Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Shaping the Trans-Mississippi West: 1830-39

As described in the previous blog from this series, by 1830, three relatively small political entities (two states and a territory) had been created in the original Louisiana Purchase of 1803. The remainder of the purchase lands, now called the Missouri Territory, was mostly occupied by Indian tribes. Some of these Native Americans had been located in the trans-Mississippi West for a long time, but many had been pushed west relatively recently by the advance of EuroAmericans from the east coast ever westward. Still, there were significant Indian populations east of the Mississippi, especially in the southeastern part of the United States.

From the beginning of their settlement in the southeast, EuroAmericans saw the five “civilized tribes” (Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek and Seminole) as impediments in the way of their desire for land. Beginning in the second decade of the nineteenth century, military and political pressure was brought by the U.S. government to get those tribes to give up their land in the southeast in exchange for new lands in the Missouri Territory. By the 1820s, much of the Indian land in the southeast was under government control, though few Native Americans had actually moved across the Mississippi.

In 1830, Andrew Jackson pushed the Indian Removal Act through Congress in order to enable to government to "remove" these tribes from the southeast to the trans-Mississippi West. This was supposed to be voluntary, but even more pressure was put on the tribes to accept this removal. Over the next decade, these tribes signed treaties or were forced by military action to move west, and by the end of the decade, most Native Americans from the southeast had moved across the Mississippi.

In order to try to protect the Native Americans in their new lands, and of course also to keep them contained, the Indian Intercourse Act was passed in 1834, setting aside for the Indians "…all that part of the United States west of the Mississippi and not within the states of Missouri and Louisiana, or the territory of Arkansas…". That is, essentially all of the Missouri Territory, encompassing the original Louisiana Purchase excepting the three political entitles which had been created in the previous decade.

Most of the land granted to the “removed” Indians was in the southern region, to the west of Arkansas, though there were many other tribes in the more northern parts of the territory. Replaying the previous history of the relationship between the U.S. government and Native Americans, however, this vast Indian territory was regularly whittled down in size through the rest of the century. For instance, just two years after the Indian Intercourse Act, the Sac & Fox tribes were convinced to give back the lands between the state of Missouri and the Missouri river, moving the northwestern border of the state to the west.

The original “Northwest Territory” comprised those lands west of Pennsylvania, north of the Ohio River and east of the Mississippi. By the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, this territory was to be broken up into states and smaller territories as the population increased.

In 1818, when Indiana and Illinois were made states, the remainder of the original Northwest Territory became the Michigan Territory (essentially today’s Michigan, Wisconsin and the eastern part of Minnesota).

In 1834, the Michigan Territory was expanded to include those parts of the Louisiana Purchase north of the state of Missouri and east of the Missouri River, that is, including what today are the rest of Minnesota, Iowa and the eastern parts of the Dakota’s.

In 1836, Arkansas was admitted as the twenty-fifth state. As the thirteenth slave state, this gave slavery proponents an advantage in Congress, so it was decided that a new, free state of Michigan would be admitted (which it was in January 1837). The entire Michigan Territory was too large to be admitted as a state, so in the summer of 1836, the western part of the territory (today’s Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and the eastern parts of Dakota) was broken off as the Wisconsin Territory.

Just two years later, the parts of the Wisconsin Territory that were west of the Mississippi were broken off as the Iowa Territory. This new territory, then, encompassed all the lands between the Missouri and the Mississippi Rivers from the state of Missouri north to the Canadian border. The Wisconsin Territory was reduced to just those parts east of the Mississippi, that had been part of the original Northwest Territory, a situation which continued until 1848 when Wisconsin was made a state with its current borders.

Thus, in 1839, the trans-Mississippi United States consisted of three states hugging the river—Louisiana, Arkansas and Missouri, the territory of Iowa, lying between the Missouri and Mississippi, and a large Indian territory lying between these states and territory and the continental divide. Besides this, a vast area north of Mexico and west of the continental divide, called by the Americans the Oregon Country, was in theory jointly administered by Great Britain and the United States. The story of that region will be the subject of the next blog on shaping the trans-Mississippi west.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Getting an appraisal

I get a lot of queries about how to get a print or map appraised or whether one is "worth having appraised." The Philadelphia Print Shop's web site does have a page about appraisals, but it seems like it is worth going over some of the issues in this blog.

