One of the most popular, and valuable, types of antique prints are American historical prints. These include images of battles, portraits of important figures, and historical allegories. From the eighteenth century and into the early twentieth, historical prints have been published related to almost every American historical event or person and this provides a fertile field for collectors or those simply interested in American history. Luckily there are a number of excellent references which cover these prints. There have been many published on particular individuals (e.g. Lincoln) or particular events (e.g. the Civil War), but there are also some fine references that are more general. Today I will discuss those I would recommend in particular to those interested in the subject. A couple of these works are out-of-print, but can be found on the internet or in good libraries.
Political prints form one of the largest types of historical prints and luckily there is a terrific book which documents this type of print based on the collections in the Library of Congress (which has the largest collection of such prints in the world). This is Bernard F. Reilly’s American Political Prints. 1766 – 1876. This wonderful book documents and illustrates the thousands of political prints in the LoC, each entry including an insightful analysis of the subject matter of the print. This is a good thing, as many of the political events/personalities depicted are now quite obscure and the symbolism not readily understandable to us today. The work begins with a Paul Revere engraving from 1766 related to the Stamp Act and ends over 600 pages later with a pro-Democratic campaign cartoon from 1878. This book is currently out of print.
Portraits of U.S. Presidents have been popular since Washington, with individual prints and series produced in engravings and lithographs of all sizes and quality. Noble E. Cuningham’s excellent Popular Images of the Presidency from Washington to Lincoln is the standard work on the topic. It documents and illustrates a wide range of Presidential prints, putting them into the context of their historic period and the history of print publishing.
E. McSherry Fowble’s Two Centuries of Prints in America 1680-1880 is an insightful documentation and analysis of prints from the Winterthur Museum Collection. It covers many more types of prints than simply historical ones, but there are many on this topic included and the descriptions of the prints made both in Europe and America explain the prints and put them into the wider context of American history and culture. This book is currently out of print.
These are an excellent place for someone interested in American historical prints to start. Beyond these, most of the print references are about specific topics and of these are there many terrific ones. This is a field of research that is booming and each year seems to produce a new crop of fine references. I'll be discussing new publications as they appear.