Tag Archives: Lithography

The Acquisitions Table: Norwich Fire Insurance Co.

Norwich Fire Insurance Co. New York: Hatch & Co., 1863-1865.
This color lithograph for a Connecticut insurance company features a city view surrounded by international flags and the names of local directors with interests in the firm. The sheet was printed by Hatch & Co. in New York, who advertised that they could produce: “Portraits landscapes, labels & show cards, and every description of color work. Bonds, certificates of stock, checks insurance policies, diplomas, note & letter heads, executed in the best style.” The view of Norwich is taken across the river from the west and aligns closely with an 1849 lithograph produced by Sarony & Major based on a painting by Fitz Henry Lane, with added steam-powered vessels plying the water. The print was probably produced as a promotional image, intended for display in the company’s office or in the offices of the individual directors.

Chromolithography at AAS – Now Including after 1876!

insurance co litho

“Continental Life Insurance Company of New York” by Louis Prang & Co. (1870)

As many researchers already know, life stops in 1876 for many parts of the American Antiquarian Society’s collections which are limited to the pre-Centennial era.  Recently, however, the Society has amended its collection policies to permit the curator of graphic arts to add prints produced between 1876 and 1900 to the Society’s holdings in order to tell the story of print production through the end of the century.  The ephemera and photography collections both already include the 1876 to 1900 period, so adding the prints (lithographs and engravings, as well as relief prints) made sense contextually. This change will allow late-century chromolithographs to be added to our holdings.

Not long after this policy was put into place, I was reading Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, which starts out set in 1879 when a bump on the head sends protagonist Hank Morgan back in time to medieval England.  Samuel Clemens, writing the text between 1885 and 1889, was well aware of the proliferation of inexpensive prints in the United States and often includes chromolithographs in his detailed descriptions of American interiors.  In chapter 7 of A Connecticut Yankee, Hank Morgan is settling into his spacious chambers in Arthur Pendragon’s castle.  His reaction to the space, while thick with Twain humor, reflects the ubiquitous, homey nature of chromos as understood by late-century American readers.  Hank states,

God Bless Our Home litho

“God Bless Our Home” by Louis Prang & Co. (1873)

As for conveniences, properly speaking, there weren’t any. I mean little conveniences; it is the little conveniences that make the real comfort of life.  The big oaken chairs, graced with rude carvings were well enough, but that was the stopping place. There was no soap, no matches, no looking glass….And not a chromo. I had been used to chromos for years, and I saw now that without my suspecting it a passion for art had got worked into the fabric of my being, and was become a part of me.  It made me homesick to look around over this proud and gaudy but heartless barrenness and remember that in our house in East Hartford, all unpretending as it was, you couldn’t go into a room but you would find an insurance chromo, or at least a three-color God-Bless-Our-Home over the door; and in the parlor we had nine.

Israel Putnam litho

“News from Lexington, Putnam Leaving the Plow” by Kellogg & Bulkeley Co. (1886?)

AAS has a collection of just over 300 individual chromolithographs intended for framing, most dating from 1845 to 1875.  This group includes several examples of prints issued by insurance companies (see top) and we even have chromos printed in Clemens’ adopted hometown of Hartford, Connecticut, a city that supported several thriving print production factories (right).  The collection includes excellent examples made by Boston firms, and is somewhat slanted towards premium prints—images that were given away to subscribers by newspaper or magazine publishers, Sunday schools, book stores, etc.  We have examples of brightly colored advertisements, religious scenes (yes, we even have a God-Bless-Our-Home chromo), humorous prints, landscapes and portraits of adorable children.  Now, with the recent policy change, we can make our best effort to find additional examples from after 1876, because, as Twain insinuates in his final line (“and in the parlor we had nine”), quantity and easy proliferation were part of the attraction of these vivid, inexpensive, kitschy and sometimes even artistic prints.

The Pay Off for a Curator’s Perseverance

Last week, curator of children’s literature Laura Wasowicz posted about finding a unique find in a dusty house. This week, curator of graphic arts Lauren Hewes talks about another tack curators more often have to take: “hard work and diligence.”

