.2 ounces65.8-79.1 inches

 

Hooping Crane – Plate 226

John James Audubon, Hooping CraneThe Whooping Crane is the tallest bird in North America, and, notably, one of the only birds whose body peeks out into the plate margins.

Current name: Whooping Crane (Grus americana)

LengthWeightWingspan
59.1 inches211.6-275.1 ounces90.2 inches

 

Great White Heron – Plate 281

John James Audubon Great White HeronThe Great White Heron was once considered to be a distinct species but is now treated as a subspecies of the Great Blue Heron (Plate 211).

Current name: Great Blue Heron subspecies (Ardea herodias occidentalis)

LengthWeightWingspan
38.2-53.9 inches74.1-88.2 ounces65.8-79.1 inches

 

American White Pelican – Plate 311


Current name: American White Pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos)

LengthWeightWingspan
50.0-65.0 inches158.7-317.5 ounces96.1-114.2 inches

 

Trumpeter Swan – Plate 376

John James Audubon, Trumpeter SwanAudubon included two plates of Trumpeter Swans, this one showing a young swan and Plate 406, which shows a white adult swan.

Current name: Trumpeter Swan (Cygnus buccinator)

LengthWeightWingspan
54.3-62.2 inches271.6-448.0 ounces79.9 inches

 

Trumpeter Swan – Plate 406

John James Audubon Trumpeter Swan
Current name: Trumpeter Swan (Cygnus buccinator)

LengthWeightWingspan
54.3-62.2 inches271.6-448.0 ounces79.9 inches

 

Californian Vulture – Plate 426


Current name: California Condor (Gymnogyps californianus)

LengthWeightWingspan
46.1-52.8 inches246.9-349.2 ounces109.1 inches

 

American Flamingo – Plate 431


Current name: Greater Flamingo (Phoenicopterus ruber)

LengthWeightWingspan
47-57 inches78.4-99.2 ounces55-65 inches

 

Superlatives for Audubon’s birds weren’t limited to the 19th century. A copy of Birds of America would go on to be among the most expensive books ever sold ($11.6 million in 2010), and through the 20th century, it held the record as the largest book ever published. Michael Hawley’s five-by-seven foot Bhutan: A Visual Odyssey Across the Kingdom stole the title in 2003.

