Engravings and Lithographs
Although lithographs and pre-1821 engravings are cataloged, later engravings are arranged by subject and by size. Among the major divisions are the following: United States views, portraits of Americans active through 1900, Hawaiian engravings, nineteenth-century engravings generally removed from books and periodicals (arranged by the name of the engraver), historical scenes, religious subjects, and European political prints.
The emphasis on the collection of American engravings has always been on the works of colonial engravers, particularly those active in New England, more specifically, Boston. The formation of this portion of the collection dates back to the bequest of William Bentley, a Salem clergyman. After his death in 1819, his paintings and prints came to the Society. Bentley was particularly interested in portraits, and many of our Peter Pelham mezzotints dating from the first half of the eighteenth century, as well as about a dozen chalk drawings by Samuel Harris (d. 1810), came from his collection. The woodcut portrait of Richard Mather (the earliest American portrait print) also adorned the walls of Bentley's home in Salem. Other early prints, including portraits of the first six presidents of the United States, came from the Society's founder Isaiah Thomas after his death in 1831.
Clarence S. Brigham compiled the definitive work on the engravings of Paul Revere, which the Society published in 1954. During the years leading up to the publication of this monograph, Brigham scouted out impressions of Revere's engravings until the Society had at least one of each, except for the portrait of Jonathan Mayhew. Since then, three engravings by Revere have surfaced; AAS has impressions of two (a meeting notice for the Relief Fire Society and the bookplate of John Butler) but not of the other (a billhead for Mr. John Piemont, owned by the town of Danvers, Massachusetts). An illustrated inventory of Paul Revere's works at the Society is now online. The Society has holdings almost as strong for other major Boston engravers of the eighteenth century--James Turner, Nathaniel Hurd, and Thomas Johnston. Like Revere, these craftsmen engraved maps, bookplates, currency, membership certificates, book illustrations, and political prints.
With generous gifts from member Jay T. Last, nineteenth-century engravings have become an important collection. Portrait prints, city and town views, and reproductive engravings of historical and genre paintings have been acquired in substantial numbers.
Access to American engravings and book illustrations issued before 1821 has been greatly improved by a project funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the H.W. Wilson Foundation, the Getty Trust, and several individuals. The Catalogue of American Engravings Project has located and described some 16,800 engravings in the collections of the Society and in libraries and museums across the country. The Catalogue of American Engravings is available online. Georgia B. Barnhill described this resource in "The Catalogue of American Engravings: A Manual for Users" published in volume 108 of the Proceedings.
The lithograph collection was established as a separate entity within the department in 1928, when Charles H. Taylor, publisher of the Boston Globe and one of the Society's most generous donors, gave AAS his lithograph collection. He continued to give the Society hundreds of lithographed items each year, especially prints and illustrated books. There are approximately 6,000 separately cataloged lithographs. The catalog for this collection has been expanded to reflect new acquisitions and segments of other collections that have been integrated into the lithograph collection including panoramic views, portraits, circus posters, and political cartoons. The online catalog provides access to this significant collection, supplying information about the content and iconography of prints, creators, publishers, and copyright holders.
Taylor also donated books illustrated with lithographs. These volumes have been indexed by lithographer and by subject. Although additions are not made to this index, it remains a useful reference tool to those interested in lithographs by a specific firm.
In recent years, the purpose of additions to the lithograph collection has been to acquire lithographs with significant historical content, whether political, social, or cultural. Following Taylor's own collecting interests, the Society still tries to obtain the products of the early Boston lithographic presses--those of the Pendletons, Thomas Moore, and John H. Bufford. Gifts from Jay T. Last have enriched this collection and have enabled AAS to acquire prints of American subject matter published abroad, such as views and reproductions of American paintings.
Important collections that should be mentioned include the Charles Peirce Collection of Social and Political Caricatures and Ballads, Cross Familiy Collection, George Dubois Family Collection, David Claypoole Johnston Collection, Thomas and Eno Collection, Art Union Prints, and the Prang Collection.
The segments of the print collection can be used by scholars who have various interests. Documenting the physical aspects of cities and towns, understanding land use, examining architectural features of specific buildings are possible by examining views of the United States, whether engraved, lithographed, or photographed. Illustrations of familial relationships, rural and urban pastimes, trades and occupations, for example, can be located through the catalog to the lithograph collection, making that collection useful to historians and picture researchers from many disciplines. Because of the thorough cataloging of the lithographs, art historians can trace the careers of specific designers and lithographers with ease.
- Georgia B. Barnhill, Andrew W. Mellon Curator of Graphic Arts