Recently, the Society’s curatorial staff was asked to blog about significant acquisitions and the process by which historic material comes into the collection. I think perhaps the blog editors were hoping for high adventure, with hidden treasures discovered at flea markets, or exciting visits to exclusive dealers. Alas, the reality is that most of the great pieces and memorable objects come to AAS through plain old hard work and diligence.

Take for example the rare watercolor by American artist Thomas Worth (1834-1917) illustrated below. This watercolor, The Darktown Fire Brigade – A Prize Squirt, is the original study that Worth made for a lithograph published by Currier & Ives of New York. After the Civil War, Currier & Ives hired Worth (along with other cartoonists) to create several different series of comic prints. The Darktown prints are difficult for today’s viewers. They are racist and insulting and they use gross caricatures to mock and make fun of free African Americans in a variety of situations. The figures are made to look foolish and outlandish and reflect the anxiety of white Americans as freed slaves integrated into what was becoming a mixed race society. Eventually numbering over seventy-five titles, Darktown prints were sold individually for 20 cents each or six for a dollar. The caricatures of African Americans as firemen, clergy, sportsmen, and cowboys, were quite popular in their time. Over 73,000 sheets were sold from the series and when Currier & Ives folded, the lithographic stones for the series were purchased by a competitor and reissued into the twentieth century. The Darktown series is just now beginning to be evaluated by scholars trying to understand racial conflict and perception in the United States during the pre-Civil Rights era.

501065_0001All well and good, but how did AAS end up with the watercolor? It is a long story and it started back in 2005 with my predecessor Georgia B. Barnhill, curator emerita of graphic arts. She paid a visit to AAS member Philip C. Beals. Beals (like his father before him) was a collector of American prints, with a special focus on sporting prints by Currier & Ives. There, in Mr. Beals’s print cabinet, lay the watercolor by Thomas Worth, tucked in among lithographs of sulky drivers and snipe hunters. Mr. Beals eventually gave over 160 prints from his collection to the Society, greatly increasing the institution’s holdings of Currier & Ives lithographs. In 2009, after Mr. Beals passed away, Gigi and I returned for a visit with his widow, Elaine W. Beals, who had called about possible future donations. We had a lovely visit, and were asked to make a list of prints from the Beals collection that the Society would like. It was my first time seeing the Worth, and I was impressed with its condition and the way it illustrated the creative steps behind the lithographic process at the end of the century. The Worth, of course, was placed on the list of sixty or so prints that we created for Mrs. Beals.

I thought no more about the watercolor until 2012, when AAS Drawn to Art fellow Melanie Hernandez arrived from the University of Washington, Seattle, to work on her dissertation project: “Currier & Ives’s ‘Darktown’ Series: Recovering White Capital through Violent Satire.” I communicated with Mrs. Beals about four Darktown lithographs in her collection and, knowing she intended to donate them anyway, asked about having them in Worcester in time for Hernandez’s month-long fellowship. She and her family graciously agreed to donate the four lithographs and, most generously, to loan the Worth watercolor to AAS for one month. This was an outstanding opportunity for one of our fellows to see a work of art that helped explain the entire process behind the prints she was studying, and so we jumped at the chance.

The lithograph based off of Worth's watercolor.

The lithograph based off of Worth’s watercolor.

The watercolor was loaned to AAS for four weeks. Both Melanie Hernandez and I spent a lot of time with the drawing, comparing it to the published lithograph, noting the changes that the printers had made to Worth’s original design and the changes Worth himself had made to the title and other elements of his drawing. We were given permission to photograph the watercolor and it is included in Hernandez’s dissertation. We returned the watercolor to Mrs. Beals after the fellowship was over with many thanks.

Then in the summer of 2013, one of Mrs. Beals’s daughters contacted me about coming to pick up yet another group of prints from our 2009 list. There had been a family gathering and many of the prints were distributed to children and grandchildren, but there was a small group of a dozen or so pieces for AAS. The group of material, to my great surprise and delight, included the Worth watercolor. Bringing the watercolor to Worcester took just over eight years, with multiple people on the curatorial staff and acquisitions team all working together to build a good relationship with a donor. As curators, part of our job is to explain the strengths of the Society and why AAS would make a good home for an object. Donors can then decide how they wish to distribute their collection. We are very pleased to add the Worth watercolor to our holdings and can now help future scholars bring relevance to this difficult work of art.