First, I should explain that while I give "free appraisals" on Antique Roadshow, this is a special circumstance. I do this because it is fun, it gets my shop lots of good publicity, and it helps spread information about and create interest in antiques, including prints and maps. Otherwise, I do not give free appraisals, because I am a professional appraiser. Since I charge clients for appraisals, it isn't fair to turn around and give out the same information for free (except in the case of the Roadshow).

The main issue, though, is why get an appraisal? I think in most cases where people are asking for an appraisal, they really just want some idea of what the item is worth. I can understand this, but I feel that even if I am giving only an off-the-cuff dollar value, this is still an appraisal and there should be at least some charge in order to make it fair to all our clients. I do offer general "ballpark valuations," but these are not actual values, but rather a general idea of whether a print is of just "decorative" value, or "moderate" value, or "significant" value, etc. If an actual dollar value is involved, then it is really an appraisal, or at least what we call a "POV" (professional opinion of value), for which the charges are less.

So, when is it appropriate to pay to get a dollar value? Just because you are curious? In most cases this doesn't warrant actually spending money. If you are really curious, maybe a POV is appropriate, but otherwise, you can perhaps satisfy your curiosity by searching on the web to see if you can find your print/map or something similar. There are also books of price records, which some libraries have, so if you put in a bit of work, you might be able to get an idea without having to pay for an appraisal.

Probably the most common reason I get asked for an "appraisal" is because someone wants to sell the print/map and wants to get an idea of what to sell it for. In general it doesn't make sense to pay for an appraisal before you try to sell an item. First, you might not gain enough advantage from the appraisal to recover the cost of the appraisal. Secondly, even if you ask for an appraisal indicating a wholesale price, each dealer figures wholesale prices differently depending on the nature of their business, their needs, cash flow, etc. Thus it is very difficult to come up with a wholesale price that would apply to a general range of dealers. Finally, as a matter of ethics, a dealer should not both give an appraisal and make an offer (as that is a conflict of interest), so if you get an appraisal, you are eliminating one possible purchaser.

One way to get an idea of what to sell something for is to ask a dealer what he would offer for the item, or to ask an auction house what they think it would bring at auction. It is not, in my opinion, fair to do this unless you honestly might sell the item to the dealer or through the auction house, but if the offer/estimate is too low, you certainly do not need to sell the item. If you intend to sell it yourself, then set a minimum price that you are willing to take and let the market decide if that is reasonable. If you are afraid of selling too cheaply, then maybe you ought to deal with a professional dealer or auction house.

Another fairly common reason to ask for an appraisal is to get an idea of how the print should be treated. Really, no matter what a print or map is worth, if you do not treat it well, it will not survive, so if you like it, you should treat it well (museum quality framing, etc.) so it will survive, no matter what it is worth. This is also why I will give out our ballpark valuations, so the owner will have some idea of what they have.

As for estate, tax or insurance reasons, then it is really best to get a real appraisal and pay for it. If there is ever a question, having an appraisal from a professional appraiser will give you a solid foundation to maintain the value you have assigned the object.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Chon-Man-I-Case, portrait of a chief

In the nineteenth century, Native American names were not written down by the Indians themselves, so the names as documented by Euro-Americans were either phonetic approximations or nicknames used as a matter of convenience. Thus it is that the Oto chief pictured above had his name written as “Chon-Man-I-Case,” in this print from Thomas McKenney’s History of the Indian Tribes of North America, but also as “Shaumonekusse,” which is the spelling that James Hall preferred in his biography. This chief was also called the Prairie Wolf and L’Ietan, the latter name used by the French perhaps because of an exploit he had against the Ietan tribe.