Learn more about Audubon and the Birds of America

~~~~~~

Credits: Birds of America images courtesy of the John James Audubon Center at Mill Grove, Montgomery County Audubon Collection, and Zebra Publishing. Bird measurements primarily from The Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s “All About Birds.”

Diann Benti is the AHPCS Web Content Editor. She is the editor of Fanny Palmer: The Life and Work of a Currier & Ives Artist (Syracuse University Press, 2018). Diann previously worked as a librarian and archivist at the American Antiquarian Society, Harvard University, and the Huntington Library.

Prints for the Parlor

Around 1882, a miner visited little Annie Ellis (1875-1938) and her very poor family in Bonanza, Colorado. The miner had just struck it rich, and he gave Annie’s mother a gift of twenty-five dollars. In her memoir, Life of an Ordinary Woman (1929), Annie remembered:

There must have been many things Mama longed for (we never had any carpets or curtains), but after talking it over with [her husband] Henry, she decided to get something we could all enjoy! Their choice fell on a picture. The next question was, what picture? I am quite sure Henry made the final decision, ‘The Battle of Waterloo!’ The twenty-five is turned over and the picture sent for. After what seems a long time it comes taking three men to unload it. We children all gather around; the crate is removed, and it stands forth in all its glory. I was disappointed, and think Mama was, too, but neither of us ever admitted it. It is about five feet long and two and a half wide, in a heavy gold frame.

Given the price and size, the Ellis family probably purchased a painting—not a print. But there in the closing decades of the 1800s, the Ellises took part in an American consumer tradition that had been molded by a generation of moral and cultural leaders. Art was seen as a vital furnishing in a wholesome, pleasant American home.

From its earliest days, the influential American Art-Union (1838-1853) identified one of its core goals as cultivating “good taste in the Fine Arts” in the United States. In its 1844 annual report, the AAU promoted the benefits of a landscape painting for city dwellers: “Those who cannot afford a seat in the country to refresh their wearied spirits, may at least have a country seat in their parlors.” The AAU sent prints directly to subscribers to help fulfill its mission. Each year, subscribers received an engraving that reproduced a painting by an American artist “as may appear worthy of the distinction.”

Kelloggs & Comstock, Family Devotion — Morning

Kelloggs & Comstock, Family Devotion — Morning [Lithograph, 1848-1850]. Courtesy of the Connecticut Historical Society.

Being able to hang and enjoy art emerged in the 19th century as an important component of American home decoration. The ability to reproduce artwork on a mass-level, first through engravings and then with less inexpensive lithographs and chromolithographs, allowed authors of homemaking manuals to recommend prints as an integral home furnishing.

The American Woman’s Home: or, Principles of Domestic Science (1869) by Catharine Beecher and her sister the novelist Harriet Beecher Stowe emphasized that a well-decorated house went beyond aesthetics: “it contributes much to the education of the entire household in refinement, intellectual development, and moral sensibility.”

The Beecher sisters calculated that if a household had $80 to decorate a parlor, nearly a quarter of the budget should be reserved for pictures. Chromolithographs were recommended: “The educating influence of these works of art can hardly be over-estimated. Surrounded by such suggestions of the beautiful, and such reminders of history and art, children are constantly trained to correctness of taste and refinement of thought.”

What is particularly fun for print collectors is that the Beechers went beyond broad dictates and actually suggested four chromolithographs:

 

These specific recommendations allow us to see just what sort of prints the Beecher sisters had in mind.

Louis Kurz after Juliana Oakley, Making the Scrap Book

Louis Kurz after Juliana Oakley, Making the Scrap Book [Chromolithograph, 1868]. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

L. Prang & Co. after Eastman Johnson, The Barefoot Boy

L. Prang & Co. after Eastman Johnson, The Barefoot Boy [Chromolithograph, ca. 1861-1868]. Courtesy of the Boston Public Library.

L. Prang & Co. after H. R. Newman. Fringed Gentian

L. Prang & Co. after H. R. Newman. Fringed Gentian [Chromolithograph, ca. 1861-1868]. Courtesy of the Boston Public Library.

L. Prang & Co. after Albert Bierstadt. Sunset

L. Prang & Co. after Albert Bierstadt. Sunset [Chromolithograph, 1868]. Courtesy of the Huntington Library.

Why these four prints? Stowe provided a broad rationale for such choices in her contemporaneous article “What Pictures Shall I Hang on My Walls?” in The Atlantic Almanac for 1869. 

Stowe began by acknowledging that most people could remember a time when “with some rare exceptions, no houses had pictures.” Now, pictures were affordable even to those of “the humblest means.” The question was no longer whether to purchase but what to purchase. It was an important decision, after all, because these images would “look you in the face at all hours of day or night.”

She provided some basic rules:

  • Don’t be pressured into buying art you don’t like or “high art” (i.e. works that “professed artists and instructed people” considered important): “[Pictures for the home] should express sincere ideas and tastes of the household, and not the tyrannical dicta of some art-critic or neighbor.”
  • Let personal sentiment and taste be your guides: “A respectable engraving that truly is felt by a family as an artistic pleasure is a better thing for them than a much higher one that they do not understand or care for.”
  • Be careful of traumatizing your family: “All pictures of shocking, painful, and brutal subjects are unfit for family pictures.”
  • Don’t overlook honest, good depictions of nature: “A bunch of apple-blossoms, a blue gentian, so represented as to excel average painting, forms a charming domestic ornament, unpretending, unambitious, and always beautiful.”

Just as we could enjoy the specific prints recommended in The American Woman’s Home, Stowe’s article also provided examples of the “high art” images she would not recommend for the family parlor.

The Beggar Belisarius and his Son

“Who wishes at all hours to be confronted by the image of a blind father with a son bitten by a serpent in his arms, however well represented?” Stowe cautioned that if displayed in a bedroom, the print might give nightmares—better to keep it safely buried in a portfolio.

Auguste Desnoyers, Belisarius

Auguste Desnoyers, Belisarius [Engraving with etching, 1806]. Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Michelangelo’s Sculpture of Moses

“Neither should we recommend a photograph of Michael Angelo’s Moses,” Stowe wrote. “With two well-developed horns on his forehead and a supernatural beard, as being, because a standard work of art, a proper thing to frame for household daily contemplation.”

Saint Peter’s Basilica, Moses for Tomb of Julius II [Photograph of sculpture, 19th century]. Courtesy of the Washington University (Saint Louis, Mo.) Art & Architecture Library.

Frans Snyder’s The Boar Hunt

“A splendid copy of Snyder’s boar-hunt, for example, with its tangle of bleeding dogs and its hellish fury of animal struggle is a very barbarous ornament of a dining-room.”

Johnson (engraver), after Frans Snyder, The Wild Boar Hunt [Engraving published by John Tinney, 1760]. © The Trustees of the British Museum.

Ary Scheffer’s Francesca di Rimini

“As we should not think it amusing to have Satan’s Speech to the Sun recited at our breakfast-table, notwithstanding it is the highest style of poetry, so neither should we think Sheffer’s [sic] picture of Francisca di Rimini [sic] a proper thing to be forever talking to us from the walls of our parlors or bedrooms.”

Luigi Calamatta (engraver) after Ary Scheffer, Francesca da Rimini [Engraving, state before letters, undated]. Courtesy of the Princeton University Art Museum.

Stowe’s argument wasn’t against these pieces of art in general; she just didn’t think they were well suited to “family life.”

Stowe closed her article urging families to invest in a good picture by a living artist: “We would recommend to every family to aim to have at least one good picture somewhere by some living artist.” Not only did it help support the artist, but it set a “standard” for other pictures. It may not be a coincidence that the chromolithographs selected in The American Woman’s Home reproduced paintings created by four living American artists: Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902), Eastman Johnson (1824-1906), Henry Roderick Newman (1843-1917), and Juliana Oakley (1835-1909).

