Sarony, Major, Knapp


1843-1844: Major, James P., engraver, 10 Watts Street
1845-1846: Major, Henry B., 10 Watts Street
1846-1847: Sarony, (Napoleon) & Major (Henry B.), 99 Nassau Street and 117 Fulton Street
1847-1857: Sarony & Major, 117 Fulton Street
1853-1857: Sarony & Company, 117 Fulton Street
1856-1857: Knapp,  Joseph F., 42 Ann Street
1857-1860: Sarony, Major & Knapp, 449 Broadway
1860-1865: Sarony, Major & Knapp, 449 Broadway and 26 Mercer Street
1865-1867: Sarony, Major & Knapp, 449 Broadway
1867-1868: Sarony, Napoleon,  Photographic materials, 543 Broadway Major & Knapp Engraving, Manufacturing, and Lithographic Company, 71 Broadway
1871: Major & Knapp, 56 and 58 Park Place

“Napoleon Sarony,”  “Henry B. Major,” and “Joseph F. Knapp” also appear separately at these addresses. The “Major” from 1845 through 1855 is “Henry B. Major”; 1855 through 1868, “Richard Major.”  The separate firm of “Major & Knapp” appears as early as 1864 at 449 Broadway.  “Major & Knapp” appear at 117 Fulton Street as early as 1855, and an advertisement of “Sarony, Major & Knapp,” in 1856-1857, locates the new firm at that address, and dates the founding 1845.  “Sarony & Major” also appear at 136 Nassau Street. A convenient rough simplification is:

Napoleon Sarony and Sarony  & Company, 1840-1845
Sarony & Major, 1845-1857
Sarony, Major & Knapp, 1856-1867
Major & Knapp, 1864-seventies.

Napoleon Sarony was one of the most expert craftsmen, enterprising publishers, and vivid characters of the time. There is a narrative of his life in “Currier & Ives: Printmakers to the American People,” Vol. I, pp. 120-129, and so only a skelton outline will be repeated here.

He was born in Quebec, March 9th, 1821, of a French mother and an Austrian father. About 1836 he came to New York, studied under Archibald Robertson (q.v.) and began drawing cartoons and marines on the stone for Henry R. Robinson (q.v.).  Soon he began to work for Nathaniel Currier, and his print of the burning of the steamboat “Lexington” established both Currier’s fame and his own. In 1846 he associated himself with Henry B. Major, who also had worked for Currier, and the firm of Sarony & Major began business in the basement of 99 Nassau Street. In the same year they moved to 117 Fulton Street, where they remained for a decade. Their views of Commodore Perry’s expedition to Japan established their reputation, and the business rapidly expanded. In 1857 Sarony and Richard Major allied themselves with Joseph F. Knapp, and the firm of Sarony, Major & Knapp established a very large plant at 449 Broadway. Sarony was the leading spirit, supplying ideas, securing artists, and drawing most of the portraits, in which he was especially interested. This interest and skill led him gradually into the new art of photography, and about 1867 or 1868 he seems to have withdrawn from the firm and set up a photographic studio that had a great reputation. The story of Tom Thumb’s turning from Currier & Ives to Sarony’s new venture has already been told. Soon, however, he went for a vacation to Cuba, and then after returning for a short time, spent six years in Europe. After travelling widely and exhausting his funds, he called on the lithographers Kriehhuber in Berlin, and Lemercier in Paris, was received with euthusiasm and once more began drawing portraits on stone. On a second visit to Europe he was induced by his brother Oliver to set up a photographic studio in Birmingham, England, and his work there became internationally known.  He later returned to New York, set up another photographic establishment at 680 Broadway, invented and sold numerous photographic devices, and made another fortune. In his later years he returned once more to drawing, this time in charcoal. He died suddenly November 9th, 1896, at his home in New York, and was survived by his widow and three children by his first marriage, a son, Otto, who had been the business manager of the various Sarony establishments for years, and two daughters.

Sarony’s personality was eccentric and attractive. Small and animated in body, absent-minded, generous, a good mimic, and in his studio an absolute master, he loved social life, belonged to many clubs, entertained freely at his home in Yonkers, and had a multitude of friends, especially among actors, and actresses, of whom he made thousands of portraits.