Birtsa Gilbert, Tennessee Photographer

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A collection of 800 snapshots turned up recently, donated to the Princeton University Library in June of 1944. Labeled: “People in the Appalachian Region,” they are the work of Birtsa B. Gilbert (1891-1969). The artist donated a second collection of the same (or very similar) prints to the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division in Washington, D.C.

10501997_831646500188445_3655323579386569913_nA native of Tennessee, Gilbert finished high school and then, enrolled in The Southern School of Photography, one of the first photography schools in the United States. William Spencer Lively (1855-1944) founded the McMinnville, Tennessee school, accepting an international roster of students, both men and women in equal numbers from 1904 to 1928. Unfortunately, a fire destroyed their building in 1928, ending classes.

Gilbert opened a photography studio in Kingsport at 800 Dale Street, where he specialized in portraits that could be printed on a postcard while you wait. According to his obituary, the teacher and photographer died after a long illness on July 23, 1969 and was buried in Goshen Valley Cemetery, in Hawkins County, Tennessee.

image006A small advertisement states:

“After an experience covering a period of eleven years in the conduct of the Southern School of Photography, the future of this school seems assured, and that it is bound to be a great benefit, not only to those who take up the practice of photography as a profession, but also to the entire fraternity, we feel confident.

To those who might wish further information not contained in this catalogue relative to the Southern School of Photography and the methods used in the rapid advancement of the students, the same will be furnished upon application. Southern School Of Photography, W. S. Lively, President.” The Photographic Journal of America, v 52 (1915)gilbert9

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The Ingenious Mathematician and Printer

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Display case in the American Wing of the MFA, Boston


The earliest American portrait print was drawn, cut, and pulled by the Boston artist and educator John Foster (1648-1681).

Born in South Boston, Foster was baptized by the Congregational minister Richard Mather (1596-1669). After graduating from Harvard College in the class of 1667, he became a teacher in the suburb of Dorchester. Foster taught himself printing and by 1675, left teaching to open a print shop on Boylston Street near Washington.

The Graphic Arts collection holds one impression of his first woodcut, a portrait of Richard Mather, printed soon after the minister’s death. There are five known impressions held in public institutions.


John Foster (1648-1681), Portrait of Richard Mather. Woodcut, ca. 1670. Given in memory of Frank Jewett Mather Jr. by his wife, his son, Frank Jewett Mather III, and his daughter, Mrs. Louis A. Turner. Graphic Arts Collection, GA 2006.00728

Foster died of tuberculosis in 1681 and was buried in the Dorchester cemetery not far from Mather’s grave. In the artist’s will funds were set aside to have a pair of ornate gravestones erected to his memory (the text is transcribed above). To preserve the carving, the stones have been removed from the graveyard and are now on view at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Mather’s stone can still be found in the cemetery.

At least two elegies were written in honor of John Foster; one by his friend and fellow Dorchester resident Thomas Tileston and the other by Joseph Capen, who graduated several years behind Foster at Harvard. A portion of Capen’s verse is below:

…The Heav’ns which God’s glory doe discover,
Have lost their constant Friend & instant Lover
Like Atlas, he help’t bear up that rare Art
Astronomy; & always took his part;
Most happy Soul who didst not there Sit down
But didst make after an eternal Crown
Sage Archimede! Second Bezaleell
Oh how didst thou in Curious works excel!
Thine Art & Skill deserve to See the Press,
And be Composed in a Printers dress.
Thy Name is worthy for to be enroll’d
In Printed Letters of the choicest Gold

…Thy Body which no activeness did lack
Now’s laid aside like an old Almanack
But for the present only’s out of date;
Twil have at length a far more active State.
Yea, though with dust thy body Soiled be,
Yet at the Resurrection we Shall See
A fair edition & of matchless worth,
Free from Errata, new in Heav’n Set forth:
Tis but a word from god the great Creatour,
It Shall be Done when he Saith IMPRIMATUR
–Joseph Cafen

Sinclair Hamilton, “Portrait of a Puritan, John Foster’s Woodcut of Richard Mather,” The Princeton University Library Chronicle 18, no.2 (Winter 1957): 43-48.