~~~~~

Top image credit: Untitled (Victorian Collage), 1880-1890. Courtesy of the Smithsonian Art Museum.

Diann Benti is the AHPCS Web Content Editor. She is the editor of Fanny Palmer: The Life and Work of a Currier & Ives Artist (Syracuse University Press, 2018). Diann previously worked as a librarian and archivist at the American Antiquarian Society, Harvard University, and the Huntington Library.

“One of My Most Enjoyable Prints”

A Peter Moran Etching and Painting Saga

Back in the early 2000s, I purchased a really fine etching done by Peter Moran (1841-1914) from AHPCS member-dealer Rona Schneider. I had met Rona years earlier, and she had always encouraged me in my research efforts. We met this time at the New York Print Fair in early November. I had just begun to collect Moran material, with a goal of creating a thorough and complete catalogue of all his etchings.

The particular etching Rona had in her booth, The Return of the Herd (fig. 1), showed cows being coaxed home from a threatening storm, which appealed to me. When I mentioned my long-term goal to Rona, she just smiled, rolled her eyes a bit, and said, “Oh my, so many cows!” I wasn’t quite sure then what she meant, since I hadn’t yet delved into Peter Moran’s work, but in time I would come to appreciate her warning. Indeed this Moran brother did many etchings with cows—cows in streams, cows in fields, and cows in storms— which later proved daunting to inventory.

Return of the Herd, replica etching by Peter Moran, 1875

Fig. 1: Return of the Herd, replica etching by Peter Moran, 1875, signed upper left in the sky, “PM.” 6”h x 11-3/8”w.

I learned that this particular etching was one of Moran’s earliest, done in 1875—the first year he actually focused on etching. I also discovered that Moran had completed a large 3-1/2 x 7-foot oil painting in that same year. It, too, was titled The Return of the Herd. 

Had the painting come before the etching or vice-versa? Or might they have been generated simultaneously? I wasn’t actually sure the scenes were identical. If the scene of the painting and etching matched, then the etching could be classified as a reproductive etching, and in this case more accurately termed a replica etching, since Peter was copying his own work, and not that of someone else.

Definitely both works were created within a one-year window. At that time Moran shared studio space at 1334 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, with Stephen Ferris, his brother-in-law and life-long friend and fellow painter-etcher. Moran must have painted this large oil and etched the plate in that studio space.

