THIS volume records in permanent form the papers read at a conference sponsored by the Colonial Society of Massachusetts that was held at its house, 87 Mount Vernon Street, Boston, on April 1 and 2, 1971. The inspiration for this sprang from the Sixteenth Annual Winterthur Conference, held on March 19–21, 1970, at the Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum, Winterthur, Delaware. That series of conferences on aspects of museum operation and connoisseurship began in 1954 as a part of the course of study of fellows enrolled in the Winterthur Program in Early American Culture at the University of Delaware. As the years passed graduates were invited to return to Winterthur for the annual conference; more recently a small number of outside art historians, collectors, antiquarians, editors, and authors who had a special interest in the subject under discussion have been asked to take part in these family gatherings. Several members of the Colonial Society of Massachusetts were among the guests asked to attend the 1970 conference, where the theme was “Prints in and of America to 1850.” The chairman was Jonathan L. Fairbanks, Associate Curator of the Winterthur Museum, who has since become Curator of American Decorative Arts at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Of the papers two were given by visiting Bostonians: Richard B. Holman’s “Seventeenth Century American Prints” and Sinclair H. Hitchings’ “The Graphic Arts in Colonial New England.” Later in the year the proceedings of the conference, as edited by John D. Morse, were published for the Winterthur Museum by the University Press of Virginia.
The gathering of so many collectors, curators, and enthusiasts over American prints in an institution where there were notable examples to be seen proved so pleasant that there was a strong hope expressed that informal annual gatherings focused upon American prints might be held in other places in future years. The Colonial Society of Massachusetts agreed to sponsor a conference on Boston prints and printmakers of the colonial period in the spring of 1971 and charged its Editor and its Recording Secretary with planning the details.
As the desire was to have a group small enough for easy give-and-take in discussion, and as the Society’s house did not lend itself to lantern-slide projection, attendance was strictly limited and by invitation. Representatives of various neighboring institutions brought original prints of considerable rarity from their collections, which were supplemented by facsimiles of other prints that The Meriden Gravure Company had made over the years for the Massachusetts Historical Society, the Boston Athenæum, the Essex Institute, the American Antiquarian Society, the John Carter Brown Library, and other institutions. Participants came from states ranging from Maine to Virginia; the majority had been present at the 1970 Winterthur Conference.
On the morning and afternoon of the first, papers were read and prints discussed at 87 Mount Vernon Street. Lunch and dinner was provided at the Club of Odd Volumes at number 77. On the morning of the second of April the conference migrated to the Print Room of the Boston Public Library in Copley Square to see an exhibition and to hear three papers whose authors felt the need of lantern slides. After luncheon at the Club of Odd Volumes, the conference adjourned, in the hope of reconvening in Washington in 1972.
As the interest of the papers well warranted publication, the Colonial Society agreed to issue them as volume 46 in its numbered series, but to have a larger edition printed separately for a wider distribution by the University Press of Virginia. We have illustrated the great majority of known surviving works of Boston printmakers of the colonial period. Many of them have previously been reproduced elsewhere, thanks to the craftsmanship of The Meriden Gravure Company. The one great novelty, appearing for the first time on any stage, is Nathaniel Hurd’s view of the Old State House that illustrates Abbott Cummings’ paper. As it is not easy to assemble all these scattered reproductions, even in a large library, it seemed a desirable occasion to bring together as many Boston colonial prints as possible within the covers of this single volume. In volume vii of Printing & Graphic Arts, published in 1959 by The Stinehour Press, Gillett Griffin’s article “John Foster’s Woodcut of Richard Mather” was illustrated in all five copies of the print, photographed in The Meriden Gravure Company studio from the originals. Later in the same volume Richard B. Holman in “Some remarks on ‘Mr. Richard Mather’” noted that this article, with its reproductions, “has cleared away much cloudy thinking,” and observed that “to have the five actual prints on permanent loan for study would hardly be better than to have these exact-size collotype reproductions.” It is our hope that the illustrations of this volume may prove equally useful to students. Where The Meriden Gravure Company did not have existing negatives, nearly all of them have been specially photographed for this volume from the originals.
While the papers printed here represent a large part of the returns of the conference, they should be supplemented by a few glimpses of contributions made during discussion and during the preparations for the conference.