The Oto tribe originally came from what is today Wisconsin, but by the late eighteenth century had settled along the Missouri and Platte Rivers in today’s Nebraska. It was there that Shaumonekusse was born about 1785 and there that the tribe was located on the map which accompanied McKenney’s volume. When Stephen Long’s expedition passed through that area in 1819, Shaumonekusse was one of the warriors who described to the exploring party his martial exploits, which involved taking coup and stealing horses from many other tribes.

Just a couple years later, in 1821-22, a large delegation of plains Indians, from the Pawnee, Sauk, Fox, Sioux, Miami, Menominee, Chippewa and Oto tribes, went to Washington to meet with government officials, including President James Monroe. This was part of the government’s policy of both honoring and impressing Native American leaders so that they would be more malleable in making treaties (and giving up their rights). Shaumonekusse, though only a “half chief” (that is a minor chief) at the time, was part of the delegation along with one of his wives, Hayne Hudjihini, or Eagle of Delight.

At this time, Thomas McKenney was head of the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs. McKenney was a champion of American Indians and fought throughout his tenure to preserve something of their culture, which he recognized as an integral part of the history of America. Towards this end he started a collection of Indian memorabilia for the government and took advantage of the visit of this large delegation to have a number of the visitor's portraits painted.

McKenney convinced some of the members of the delegation, including both Shaumonekusse and Hayne Hudjihini, to go to the studio of the leading Washington portrait painter Charles Bird King, to sit for their portraits. This was the beginning of the government's Indian portrait gallery, which grew considerably in size during McKenney’s tenure. After McKenney was dismissed from his position, he borrowed the original paintings in order to produce illustrations for his planned History.

After many ups and downs, lasting over a decade, this monumental work was completed containing 120 prints (all but three portraits) and biographies, written by James Hall, of many of the individuals pictured. Lithographic copies of both Shaumonekusse's and Hayne Hudjihini’s portraits were included. It turned out to be a good thing that McKenney undertook this project and produced these copies, for in 1865, a fire at the Smithsonian destroyed almost all the original paintings.

Shaumonekusse’s biography in the History, says of him that he “was distinguished early in life as a daring, active and successful warrior.” And according to Hall, he rose to his position as chief, not through heredity, but “gradually by his own merits.”

An interesting story, of which there are a number of versions, tells how Shaumonekusse and his brother, Blue Eyes, fought each other over ownership of some ponies, during which Blue Eyes bit off the end of his brother’s nose! Shaumonekusse retreated to his lodging to recover and try to cool off, but in the morning he was still furious, telling his brother that he was going to kill him, an act which he shortly thereafter carried out. Though Shaumonekusse was said to be distraught by this, according to Hall it was this act of revenge, which was widely approved by his tribe, which led to Shaumonekusse’s rise to being a full chief.

The portrait of Shaumonekusse shows a proud warrior, wearing an impressive bear-claw necklace and headdress with bison horns, both indicating his great prowess. He also hears a presidential medal, with Monroe’s likeness on it, given to him when he visited the president.

The portrait of Shaumonekusse was one of the first prints produced for the McKenney History, some time around 1830. As the production of the History ran its convoluted way towards completion in 1844, a number of portraits, including this one, were redrawn on stone and reissued. Usually the later images were a bit more “polished” or Europeanized, as can be seen by comparing the image above the previous paragraph, published in 1836 by E.C. Biddle, with the one just above, published in 1838 by F.W. Greenough.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Library Company of Philadelphia Print Department

The last few months have been very busy, with a number of antique shows and other travel (I am off on Sunday for the Theta Show in Houston), so my blog postings have fallen off. I just got an email that announced a new on-line exhibit which I thought I should take the time to pass on...

One of my first blogs was about the wonderful Library Company of Philadelphia. I love it here in Denver, but I do miss some things from the East Coast. Its wonderful institutions being one of the main things I miss and the Library Company is at the head of the list of these institutions.

The Library Company always had prints, but it wasn't until 1971 that they appointed Stephanie Munsing as the first Curator of Prints and Photographs. The new on-line exhibition celebrates the 40 years of this department. It demonstrates better than any remarks I can make what a great department this is. Take a look!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Breaking books

We get questions almost every day about values (and please note that this blog is not the place for questions about value of specific items!). Today I got two questions related to the same topic: viz. whether a book with prints in it was more valuable as a whole or with the plates taken out and sold individually.