Gillett Griffin, “John Foster’s Woodcut of Richard Mather,” Printing & Graphic Arts 7, no. 1 (February 1959).

Samuel Abbott Green, John Foster: The Earliest American Engraver and the First Boston Printer (Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 1909).


Peter Platt wiping a plate

bacon platt2Peter J. Platt (1859-1934) was one of the few master intaglio printers in New York during the first decades of the 20th century. Many artists worked with him to edition their etchings and engravings, including John Sloan, Childe Hassam, and Peggy Bacon. Note the printer is smoking a pipe while wiping the plate, something that would not happen in contemporary print shops in this country.

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Peggy Bacon (1895-1987), Peter Platt Printing, 1929. Etching. Graphic Arts Collection GA 2007.00797


Louis Wolchonok, Peter Platt’s Printing Studio, 1926. Etching. Posted by The Old Print Shop, 2012.

Platt is said to have learned intaglio printing from his father, a mezzotint printer of the American Civil War era. Always willing to chat with the local artists to give advice or service as needed, Platt’s shop became a center of artistic activity. He began with a print studio at 109 Liberty Street and when that building was torn down, he moved to Barelay Street and again to Murray Street (where you had to climb a ladder to get to his attic space). During the 1920s, the shop was moved to the third floor of 23 East 14th Street (running through to 15th Street), where on any given day, several artists were likely to appear on the stairway hoping to have their plates pulled or impressions critiqued.

Platt was surprisingly successful as an artist and businessman, owning his own shop according to the census report. It was undoubtedly thanks to artists who demanded that only Platt be allowed to handle their copper plates. The master stood at his press night and day, winter and summer, until his death in 1934.

platt2In memoriam Peter J. Platt: b. January 29, 1859, d. August 1, 1934 ([New York : s.n.], 1935). “Two hundred and fifty copies of this monograph on Michel Angel hand-made paper, with frontispiece in gravure [above] from etching by Childe Hassam, have been printed for distribution to the friends of Peter J. Platt, by his daughter Emma Platt. December MCMXXXV.” signed by Emma Platt. Firestone NE2800.P6 H9

Childe Hassam (1859-1935), Catalogue of the etchings and dry-points of Childe Hassam with an introduction by Royal Cortissoz (New York, London: C. Scribner’s sons, 1925). Copy 305 of 400. Graphic Arts Collection Oversize ND237.H24 A32q. Includes a print.

Bedlam continues

bedlam in trianon2Attributed to Filibert Bouttats the Younger (1675-after 1736), Vacarme au Trianon = Alarm in ‘t Spinhuys [Bedlam at Trianon = Alarm in the House of Correction for Prostitutes], 1706. Engraving and letterpress. Graphic Arts Collection GAX 2015- in process
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The Graphic Arts Collection recently acquired a Dutch broadside satirizing the French forces after their defeat at the Battle of Ramillies and the unsuccessful siege of Barcelona. It is a plate from one of three publications, consisting of 19 images. The Rijksmuseum holds four variations of the satire and describes the scene as a “cartoon on the French king Louis XIV who becomes ill after eating too harsh Spanish nuts.” The British Museum offers three impressions. Here is a quote from their description:

In the foreground, the king [Sonneman or Sun man] (1) is collapsed on the ground surrounded by his mistresses, Louise de la Vallière (2) in nun’s habit, Madame de Montespan (3) and Madame de Maintenon (4), who attempt to console him. In the background, Philip of Anjou (5) tears his hair, the Comte de Toulouse (6) stands beside him and Marshal Tessé (7) dressed as a blind beggar with a crutch, holds out a letter. Behind the group is a well-dressed woman (8) described as the keeper of the house of correction (i.e., the “Trianon”). At lower right Père La Chaise grasps the king’s sceptre with his right hand, and with his left picks up coins from the floor; two rats climb over broken masonry beside the king’s knees.