During the conference, for instance, Howard Rice pointed out that the image of a city is often fixed by a viewmaker who establishes a likeness accepted and followed by successive generations of engravers. So it was with William Burgis’ views of Boston. The pattern and viewpoint remain very much alive in Paul Revere’s engravings of almost fifty years later.
Like the Winterthur Conference a year earlier, the conference in Boston continued a process of discovery which has produced, already, a surprisingly large list of surviving original engraved eighteenth-century copper plates with designs by Peter Pelham, Thomas Johnston, Nathaniel Hurd, and Paul Revere, among others. At the conference, Marcus A. McCorison, Director of the American Antiquarian Society, showed the original copper plate of Pelham’s mezzotint portrait of Mather Byles. Recently acquired by the Society from descendants of the family, it is in perfect condition.
2. A View of the Obelisk, 1766 (modern restrike)
The conference proved to be an opportunity to exhibit the American Antiquarian Society’s impression of Paul Revere’s engraving, A View of the Obelisk Erected under Liberty-Tree. This was believed by Clarence Brigham to be the only surviving copy, but comparison revealed that a second impression is owned by the Boston Athenæum. While the two impressions were being examined, several participants pointed out that the original copper plate survives, with a design for a Masonic certificate by Revere on the other side. The plate is owned by Lessing Rosenwald.
Preparations for the Boston conference included a listing of “Portraits, Maps and Views by the Printmakers of Colonial Boston, 1670–1775” which was distributed to all participants, has since been revised and enlarged, and may merit printing at a later date.
Also in preparation for the conference, an attempt was made to survey and summarize the major collections of colonial American prints in Boston, Worcester, Providence, and Salem. Surveys (currently in typescript and perhaps suitable for publication later) were completed of collections at the American Antiquarian Society, Boston Athenæum, Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Boston Public Library, Essex Institute, John Carter Brown Library, and Worcester Art Museum (Goodspeed Collection). The inventories of two other collections, those at Harvard and the Massachusetts Historical Society, are still not complete, and students can expect surprises when a full listing is made of early American prints owned by these institutions.
The examination of various collections brought to light a number of interesting facts. Different states of several of Peter Pelham’s mezzotint portraits of Boston divines are owned by the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and deserve further study, since they suggest that printing from several of the plates continued throughout the eighteenth century.
At Harvard, a little-known strength of the collections is a group of the imprints of James Franklin, including a publication of 1718 which adds another important detail to the still-growing record of Franklin as a printmaker. Titled A catalogue of curious and valuable books (which mostly belonged to the Reverend Mr. George Curwin, late of Salem, deceased) it has the following imprint: “Boston: Printed by J. Franklin, at his printing-house in Queen street, over against Mr. Sheaf’s school; where all sorts of printing work and engraving on wood, is done at reasonable prizes. 1718.”
Also at Harvard, in Houghton Library, is a framed copy of Nathaniel Hurd’s Harvard bookplate, printed in red. On the back of the frame is the following extract from a letter of President Holyoke to Thomas Hollis, July 9, 1766 (Blackburne’s Memoirs of Thomas Hollis, 11, 603): “. . .there is pasted on the inside of the cover of each of your boks [sic] the inclosed, cut in black as to those of them we suffer to be lent out, and in red as to those we think too precious for loan, which those gentlemen who want them may consult in the library, we having all conveniences for that purpose, and the Librarian always ready to attend them.”
Colonial American printmaking is one area of English provincial printmaking of the years from 1670 to 1775. For this reason, the series Engraving in England, begun by A. M. Hind, will begin to be of great value to students of early American prints, provided it can be continued in additional volumes. Three volumes have been issued: Volume i (Tudor), Volume ii (James I), and Volume iii (Charles I). American students continue to concentrate on sources at home and on printed sources; we work far too infrequently in London, and to date have learned little or nothing of the English careers of some of the printmakers who came over to try their skills in the colonial cities.
Roderick D. Stinehour, who participated in the conference, has designed and composed this volume at The Stinehour Press. Although E. Harold Hugo was unable to attend because of absence in England, he has more than played his part through the subsequent work of The Meriden Gravure Company. As the Editor was also in England until the last day of March, he is grateful to the Recording Secretary not only for coping with final details of the conference but for carrying a large share of the production of this volume.
Walter Muir Whitehill
Sinclair H. Hitchings
87 Mount Vernon Street
September 7, 1971