I thought I would address this issue in this blog, partly because the economics of it are somewhat interesting, but also because it is part of a larger topic which I find very interesting: breaking books. I have thought much about this general topic and do plan to write a blog on my thoughts at some time (I have a general inclination against breaking books, though I am not against it in all cases), but today I'll just consider the economics of the situation.

The value of a book (and I include portfolios in the category for this discussion) does have a lot to do with the value of its prints. Any book with valuable prints is going to be valuable itself. Obviously if the prints can be sold for a lot individually, there is a value for the book itself to anyone who might take it apart to sell the prints.

This is often called the "break up" value of the book, and basically it is a factor of the value of each print multiplied by how many prints there are. Now this is predicated on the notion that the prints would be sold for a profit, so obviously the factor used is less than one (so a book with 10 prints worth $100 each is worth less than $1,000 in break up value).

This isn't just that whoever is breaking the book for the prints has to make a profit on each print, but there is the question of the costs of selling the prints. In most books there is a range of how desirable the various prints are, which means that the prints are often priced a different points, but also that some prints are easy to sell (even at a higher price) and some very difficult to sell (even at a lower price).

However an individual figures this all out, this determines the "break up" value of a book. This is often the value at which a book will minimally sell at auction, for there usually are at least some buyers who would be interested in a plate book for its potential as a "breaker."

There are naturally other factors involved in the value of a book besides its plates. These can include scarcity, collectibility , quality of binding, and many other things. While the "break up" value of a book is often the minimal amount it will sell for, a book will often sell for more than that. For instance, the recent sale of a complete first edition of John James Audubon's Birds of America for about $11.5 million is fairly clearly well above any "break up" value.

Still, in many cases, there is a lot more money to be made by selling all the prints individually than from the sale of a book as a whole. So, how should I respond to the people asking whether they should sell their book as a whole or break it and sell the prints? The answer is not that clear even just on a financial basis, ignoring the other questions such as whether it is ok ever to break a complete book.

There are many costs involved in selling prints. A book can usually be sold just as is, but a print often needs to be "prepared" before selling (such as matting it or framing it). And it generally takes more effort to find buyers for multiple items than for one item. A book is a single sale; it can be put on ebay or put at a regular auction or sold to a dealer and the money received right away.

Selling a lot of prints takes much more time. If you put them all up for sale at once, say at an auction, they can saturate the market and thus drive their value down. Of if you put them out for sale at a gallery or flea market or whatever, some are likely to sell fairly quickly, but others can take a lot of time. This means that it takes more effort and the money comes in over a longer period of time. $10 today vs. $50 in two years is not such a clear cut choice.

And some of the prints might not even sell at all. The Alexander Wilson bird prints are mostly very attractive, but it isn't easy to sell the vulture print with the dead sheep in it! Or atlases, where the maps of American can sell quickly, but one might be looking for a buyer for the map of the lower Rhine for a long time.

I guess if you like the idea of setting up a gallery or going to flea markets to sell the prints, then it can make more sense, but it more often makes financial sense for a non-professional to sell a book complete (not to mention all the non-financial reasons to keep books together!).

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Botanical prints by William Curtis

Early botanical prints are generally quite desirable both for collectors and those wishing to use them as decoration. They can be found uncolored, colored by hand, or printed in color, and in many different sizes, not to mention price ranges.

The prints found on the market generally range in date the sixteenth through the nineteenth century, with each period have its own typical style. Many love the boldness of the late nineteenth-century chromolithographs or the texture of the early nineteenth-century stipple prints, but my favorite botanicals are the engravings of the late eighteenth-century, especially those that are hand colored. Some of these can be fairly expensive, but the majority remain quite affordable. Some of the most reasonably priced, attractive and historically important of these prints are those done by William Curtis.