Curatorial Instinct: Or Flying Blind in Upstate New York

In the most recent issue of the Almanac, we had a feature article about the process of bringing new items into the collection. This got us thinking about some of the interesting ways in which these treasures are found. In the coming weeks, each curator will share one of their favorite stories about finding a new acquisition.

496837_0001Early last summer, I (along with curatorial colleagues Vince Golden and Elizabeth Pope) piled into a rental van to travel to upstate New York to pay a visit to dealer Peter Luke, who has managed to fill an old house with crates and boxes full of books, newspapers, and printed scraps politely known as ephemera. While scouring the musty boxes for children’s books, I found ABC Book I, a charming piece of mid-nineteenth-century color relief printing (see right). It was issued without an imprint, adding to its mystery and fascination. I thought it looked very familiar, but could not conclusively tell whether AAS had it or not. Although my colleagues had cell phones with internet search capability that could access our online catalog, Peter’s house was just beyond the reach of the cell towers. My instinct told me I had seen it before, and that we already had it, but I took Peter up on his generous offer to let me take it back to AAS and check it.

213575_0001Upon returning to Worcester, I discovered that we do have a very similar ABC Book (left), but with a bit of a twist; it had no number. Upon opening the two copies, I discovered that our present copy had the images and no text (below left), and that the copy I just got from Peter included the same pictures with verse captions (below right). In this example of the girl and the chickens, the caption fleshes out the story of the girl: her name is Lina, and not only does she take care of the chickens, but she will generously give from “her little savings” to any child needing food. When I showed the two books to my colleague Lauren Hewes, curator of graphic arts, I also learned that the newly acquired copy was probably printed first, as the light brown color block detailing the background sky is much more detailed than the abbreviated brown lines found in the other copy. With their neatly executed color woodblock prints, these two copies occupy a brief moment in children’s picture book production at mid century between crude hand-colored woodcuts and mass-produced chromolithography.


The Acquisitions Table: Cornered!

Schultz, Christian, after Richard Caton Woodville. Cornered! [Waiting for a Stage].Lemercier lithographer. New York & Paris: Goupil& Co., 1851.

With the exhibition and publication of With a French Accent: American Lithography to 1860, (Davis Art Center, Wellesley College 2012 and MuséeGoupil, Bordeaux, France 2013) the American Antiquarian Society has become a resource for the study of international production and distribution of lithographs in the pre-Civil War era.  This beautiful print, which was published, produced and colored in France for the European and American consumer, completes the Society’s holdings of Goupil lithographs produced after works by the American painter Richard Caton Woodville.  The Society already holds Woodville’s The Civil Marriage and Politics in an Oyster House. This image of three men waiting for a stage was originally sold via the Goupil catalog as a part of a trio of images by Americans — grouped together with a print after William Sydney Mount and one after George Caleb Bingham.  Goupil was well known for extremely fine lithographic impressions and for the skills of their colorists.  The print was sold at Goupil’s New York show room, as well as in London, Paris and Berlin. This impression came from the Goupil archive and has contemporary marginal notations regarding the inventory status of the print. This item was acquired with the support of the B.H. Breslauer Foundation.


The Acquisitions Table: Atalanta

Bargue, Charles after Alfred de Dreux, Atalanta, Paris, Berlin, New York: Goupil and Knoedler, 1860.

Another beautiful example of transatlantic lithographic printing from France, this image of the horse Atalanta from a series of prints of driving and saddle horses was the bicentennial gift of AAS member George Fox.  Named for a Greek goddess of hunting, the print shows a well-proportioned bay-colored hunter standing near a wall with a stable boy and small dog.  While the boy and the dog are oblivious to the viewer, the horse turns her fine head and looks out at us.  Many of the prints in the set were drawn by the lithographer Charles Bargue after well-known French animal painter Alfred de Dreux.  The prints were also sold individually by Goupil in their shops in France, Germany and New York, and would have appealed to any lover of horses. Bicentennial gift of George K. Fox.

The Acquisitions Table: Marion’s Brigade Crossing the Pedee River

Currier & Ives after William Ranney, Marion’s Brigade Crossing the Pedee River, S.C., 1778, on Their Way to Attack the British Forces under Tarleton. New York: Currier & Ives, between 1872 and 1874.