In the Philadelphia City Archives, I found a copy of the handwritten registration form that Moran completed in October 1875 to enter his artwork—three oil paintings and an unspecified number of watercolors and etchings on copper—in the art exhibition to be part of the Philadelphia-sponsored 1876 Centennial Exhibition (fig. 2). The first and largest of the oil paintings that Moran listed on the entry form needed wall space six feet by nine feet to handle its surrounding frame. Although Moran gave no titles on the form, this must have referenced Return of the Herd.

Fig. 2: Copy of Peter Moran’s exhibitor application form, Oct. 6, [1875] in the United States Centennial Commission records, 1876-1879 (Reel 3602). Courtesy of the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution from original in the Philadelphia City Archives.

Moran’s painting had the dubious honor of taking the wall space originally intended to display Thomas Eakins’s large and powerful The Gross Clinic. At the last minute, the hanging committee determined that Eakins’s painting—entirely too gory and graphic to include with the other art—needed to be redirected to the Medical Pavilion, giving way to Moran’s piece. Moran’s group of fifteen etchings, not individually titled but clustered in frames, appeared in the exhibition’s Annex Gallery 22.

Moran’s painting and his group of etchings were both huge successes at the Centennial. Near the end of the show, on 27 September 1876, he received a medal from the Centennial Commission, “Commended for merit in genre painting,” for his Return of the Herd painting, one of forty-one medals given to less than five percent of the American paintings exhibited. He also received a separate medal for his group of etchings, one of which must have included the etched version of Return of the Herd.

My research continued on this etching with the goal of creating as accurate a catalogue entry as possible. For one thing, I wanted to make sure that it actually did replicate the painting. I searched during the next six years for the current location of the painting without success; on-line and institutional queries came up empty-handed. I found a 1981 Sotheby’s auction entry with a variant title that sounded like it might be this painting, but the catalogue had no image of it. I tried to access the Sotheby’s archives without success.

Fortunately, because the painting had won a medal, it captured significant notice in the art publications that came out during and shortly after the Centennial. Two separate write-ups included two independently generated wood engravings that illustrated the oil painting. I felt I was close to my answer!

In 1876, art critic Edward Strahan (the pen name used by Earl Shinn) described the “spirited” scene of the painting and had it illustrated with an engraving by Van Ingen & Snyder (fig. 3):

In a pleasant rolling country near the Brandywine or the Wissahickon the herdsman and his dog are driving home the cows after the soft afternoon storm which makes the herbage so tempting for a lingering bite. Mr. P. Moran’s cattle are always obviously studied from nature. In the present picture, the black head of the central animal, relieved against the brightest sky where the storm breaks away, makes fine pictorial effect for the artist; and the pretty play of the near cow and calf is true to life [Masterpieces of the Centennial International Exhibition, 1876, vol. 1, pp. 43–44].

Fig. 3: Return of the Herd, reproductive wood engraving after the Moran painting, engraved by Van Ingen & Snyder, signed lower left. Size: 3-7/8”h x 6-7/8”w. Published in 1876 to accompany notes written by Edward Strahan for Masterpieces of the International Centennial Exposition, p. 9.

The overall scene in the wood engraving—which was supposedly based on the painting, not the etching—matched the etching quite nicely, except for some minor discrepancies: the herdsman’s staff was tilted differently (to the left), and a bit of the right side of the etching was eliminated.

Then I found a second write up, by George Sheldon in the February 1878 issue of the Art Journal, with a different wood engraving of the painting, this time by John Filmer (fig. 4). This engraving threw a wrench into my analysis. Not only did the herdsman’s staff entirely disappear—something I could have dealt with—but more importantly, Filmer’s scene, as published, was a mirror-image to the etching and the earlier wood engraving.

Fig. 4: Return of the Herd, reproductive wood engraving after the Moran painting, engraved by John Filmer (1837-1929), signed lower center in the stream. Size: 3-3/8”h x 6-1/4”w. Published in The Art Journal, Feb. 1878, p. 136.