William Curtis (1746-1799) moved to London as a young man to become an apprentice to an apothecary, but his true love was botany and other natural history. He soon gave up his apprenticeship and took to a career as a natural scientist. His first work, which he produced at age 25, was Instructions for collecting and preserving insects; particularly moths and butterflies. In 1772, Curtis was appointed as Demonstrator of Botany to the Society of Apothecaries at the Chelsea Physic Garden and in 1779 Curtis established his own London Botanic Garden, where he cultivated about six thousand species of plants.

One of Curtis' particular interest were those plants growing within London. That interest led him, beginning in 1777, to work on a huge, multi-volume work, Flora Londinensis; or Plates and Descriptions of such Plants as Grow Wild in the Environs of London, intended to describe and illustrate every plant growing in London. This publication, which was completed in 1799 in six volumes, contained text and a folio engraving of each plant.

The Flora Londinensis was of high quality and very informative, and received excellent reviews. However, it was expensive for Curtis to produce, which meant it had a high price. Also, as it was a heavily scientific work focused on mostly humble plants growing along streets and in the fields of London, it had a somewhat limited market. Sales were not good, Curtis' costs were high, and after two volumes, he was debt-ridden.

In order to make some money, Curtis came up with the idea of a magazine to illustrate and describe the many attractive and exotic plants becoming available to gardeners in England. Thus was born, in 1787, his The Botanical Magazine; or Flower-Garden Displayed, a monthly publication with each issue containing a description and a hand-colored engraving of three plants.

As Curtis explained in the first issue, “The Botanical Magazine’ owes its commencement to the repeated solicitations of several ladies and gentlemen subscribers to the author’s botanic garden, who were frequently lamenting the want to work, which might enable them not to enquire a systematic knowledge of foreign plants growing in their gardens, but which might at the same time afford them the best information respecting their culture."

The Botanical Magazine, unlike the Flora Londinensis, was a huge commercial success. Its small size, bright flowers, and the fact that payments for each issue were quite modest, made it very popular. Curtis sold thousands of copies of each issue, the money helping him to continue work on his folio work: he is said to have remarked that each of his publications brought either “pudding or praise.”

Such was its success that Curtis’s Botanical Magazine, as it became known, became the longest running botanical magazine ever; despite a few hiatuses, it is still in publication by the Royal Botanic Gardens. The first thirty volumes used copper engravings, with later images being done by lithography and then later by photomechanical processes. Until the mid-twentieth century the prints were all hand colored.

All of the Botanical Magazine prints have a charm and attractiveness (not to mention accurate detail), but the earliest ones, those that are the engravings from the eighteenth century, are the most appealing. These prints are generally available at reasonable prices and make for great gifts and decoration, with their visual appeal and fascinating history. One of the interesting things about these prints is that they are numbered in sequence from the first print on and each is labeled with the month and year it was produced.

The larger prints from the Flora Londinensis generally do not have quite as much “petal power,” but they too are very attractive, historically interesting, and modestly priced. Curtis’ prints are a nice place to start for the beginning collector or anyone wanting some historical art for their walls.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Shaping the Trans-Mississippi West: 1820-29

As described in the previous blog about shaping the Trans-Mississippi West, at the beginning of 1820, the American West consisted of the state of Louisiana, the territory of Arkansas, and a vast Missouri Territory. That year, however, saw the beginning of an important change with the passage of one of the seminal acts of Congress in the nineteenth century, the Missouri Compromise. This compromise was precipitated primarily by the issues arising out of the nascent development of the American lands west of the Mississippi.

In the early nineteenth century, other than in the well-established state of Louisiana, most early settlement west of the Mississippi was centered on St. Louis. As the major center for trade and supplies for the lands to the west, St. Louis had grown to a city of over 10,000 citizens, with the region around steadily increasing in population as emigrants created new farms and towns.

In 1818, a petition was put forward to create a state of Missouri out of the southeastern part of the vast Missouri Territory. Slavery had been legal since the founding of the Missouri Territory, so the proposal was for the state of Missouri to come into the Union as a slave state. However, by this time the issue of slavery, and the expansion of slavery into newly formed states in the American West, had become a very controversial subject.