Although founded in the 1830s, the firm of Currier & Ives continually produced historical subjects, printing images of the American Revolution and scenes from the colonial era and early Republic. Portraits of Washington and John Adams were published alongside contemporary images of Lincoln and Grant.  There was clearly a market for these pieces, as they were produced into the sunset years of the firm in the 1870s and 1880s.  This Revolutionary War era image of General Marion crossing the Pee Dee River in 1778 was based on a painting made by the American artist William Ranney in 1850.  Ranney’s composition had also been issued as an engraving published by the American Art Union in 1852.  This post-1870 hand-colored lithograph indicates that images of the crafty military hero known widely as the “Swamp Fox” had a long life and were still of interest to Americans nearly one hundred years after the Revolutionary War was over.

The Acquisitions Table: Camp of the Duryea’s Zouaves Federal Hill

Camp of the Duryea’s Zouaves Federal Hill Baltimore, Md. Looking North. Baltimore: E. Sachse& Co., 1861. 

This hand colored lithograph is one of six prints of Civil War encampments by E. Sachse& Co. given to the Society by member David Doret.  The publisher, Edward Sachse (1804-1873), had just opened at a new location on South Charles Street in Baltimore when the war began.  A specialist in views, Sachse naturally began to produce detailed images of wartime hospitals, regimental camps, and headquarters to meet the demand of Union print consumers who were anxious to see where their troops were living and serving.  With his main location in Baltimore and his sons working in Virginia and St. Louis, Sachse had access to several key staging areas for the supply routes and preparations of the war.  His prints serve as excellent, if a bit idealized, records of the gathering and movement of Union troops in the early days of the war.  With the Doret donation, the Society now holds over forty examples of lithographs printed by this firm, ranging in date from 1850 to 1874. Gift of David Doret.

The Acquisitions Table: The Quarrel

E.W. Clay, attr., The Quarrel, lithograph, NY: John Childs, 1839.

This previously unrecorded cartoon, published in New York, is one in a set of prints investigating the social implications of interaction between white citizens and African Americans.  The cartoon, which was probably designed by the artist Edward W. Clay for John Childs, depicts two African American men fighting on a dance floor, with one tweaking the nose of the other.

With a French Accent

On Wednesday, March 14, 2012, the print exhibition With a French Accent, French and American Lithography to 1860 will open at the Davis Museum of Wellesley College. The exhibition is drawn entirely from the collection of the American Antiquarian Society and explores the influence of French expertise and design on American popular lithographic print production and consumption in the United States.

Claude Theilly after Richard Canton Woodville, Un mariage civil aux Etats-Unis / A civil marriage in the United States. New York and Paris: M. Knoedler, 1853.

Christian Schussele, Lafayette, Philadelphia, P.S. Duval, 1851.

La fête de la bonne maman / El natalicio de la abuela. The grandmother's feast. Paris: Veuve Turgis, c. 1855.

Nicolas-Eustache Maurin after Gilbert Stuart, Thomas Jefferson, third president of the United States. Boston: Pendleton, 1825-1828.

Work on the project began under the dome at AAS in 1995, when Georgia Barnhill and Lauren Hewes became interested in the possibility of studying French contributions to American lithography. They compiled a list of nearly one hundred names of French-born or French-trained lithographers active in the United States during the antebellum period, scoured archives for journal entries, customs paperwork, and ship manifests left behind by Americans traveling to Paris to learn the process, and gathered American newspaper reports about the dissemination of the technology. They looked at hundreds of lithographs in the Society’s collection, as well as prints held by other institutions here in the United States and in France.

After William Sydney Mount, The Power of music! Paris & New York: Goupil, Vibert & Co., 1848.

Victor Adam, Image of a French printseller, from Charades alphabetiques, co-published by Bailly & Ward in New York, c.1843.

In the 1820s, several American artists and publishers traveled to Paris and returned with lithographic equipment, prints, and practical knowledge.  A decade later, experienced French lithographic pressmen and artists immigrated to the United States to work in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia.  At the same time, imported French lithographs could be purchased from American booksellers and fancy good shops, entrepreneurs were buying prints wholesale in Paris and reselling them in places like Baltimore and Milwaukee, and American lithographers copied popular French images and adapted them for the local audience. 