Was the threatening storm actually on the left side of the painting, as imaged by Filmer, or on the right side as seen in the Van Ingen wood engraving and in Peter Moran’s own etching? Said a different way, did Moran take the time to reverse his painted image on the etched plate so the prints of the etching would be right-reading with the painting, or not?

Being issued by the highly respectable Art Journal, I could not dismiss Filmer’s engraving as inaccurate.  Sheldon also republished the same image—still reversed—in his book, American Painters, 1879, which was reissued in 1881.

I had one other potential source to check, which I learned about a short time later. In 1890—fifteen years after the completion of the painting and first etching—the prolific etching publisher Radtke, Lauckner and Company commissioned Moran to do a larger etched version of this same scene, again with the same title (fig. 5).

Fig. 5: Return of the Herd, etching by Peter Moran, 1890, signed lower right, in reverse, “P. Moran.” Plate: 18-3/8”h x 34”w. The herdsman’s staff is shifted yet again. Catalog: Wright-132.

By this time, the public’s taste for small, hand-held etchings had morphed into a craving for large “wall art.” What better subject matter to market than a successful Centennial prize-winning painting! Moran complied with the publisher’s request. This time he worked on a plate with more than nine times the area of the first, with a resulting shift in atmospheric feel and intimacy, but with a scene having the same orientation as the first etching. Despite this match, I still had no guarantees about how either related to the original painting.

Fig. 6: Details from Figs. 1, 3, 4, and 5 (clockwise from top left).

My work on Peter Moran reached final publication in 2010 without resolving the question. Without the painting, I was at a loss. I was honest about my uncertainty in several footnotes.

Fast forward five years. A slick catalogue for an up-coming sale of paintings arrived in my mail, unsolicited, from the Scottsdale Art Auction group in Arizona. This firm specializes primarily in western art, most of it modern works, and I was fairly sure I would not find anything of interest, but thumbed through the material quickly. Lo and behold! Toward the very end of the catalog, they featured a huge oil painting by Peter Moran, dated to 1875. The scene stopped me cold (fig. 7).

Fig. 7: Return of the Herd, oil painting by Peter Moran, signed and dated lower left, “P Moran – 1875.” 3’-6”h x 72–1/2”w. Scottsdale Art Auction, 11 April 2015, lot # 307.

Here it was, The Return of the Herd, with an orientation that matched both of his etchings very nicely! The auction catalogue had an incorrect title, and mentioned none of the painting’s provenance, but from the size, date, and description, I knew this had to be the Centennial painting. It was fun to see how the series of etchings and wood engravings had constantly shifted the herdsman’s staff, with the Van Ingen wood engraving being the most faithful. Both of Peter’s own etchings had it skewed differently. Through tremendous luck, I was a high phone bidder on the oil painting. Not only had I finally solved my mystery, but I could now reunite the 1875 award-winning replica etching with the celebratory painting. And, indeed, Moran had taken the time to reverse the image on his plates.

A final, and even more serendipitous event happened two years after this. Another great AHPCS member-dealer, Hollie Powers Holt, contacted me about material she had for sale from the estate of an old family friend of hers, which contained a lot of Peter Moran material. I figured that this material must have come to her clients from the estate of Moran’s second wife, who had died in 1951, in a New Jersey suburb of Philadelphia.

I was thrilled with what Hollie was able to offer me, some of which I ultimately bought, including original Moran copper etching plates and several of his monotypes. Mixed in with the material were several large award certificates that Moran had received throughout his life. One of the items, which boggled my mind and which she generously just threw in with my other purchases, was Moran’s original Centennial certificate (fig. 8), listing both his painting and his etchings as award winners. This huge 20” x 27-1/2” lithograph, ink-signed by three Centennial officials, was to me priceless. Now I had reunited the trifecta—the painting, etching, and the award. I needed to quit while I was ahead!

Fig. 8: Peter Moran’s original International Exhibition 1876 Certificate of Award, for both his Oil Painting and his Etchings, presented with the medals. Sheet Size: 20”h x 27-1/2”w. Lithograph dated 27 September 1876. Embossed and ink-signed by the Centennial Commissioners: A. G. Goshorn, Director General; John L. Campbell, Secretary; and Jos. R. Hawley, President.

~~~~~

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. 

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 revised 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.