In 1818, there was a balance in Congress between the slave and free states and neither side was willing to give the other the advantage of a new state in their camp. Thus Northerners would not consider allowing Missouri to come in as a slave state without the simultaneous admittance of a free state. At this time, however, those in the District of Maine, then part of Massachusetts, were clamoring to be let in as a state, so in 1820 the compromise was reached that Maine would be admitted as a free state at the same time Missouri would come in as a slave state.

The Missouri Comprise also had another element which was important in the development of the American West, the prohibition of new slave states (other than Missouri) north of the 36.30 degree parallel line. This line was the northern border of North Carolina and Tennessee and it was considered something of a dividing line between the North and South. Northern Congressmen would allow Missouri, located above the line, to come in as a slave state, but were not interested in allowing any more slave states above that line.

So it was that in 1821, the southeastern part of the Missouri Territory was admitted as the state of Missouri. The western border was on a line run due north-south from the junction of the Kansas and Missouri Rivers, with the northern border coming off of this line 100 miles above the rivers' junction. If you look at a map of Missouri today, the north western part of the state is not a straight north-south line, for the Platte Purchase of 1835 added to the state what in 1821 was still Indian territory.

In 1821, the rest of the old Missouri Territory became officially unorganized U.S. Territory and it was essentially territory claimed by various Indian tribes. Meanwhile, the U.S. Government was busy trying to move eastern Indian tribes to west of the Mississippi, including the Choctaw, who by the 1820 Treaty of Doak’s Stand, were given land in what was then the western part of Arkansas Territory.

In 1824, in order to separate the Choctaw and other tribes’ lands from the Euro-American settlements in eastern Arkansas, the Arkansas Territory was essentially cut in half, with the new western border starting at a point 40 miles west of the southwest corner of Missouri, and then running due south to the Red River. However, this meant that much of the Choctaw lands was still within the Arkansas Territory and the Choctaw were not ready to give up this territory.

After considerable negotiation (some of it likely more intimidation), the Choctaw agreed to move a bit further west. The United States wanted the new western border to run straight south from the southwest corner of Missouri, but the Choctaw insisted on their land extending to within 100 paces west of the Fort Smith, so the final border ran slightly southeast from the corner of Missouri to just west of Fort Smith and from thence due south.

The boundary changes in the decade from 1820 to 1829 where not many—-the creation of the state of Missouri and the truncating of the Arkansas Territory-—but the Missouri Compromise would continue to reverberate in the history of the American West in the decades to come. The story of the development of the American West continues in the next blog in this series.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Early Denver Prints & Photographs

I continue to work on my research of early views of Denver and one of the issues I find interesting is the role of photography. The first settlement in what would eventually become Denver was in late 1858. This was just about the time when photography was becoming a more practical medium for recording images. Photographers were beginning to travel around the world to take photographs of major events, for instance the Crimean War, and of distant places, of which the American West would become a favorite.

In the mid-19th century, photography had practical limits in terms of what it could capture. Motion was a problem, so rarely were action “events” portrayed; rather early photographs tended to be of posed portraits, buildings, or landscapes. Also, photographs had a difficulty in showing distant detail, so panoramic images were rarely successful and most photographs focused on a narrow scene, for instance of a building or a street scene.

The Pike’s Peak gold rush, as it was called, began as a trickle in late 1858, but was in full flood by the spring of 1859. In early 1859, a saloon, hotel, sawmill, and newspaper had all appeared in Denver, which had a population of about 1,000. Also, by that summer at least one photographer was in the city recording its rude beginnings. We know this because in the June 11, 1859 issue of the Denver Rocky Mountain News, this report appeared,
“Pike’s Peak.—We observed the other day Mr. Welch, the artist, taking views with the apparatus [a camera] in and around the cities of Denver and Auraria to illustrate Frank Leslie’s Pictorial. Mr. W., we understand, is going into the mountain mines for the same purpose. We doubt not but the views taken from the summit of the Rocky Mountains will grace the pages of the pictorial with delicate sublimity.”