By the 1850s, several French lithographic firms opened offices in New York City.  They sold a variety of lithographs, all made in France, including sheets drawn from their European stock, as well as specially published views of United States cities, and genre scenes by popular American artists like William Sydney Mount.  French lithographic influence was diverse and wide spread and raised the quality of American production while presenting inventive possibilities which echoed through the art of lithography as it continued to evolve in the United States.

The exhibition will run through June 3, 2012, and is being held in the Morelle Lasky Levine ’56 Works on Paper Gallery at the Davis Museum. It is free and open to the public. A symposium, French and American Lithography: History and Practice, will be held at Wellesley on Saturday, March 31 from 9:00 to 4:00.  This program is co-hosted by the Davis and the American Antiquarian Society and will explore transnational interconnection, particularly the impact of artistic exchange between France and the United States on American lithography through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and into contemporary practice.  This daylong event features a range of talks by exhibition curators Georgia B. Barnhill and Lauren B. Hewes, and visiting scholars Marie-Stephanie Delmaire and Catherine Wilcox Titus, and lithography demonstrations by a visiting artists and a master printer.

Research for this exhibition and the accompanying publication was made possible by the Florence Gould Foundation of New York.  At the Davis, this exhibition was made possible through generous support from the Marjorie Schechter Bronfman ’38 and Gerald Bronfman Endowment for Works on Paper.   The conference weekend is generously supported by Jay and Deborah Last, Wellesley College Friends of Art, and the Grace Slack McNeil Program for Studies in American Art.

The Acquisitions Table: The Life of George Washington the Soldier

Regnier, Auguste (after a painting by Junius Brutus Stearns). The life of George Washington the soldier. New York & Paris: Goupil & Co., 1854. Printed by Lemercier, Paris.

This print is one of four in a set depicting the life George Washington—the other prints include renditions of Washington as a citizen, a farmer, and a Christian. AAS has held the other three lithographs for several years (two were given by Jay Last in 2001), and this purchase completes the set. Because the prints have a transatlantic imprint and were sold in New York and Paris, they also serve to illustrate the continued work that Georgia Barnhill and I are doing (with support from the Florence Gould Foundation) on the relationship between French and American lithography. As an additional bonus, the print arrived in time for a recent fellow to use for his research on images of the first presidents. Purchased from the Old Print Shop, New York. Print Acquisitions Fund and Florence Gould Foundation Grant.

The Acquisitions Table: No Rose Without a Thorn

No rose without a thorn. New York: Nathaniel Currier, [1838-1856] Shown with “My Master’s Wife”

When he started his business on Nassau Street in New York City, Nathaniel Currier offered for sale lithographs of news events, historic images, local views, and pretty women. He also occasionally produced narrative genre scenes such as this curious depiction of a young man kissing a lady’s hand through a hole in a wooden door. The unfortunate youth is about to be whipped for his freshness by an older, angry man approaching from behind.

Although AAS tends to purchase prints related to historical events or to the history of printing, this image was too good to pass up, given its visual relationship to another item already here. Our current NEH-funded project, “Prints in the Parlor,” involves cataloging images from the AAS collection of annuals and gift books. (Read an earlier blog post introducing the project here.)  In the Forget-me-Not for 1850 (New York: E. O. Jenkins, 1849), we encountered the illustration “My Master’s Wife,” engraved by William G. Jackman, who did quite a bit of work for the annuals industry from his base in New York City. The Jenkins printing works was located at 114 Nassau Street, just four blocks away from Currier’s shop at 152 Nassau Street. We will never know who was copying whom, but it is wonderful to have both images together in the collection for future scholars to debate.

Purchased from the Old Print Shop, New York. Print Acquisitions Fund.

The Acquisitions Table: Snow White and Red Rose

Snow White and Red Rose. New York: McLoughlin, 1899.

This magnificent chromolithograph of “An Exciting Donkey-Ride at the Seashore” is taken from this collection of fairy tales and poems. It is an excellent example of McLoughlin’s turn-of-the-century idealized portrayals of children at play.

Purchased from Christopher Holtom. Harry G. Stoddard Memorial Fund.