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The artist’s signature “Ph.B.” at the bottom of the print refers to the Flemish printmaker Filibert Bouttats the Younger (1675–after 1736), but as with all satirical broadsides, this information should not to be taken as fact. The Rijksmuseum suggests that the work is from the circle of the Dutch artist Romeyn de Hooghe (1645–1708). The National Gallery of Art mounted an excellent show “From the Library: The Book Illustrations by Romeyn de Hooghe,” in 2014 with a small publication now available at:

Fencing Update


Six years ago, we posted this engraving entitled The Assaut, or Fencing Match, which took place at Carton House on the 9th of April, 1787, a gift from Dickson Q. Brown, Class of 1895. It has been a popular print both for the image and the subject. Charles Geneviève Louis Auguste André Timothée d’Éon de Beaumont (1728-1810), commonly known as the Chevalier d’Eon, lived the first half of his life as a man and the second half as a woman. He also served as a spy to Louis XV,


Thanks to recent communication with Malcolm Fare, who established Britain’s National Fencing Museum in 2002, we have new information on this print. Fare’s collection includes “a library of over 300 books, 250 paintings and prints, 200 weapons, numerous masks, kit, trophies, posters, programmes, medals, stamps, postcards and other ephemera.” He also owns several copies of this print, in it various impressions and has helped to identify the one held by Princeton. His comments are posted with his permission.



“The print shown on the Princeton website with its caption in English is actually a restrike issued in the 1840s of the original Gillray print published in 1787. I have both. The original has Gillray’s name below the bottom left-hand corner and a French caption that reads Assaut d’Armes donné a Carlton House, le 9 Avril 1787 entre la Chevaliere D’Eon De Beaumont, et le Chevalier De Saint George en la presence de Son Altesse le Prince de Wales la Noblesse & plusieurs Célébres Maitres d’Armes. The restrike erased Gillray’s name, added a new caption in English and also the print number 375 above the top right-hand corner.

The painting in the Royal Collection by Robineau was commissioned by the Prince of Wales and ‘tweaked’ to make it acceptable to his father, George II, in that the figure of his woman companion — clearly shown by Gillray to be the Prince’s common-law wife Mrs Fitzherbert — has been changed to that of a boy in wide-brimmed hat. There are several other differences between the two versions of this famous match. The French printmaker Picot then reproduced Robineau’s painting (with one small difference) in 1789.”

fencingWith thanks to Mr. Fare, we have changed the cataloguing and attribution of our restrike. For more information, see Gary Kates, Monsieur D’Eon is a Woman: a Tale of Political Intrigue and Sexual Masquerade (New York: Basic Books, 1995). Firestone Library (F):, DC135.E6 K37 1995


In case you have not already seen it, the U.S. Copyright Office released a new report in June: Orphan Works and Mass Digitization: A Report of the Register of Copyrights.  The Report documents the legal and business challenges faced by good faith users who seek to use orphan works and/or engage in mass digitization projects.  A free copy is available at the link above.

It provides a series of legislative recommendations that offer users a way forward out of gridlock, but also take into account the legitimate concerns and exclusive rights of authors and other copyright owners. The Copyright Office has long held the view, which it reiterates in the Report, that too many valuable projects are forestalled because users can neither locate the rightsholders nor protect themselves or their licensees from ongoing exposure to liability.  Similarly, recent litigation has highlighted a gap in the law regarding how to fully facilitate mass digitization projects that are in the public’s interest without undermining the rights of copyright owners, including the right to be fairly compensated.


Making Paper

bertram2The Graphic Arts Collection recently acquired a rare trade catalogue from the Scottish firm Bertram, presenting their entire line of papermaking machinery. Note below the watermark printed on each plate so that people can’t steal and reproduce their images.



Paper Makers’ Catalogue ([Edinburgh]: [James Bertram & Son], printed by Mackenzie and Storrie, letterpress and lithographic printers, 1890). Graphic Arts Collection GAX 2015- in process

Happily the Capital Collections site for Edinburgh Libraries and Museums recently posted the history of this important manufacturer and the quote here is a portion of their text:

Bertram Limited, Sciennes was founded in 1821 in Edinburgh and developed into a major manufacturer of papermaking machinery. The firm was founded by George and William Bertram, who came from a family which had been involved in papermaking in Midlothian for generations.

After spending about twenty years in Dartford, Kent learning their craft as papermaking machinery engineers, the brothers returned to Edinburgh to set up their own business, a workshop erected near Sciennes, with a few machines and a small forge. The company moved to new, larger premises around 1859, on the site which it was to occupy for over a century. Another engineering company James Bertram & Son was set up in Leith Walk, by a younger brother in 1845.