No Mr. Welch is listed as being a resident of Denver and though there are various Welch’s listed as photographers in this period in other cities, it is not clear which of these, if any, was the Mr. Welch in Denver in 1859. It seems that Mr. Welch was part of a group sent by Frank Leslie to chronicle the Pike’s Peak gold rush for his Illustrated Newspaper (an earlier article with images on the gold rush appeared in the April 30 issue) and his photographs were used as the basis of prints in the paper, for in the August 20, 1859 issue was an article, and three pages with eight illustrations entitled “Scenes and Sketches at Pike’s Peak.—From Photographs by our own Correspondent.”

One of the images was a scene of a party of miners, two showed camps of the Leslie’s party and the other five images were scenes of Denver. These are, in fact, the very first printed images of Denver. Perhaps all, but certainly some of these wood engraved views are based on Welch's photographs. The images of the Rocky Mountain News office and of the Leavenworth and Pike’s Peak Co.’s office are very photographic in nature and their source gives them a solid historic authenticity.

These images are a good example of the intelligent use of the different strengths of the two processes of photography and print making. Photography could provide a precisely accurate image of a place, but it was impossible to widely disseminate the image through photography. Newspaper prints, on the other hand, were printed in huge numbers, so transferring the photographic image to a wood engraving allowed the accurate photographic image to be distributed in the tens of thousands.

In the case of these first prints of Denver, none of the original photographs are known to exist, but there is another example of an early Denver wood engraving where the photograph is known. It is interesting to look at these two images.

The wood engraving is from a French magazine entitled Le Tour Du Monde issued in 1868. This included various accounts of travel around the world and one of the accounts was that of Louis L. Simonin, a mining engineer who visited Colorado and Wyoming in 1867. This account was accompanied by a number of interesting prints, some based on original sketches and others based on photographs. One of the latter is entitled “Vue de la ville de Denver.”

This is an interesting and unusual ‘view of Denver.’ It looks out over the back yards of a number of buildings, which allows only a fairly limited view of the streets beyond. Not what one usually would expect from someone trying to give an idea of the appearance of a city.

This makes sense if one realizes that it is based on a photograph of Denver which may have been the only image the publisher had access to. The photograph in question was copyrighted in 1864 by one of the photographers from Denver in the 1860’s, G.D. Wakely. The reason that this strangely composed photograph was taken was not to show the backyards and streets of Denver, but rather to show the devastating flood of Cherry Creek, which can be seen in the background of the photograph.

If you look closely at the wood engraving, you can see the flood, though it is impossible to know what you are seeing unless you are looking for it. Why did the publisher of Le Tour Du Monde use this photograph as the one image of Denver in the article? Probably simply because it was available and he may have had no access to any other scene of the city. The Denver Public Library has a number of versions of this photograph, indicating that it was probably fairly widely disseminated, for a photograph, and the wood engraving in the magazine would have distributed it even more widely, though probably to an audience which had no idea about the actual subject matter!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Indian prints by W.M. Cary

Next week I am heading off for another Antiques Roadshow taping, this time in Tulsa, Oklahoma. For those interested in western art, this means one thing: the Gilcrease Museum, one of the greatest museums of the art of the West.

My pending visit to Tulsa, together with our recent acquisition of a good collection of prints of the American West from Harper's Weekly, got me thinking about William de la Montagne Cary (1840-1922), better known to print collectors as W.M. Cary. That is because when Cary died, a large collection of his paintings and drawings were acquired by Thomas Gilcrease and they now reside at the Gilcrease Museum.

Cary was one of the significant contributors to the depiction of the American West in illustrated newspapers. His Western prints appeared beginning in the late 1860s and then continuing in subsequent decades, mostly in Harper's Weekly, but also in Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper and other illustrated periodicals. Like most of his fellow Western illustrators, Cary based his drawings on his own experience in the American West.

Cary began his art career at age fourteen as an apprentice to a commercial engraver. By age 20, he had worked in watercolor and oil, done some sculpture and had contributed a number of drawings to illustrated periodicals, such as the Aldine. Though encouraged by his family to pursue his artistic career through formal study abroad, Cary decided he wanted to seek adventure in the American West.

