The Acquisitions Table: Lessons in Dancing

Dilettante [i.e. Edward W. Clay] Lessons in Dancing, Exemplified by Sketches from Real Life in the City of Philadelphia. Philadelphia: Published by R.H. Hobson, 1828.

DancingOnly the second known copy of this title with eight delicately hand-colored plates of dancing couples mounted on stubs and sewn into printed tan paper wrappers with the imprint information. The finely-detailed plates depict couples from a range of social classes, races, and religious groups performing different dance steps in a variety of costumes. This copy has the first four plates of dancing pairs annotated in pencil with the names of historical figures including Arthur Middleton (grandson of a signer of the Declaration of Independence), Don Francisco Tacon (Spanish ambassador to the U.S. who arrived in Philadelphia in July 1827 and was in residence in 1828) and Monsieur and Madame Hutin (French dancers who appeared briefly at Philadelphia’s Chestnut Street Theatre in 1827). Though the work is anonymously attributed to “A Dilettante,” the last four plates are signed EWC so it can be identified as the work of the artist Edward W. Clay (see also Clay’s The Sorcerers’ Adieu above). Clay became famous for his caricatures such as the series “Life in Philadelphia” (1828-1830) satirizing middle-class African American Philadelphians. A somewhat less offensive example can be seen here in the dancing couple labeled “Pat Juba African Fancy Ball.” Gift of Michael Zinman in honor of the American Antiquarian Society’s bicentennial.

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