More information:

A little ditty about sheet music

One of the hidden treasures at AAS is its sheet music collection.  The collection numbers about 60,000 pieces of music, all printed before 1880, including instrumental, vocal, secular and religious music, by both American and foreign composers.  You might be thinking, I can’t read music, what’s in it for me?  The sheet music collection is actually an amazing resource for research, not only for those lucky enough to be able to pick out a tune, but for anyone doing research at AAS. 

Glancing through sheet music is an interesting, and very entertaining way of learning about popular issues and ideas of the time.  What topics were important enough to compose a song for the general public for?  What were people singing about?  What ideas and morals were being instilled in people through music?  Temperance, women’s rights and slavery are but a few of the issues being discussed through music in the 18th and 19th centuries. 

Titles and lyrics say so much, and so do the images on the covers of the sheet music.  AAS has separately indexed sheet music with pictorial lithograph covers and pictorial engraved covers.  Covers can be found illustrated by some of the nation’s most famous artists, including Winslow Homer, David Claypool Johnston, and James McNeill Whistler.  These pieces are used extensively by readers and fellows, as the cover images in and of themselves make excellent research material. Click here to see the topical classification of the pictorial covers – http://www.americanantiquarian.org/sheetmusic1.htm

The sheet music collection is one of the few collections left at AAS that is only accessible through its card file, located in the card catalogs in the Reading Room.  The card file is organized as a title index for the general sheet music collection.  There is also a separate card file for the pictorial covers, organized by subject and by lithographer.  So if you’re ever at AAS and need to fill that final research gap, why not try looking at some sheet music!

Santa Claus Exposed

AAS’s The Children’s Friend: A New Year’s Present is one of just two known copies of the 1821 pamphlet.  Fifteen centimeters tall and eight pages deep, the paper-covered volume stood little chance of survival in the hands of generations of American children. But there was one family fastidious enough for the task, and by chance they would be among AAS’s most important benefactors.

The Salisbury family provided AAS, notably, with two of its presidents, 67 boxes and an additional 100 bound volumes in manuscript materials, and the land for the library’s current home. In 1897 the Society also received the childhood book of  one of those presidents, Stephen Salisbury III. Six-year old Stephen received The Children’s Friend in 1841 as a gift from Kitty Lawrence.

What makes this little book so important?  Put simply it is believed to be the first American Christmas picture book. But we asked Laura Wasowicz, Curator of Children’s Literature, and Gigi Barnhill, Director of CHAViC for a few more details.

  • chimneys~The publishing location, New York City, is important. The brick chimneys visible as “Old Santeclaus” lands his sleigh indicate an urban environment.
  • ~The pamphlet falls within a set of attempts by well-to-do New Yorkers to domesticize the holiday from a time for rowdy alcohol-infused parties and mob revelry to a safe, family-focused holiday. The Children’s Friend joined efforts by New York Historical Society founder John Pintard and Clement Clarke Moore (author of the poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas” first published in 1823).*
  • ~The story offers the first visit by St. Nicholas on Christmas Eve (instead of his Saint’s day December 6th), as well as the first appearance of his reindeer.
  • ~While the “long, black birchen rod” left for parents with naughty sons might seem a harsh ending to modern readers, it was in keeping with the parlance of the day. In a time when a children’s book might conclude with a child burned to death for playing too close to the fire, The Children’s Friend is in fact a gentle cautionary tale.
  • family~The Children’s Friend is considered the first American example of a completely lithographed book.  Lithography (the practice of drawing on limestone with waxy crayons to create a master image that absorbed ink) was introduced in the United States in the early 1800s.
  • ~Unlike engraving, lithography did not require the same high level of skill to execute and could make up to 100,000 impressions with one stone.  But the technology did require special equipment and a specific type of printing press.
  • ~Barnet and Doolittle, the firm that likely lithographed the pamphlet, was the first commercial lithographic printing shop to be established in the U.S.
  • santeclaus_text~The publishers used lithography as an inexpensive alternative to engraving and avoided the expense of multiple presses by lithographing both illustration and text (you can see that the text looks handwritten).
  • ~The color, added by hand after printing, suggests the pamphlet was expensive to buy.

*Historian Stephen Nissenbaum discusses The Children’s Friend and explores the transition to a family-oriented holiday in The Battle for Christmas (New York, 1996). Nissenbaum did much of his research at AAS  as a long-term fellow.