In early 1861, with two friends, Cary set off on a “sporting expedition” to the West, traveling from St. Louis, aboard American Fur Company steamers, up the Missouri to Montana, surviving a fire and exploding boiler along the way. They spent six weeks at Fort Union, hunting and befriending the Indians camped around the fort. Then the young men joined a wagon train and set off to Fort Benton. Along the way they were captured and then released by a band of Crow Indians, and upon arriving at Fort Benton they stayed for another two weeks hunting and exploring the area. From thence the threesome set off by foot and horseback across the Rockies to Washington State, subsequently returning back to New York City about a year after they had set out.

In 1867, Cary went West again, where he painted portraits of George Custer and William “Buffalo Bill” Cody, the latter becoming a lifelong friend. In 1874, Cary made a last trip to the West, joining in with the U.S. Northern Boundary Survey Commission on the last part of their expedition.

In New York City, Cary had set up a studio and became a well-established artist, known particularly for his western themed art. Cary produced paintings and also a number of images which were made into lithographs, etchings and book plates. His most prolific work, however, were the images he provided for the illustrated publications.

His periodical illustrations are of considerable interest. Many were based on first-hand observations and others were “imaginary scenes suggested by events at the time of their depiction,” (Robert Taft, Artists and Illustrators of the Old West, p. 53) though always informed by his considerable experience in the West. With our recent acquisition of a group of Harper's Weekly wood-engravings of the West, I was particularly struck by W.M. Cary's images of Native Americans.

Relationships between the Plains Indians and the EuroAmerican emigrants from east of the Mississippi, who passed through and then into the region in increasing numbers, had been problematic from 1850s on, with an on-going series of conflicts scattered in among a regular succession of "wars" and treaties. With the discovery of gold and the building of railroads across the Plains, "Indian Wars" were a regular occurrence and readers in the East had an insatiable interest in news of the dramatic events on the frontier.

Accounts appeared in books and periodicals, but the most common form of visual information about the Indian affairs of the West were the wood engravings from the illustrated newspapers. Cary was one of the most prolific contributors to this body of images in the 1860s and 70s, and he probably was the artist whose drawings were the most dramatic. Thus, it is not unlikely that Cary's prints contributed a large element to the visual image that most EuroAmerican's had of the Native Americans.

So what were they like; what sort of image did Cary give on the American Indian? The sample is somewhat small and so my thoughts that follow are very speculative, but I think it is interesting see what we can discern by looking at Cary's prints.

The prints from the 1860s were drawn when Cary was still in his 20s and not long after he had lived through a number of his own adventures in the West. These prints show the Indians as blood-thirsty and with exotic customs. They are shown attacking a fort and a boat-load of trappers and sneaking up to ambush peaceful settlers. The centerpiece of his "Life of An Indian" shows a brave proudly holding up his "First Scalp," while other images show him hunting and undergoing the "Trial of Endurance." It should be noted that in this print there is a nice vignette of an Indian mother and infant and also of a brave playing a flute for his son. Still, the Cary images of this period emphasize the wild and war-like.

The prints from the 1870s do, I think, exhibit a different emphasis (that is excepting Cary's wonderful image from the Aldine in 1873, showing the results of an Indian attack on a Pike's Peak gold-rusher, illustrated at the bottom). In his prints from the 1870s, Cary shows more images of Indian life, such as a canoe race, breaking a pony, and dealing with death.

In 1874, Cary did produce two images entitled "Sketches of Indian Warfare," including a scene of the Scalp Dance, but the other engraving shows the Indian less threatening than threatened. A chief stands on his horse, raising his hand to try to stop a wagon train passing through his lands. The Indian, armed only with a bow, spear and tomahawk, is facing men clearly armed to the teeth with guns and a train of innumerable wagons. One gets the sense that Cary no longer saw the Indians as wild savages (though it is not clear he ever did, for the earlier emphasis may have been more for popular consumption than his true feelings), but as members a doomed culture worthy of trying to understand.