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Engraved Views

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Copper Plate engravings of the 18th and early 19th centuries

Vues d'Optique or Perspective Views:

Perspective views, or "vues d'optique," are a special type of popular print published in Europe during the 18th century. These prints provided a form of entertainment when viewed through a device called an "optical machine" or an "optique." The most characteristic feature of the perspective views is their emphasized linear perspective, done to further intensify the enhanced appearance of depth and illusionistic space in the prints when viewed through an optique. When displayed in the optique, the prints might transport the viewer into a far away place---an unknown city, or perhaps into the midst of a dramatic bit of contemporary history. Another attribute of these prints is their bright, often crude hand coloring, applied boldly so as to show the tints when viewed through the lens.

A number of perspective prints depicted American scenes at the time of the Revolution for a European audience hungry for news of the events in the British colonies. These images are supposed to show New York, though none is based on any actual New York view, and no buildings or docks such as those shown existed anywhere the city. However, the intent of thise prints was more to present a graphic picture for the viewer's interest rather than to record an accurate historical scene. As documents of American history and European printmaking, these are unusual and appealing eighteenth-century prints.


Prints from The Port Folio:

A series of early American engravings from The Port Folio. This was a new type of American magazine, "Devoted to Useful Science, the Liberal Arts, Legitimate Criticism, and Polite Literature." It was a product of the new century, appearing first in January 1801. It began as a weekly issue until 1809, when it became monthly until its demise at the end of 1827. As with the many magazines that followed it, the fine views from The Port Folio are some of the most unusual and early American-made views of the country, and they form an important series of documents from the first three decades of the nineteenth century.

View from Riker's Island "View of East-River or Sound, taken from Riker's Island, with a distant view of the Seat of Joshua Washington Esqr." December 1810. 3 5/8 x 6 1/4. Engraved by Peter Maverick. Stauffer: 2240. $175

Mitchel Light House Inderwick. "The Mitchel-Light-House on Sands's Point in Long Island Sound." October 1811. 3 1/2 x 6. Engraving by Leney. $225

Characteristic Scenery, Hudson River "Characteristic Scenery of the Hudson River." [Palissades, New York.] May 1812. 3 3/8 x 6 1/2. $150


William Birch City of New York
William Birch. "The City of New York in the State of New York North America." Philadelphia: William Birch, 1803. 18 13/16 x 23 15/16 (image). Engraved by Samuel Seymour. Expertly repaired tear into image. Second state of three. Very scarce. Hand color. Else, very good condition. Deak: 245.

In order to promote the publication of his famous portfolio of views of Philadelphia, The City of Philadelphia, William Birch decided to have a large view of Philadelphia engraved. Due to the popularity of his views of Philadelphia, Birch contemplated to produce a similar set of views of New York City and in advance he published this large view. Birch advertised these two large views "as elegant furniture for a drawing or setting room, which will serve as references for amusement to the two volumes, when conversation or entertainment of more consequence should cease to be the subject of a party." Unfortunately, the New York series was never published due to financial concerns. The very scarce nature of this large print indicates that not many were produced.

The view of the city is from a grassy lawn at sunset on Long Island. Three states of this print were issued with the first state being identified by a horse grazing in the foreground. In the second state the horse was replaced with a picnic party. The third state is identified by the addition of a publication line "William H. Morgan" just under the image. Morgan acquired this plate and re-struck the image along with the large Philadelphia view around 1820. Overall, a very rare and early view of New York City. $19,500

Mechanics and Tradesmen's Certificate
Charles Canda. Certificate of membership in "General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen." N.Y., ca. 1820s, but printed in the 1850s. Engraving by B. Tanner. 16 3/4 x 21 1/4 (neatlines) with complete margins. Excellent except for two vertical folds, probably as issued.

This Society was founded in 1785 as a mutual help for workmen and their families in sickness and distress. It took the present title in 1786 and was chartered by the State of New York in 1792. The 1802 erection of the then new and present City Hall was accomplished primarily by the members of this society. In 1810 it founded the Mechanics Bank, and in 1820 the Mechanics and Tradesmen School with its library was founded. It continues to operate today as a society for mechanics and architects. The library is famous and the second oldest in New York city.

This certificate is not original but probably printed from the original plate and folded into a book or magazine. It is a lovely allegory to illustrate the functions of the society in the 1820s. A widow receives a money purse from a member while another shows an orphan the way to the school. In the background is a steamship and shipbuilding, both staples of the New York economy. A handsome eagle holds a ribbon around an oval that was probably intended for a wax seal. In four corners putti engage in manufacturing and agriculture. $350


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©The Philadelphia Print Shop, Ltd. Last updated September 13, 2016