In 1860 William Bertram retired after 40 years in the business. He died the same year. George continued to supply not only papermaking machines but other machinery used in the paper making process, including steam engines. David, George’s son took over the business from his father. He was the last of the direct line of Bertrams. When he died in 1907, the family name disappeared from the board.





A Club

washington sq3One of Bror Julius Olsson Nordfeldt’s most beautiful drypoints, Washington Square Arch (1916), shows the A Club just behind the arch.

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Today, the A Club has been demolished for an apartment building.

In 1906, Robert Bruère’s girlfriend and future wife, Martha Brensley (1879–1953) left Chicago to join a socialist collective in New York City known as the A Club. When Bruère decided to follow in the spring of 1907, his best friend Bror Nordfeldt went along. They were helped by Robert’s brother Henry Bruère (1882–1958), the president of the New York City Board of Social Welfare. Robert was given a position with the New York Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor; Martha got a job as a nurse; and Nordfeldt taught himself to make Whistlerian drypoint etchings, which he hoped would have a market.

The A Club was organized in the fall of 1906, when writers Mary Heaton Vorse (1874–1966) and Albert Vorse (ca.1866–1910) took over philanthropist Annie Leary’s house at no. 3 Fifth Avenue. Approximately eighteen other men and women moved in with them, calling themselves generically “a club” so they could incorporate and sign a lease. “For me A Club was particularly stirring,” wrote Vorse in her autobiography, “It was the first time I had been in a large group of like-minded people who questioned the system under which they lived. Now, it is not our activities in the labor movement that stand out in my memory, but the mutual kindness and the gaiety of our household. It was a completely successful and civilized experiment in communal living.”

Although it was not required, Vorse noted that each member of the household “took his turn at picketing” and that would have included Nordfeldt. It was also at the A Club that he met and fell in love with Margaret Doolittle (1872–1968). Six years his senior, Doolittle graduated from Vassar in 1893 and completed her M.D. from Boston University in 1898 specializing in homeopathic medicine long before it became fashionable. She would later meet Carl Jung (1878–1965) and become one of the first to practice Jungian psychology in the United States.


Bror J. O. Nordfeldt, ca. 1900. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution


Happy Birthday Henry Martin, Class of 1948

martin8Cartoonist Henry Martin, a 1948 graduate of Princeton University, is celebrating his 90th birthday this week. A native of Louisville, KY, Martin majored in art history and wrote a 72 page senior thesis titled “A Study of Humorous Art” on cartooning. His first drawing was sold to The Princeton Tiger.
martin5 After two years at the American Academy of Art in Chicago, Martin launched a career as a cartoonist and illustrator, publishing in The New Yorker, Punch, Ladies’ Home Journal, The Saturday Evening Post, the Princeton Alumni Weekly and many other magazines. His single-panel comic strip, “Good News/Bad News,” was nationally syndicated, and he wrote and/or illustrated more than 35 books.
image002Martin left the commercial publishing world in 1995 but even in retirement, continued to produce cartoons for the community newsletter of Pennswood Village, in Newtown, PA, where Martin currently resides.


Some of Martin’s family who celebrated with him.


An Imagined View of Philadelphia

philadelphia view3 This vue d’optique was made to be viewed through a zograscope, which would enhance the three-dimensionality of the scene. The harbor seen here is the same one seen on many other optical views, offering an imagined picture of Philadelphia by German artists who had never visited the United States.

This print has a text in two languages but there are also separate German and French versions, marketing the scenes to as many audiences as possible.

“Philadelphie la ville capitale de Pensylvanie province Nord-Americaine William Penn, à qui Charles II Roi d’Angleterre donna cette province entiére la planta en 1682, entre deux fleuves navigables et l’apella Philadelphie, parceque les habitans y vivoient dans une harmonie fraternelle.”

philadelphia view4philadelphia view2 philadelphia viewBalthasar Friedrich Leizelt (active 2d half 18th century), Vue de Philadelphie, 1776. Engraving with hand coloring. Graphic Arts Collection GAX 2015- in process