Category Archives: Illustrated books

illustrated books

Pickwick Papers Iconography

The image of Samuel Pickwick, the protagonist of The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club, drawn and etched by Robert Seymour (1798-1836) had an immediate and lasting impact, reaching beyond the pages of Dickens’ novel. Seymour committed suicide shortly after the creation of this character and the iconography of the series—19 issues over 20 months between March 1836 and October 1837—went through several visual adaptations before it was completed. As new editions continued to appear, variant designs were used to present the words to the reading public, although none has yet to improve on Seymour’s original character.

No one understood the power of the visual image better than the advertising executive Samuel William Meek (1895-1981), Vice President at the J. Walter Thompson Company, who along with his wife Priscilla Mitchell Meek (1899-1999), collected Dickens. Mr. Meek helped build a worldwide advertising empire for the Thompson Company while manager of Thompson’s London office. He handled campaigns for the General Motors Corporation, Pan American World Airways, and Reader’s Digest among many others.

Meek assembled a collection of Pickwick iconography, including a unique binding proof, title pages, advertising designs, and subsequent promotional use of the Pickwick figures outside the world of literature. Thanks to the discerning eye of our generous donor Bruce Willsie, Class of 1986, two volumes of this valuable material have come to the Graphic Arts Collection. Here is a quick list (Pickwick Papers iconography ) and are a few samples:

The Kidnapped and the Ransomed

A great deal of research has been done on the book-length slave narratives published in the 1840s and 1850s. See in particular the chronology at

Yet few sources note that many, if not most, of the volumes are illustrated with plates engraved by Nathaniel Orr (1822-1908) and his firm at 52 John Street. Even after Orr moved to New York City in 1843, he maintained contact with the upstate New York publishing firm of Derby and Miller (later Miller, Orton, and Mulligan), “the largest miscellaneous book publishers of any in the State out of the city of New York.” Orr was their preferred wood engraver, only going to others when Orr was too busy to take on additional work.

Despite the success of these books, each selling thousands of copies, the bulk of Orr’s correspondence during these years are letters begging the publishers for payment. The work was always completed and returned to each firm along with an invoice, which often went months before the bank deposit was made. Pledges to do better were often effusive, such as Thurber W. Brown’s letter in 1851 responded to Orr’s request for money. “Your note came to hand this evening [concerning] bills . . . When you dread bankruptcy, send me by telegraph and if I owe you anything I will pledge my clothes for your benefit and come to New York on foot to bring the money.” (George A. Smathers Libraries, University of Florida).


Solomon Northup (1808-1863?), Twelve Years a Slave: Narrative of Solomon Northup, a Citizen of New-York, Kidnapped in Washington City in 1841, and Rescued in 1853, from a Cotton Plantation Near the Red River in Louisiana (London: S. Low, Son & Co.; Auburn: Derby & Miller, 1853). Rare Books: John Shaw Pierson Civil War Collection (W) W91.687

Frederick Douglass (1818-1895), My Bondage and My Freedom … With an introduction by Dr. James M’Cune Smith (New York: Miller, Orton & Mulligan, 1855). Rare Books: John Shaw Pierson Civil War Collection (W) W96.308.5

Kate E. R. Pickard, The Kidnapped and the Ransomed. Being the Personal Recollections of Peter Still and His Wife “Vina,” After Forty Years of Slavery, With an introd. by Rev. Samuel J. May; and an appendix by William H. Furness, D.D. (Syracuse: W. T. Hamilton; New York [etc.] Miller, Orton and Mulligan, 1856). With 3 full page illustrations by Charles A. Barry, engraved on wood by N. Orr-Co. Graphic Arts Collection (GAX) Hamilton 1489

Les vapeurs ou le jour des memoires

Les Arts Décoratifs has three locations in Paris, but we chose to visit the collections and documentation at 107, rue de Rivoli. Windows there offer a view of the Louvre on one side and the Eiffel tower on the other.

The collections of the decorative arts are among the largest in France, comprised of thousands of pieces from the various fields of the decorative and applied arts. Many new donations, purchases and bequests are added to the collections every year.

The library and documentation center house a wide range of materials including books, manuscripts, prints, engravings, photographs, archives of artists and professionals, and ephemera. Established in 1864 by the founding members of the UCAD (Union Centrale des Arts Décoratifs), it was their hope to provide artists with a store of forms and images for their inspiration. One of the most extraordinary resource is the volumes of the Maciet collection, a bound selection of reproductions and original works on paper organized by topic. In these volumes, one might find a 19th-century photograph by Henri Le Secq (1818-1882) documenting a Paris street pasted next to a printed menu of a restaurant on that street.

The organization’s documentation notes, “When art lover and collector Jules Maciet (1846-1911) crossed the threshold of the library of decorative arts in 1885, he understood that books alone could not satisfy the demands of artists and artisans: It would take images, lots of images. …Thus, from 1885 to 1911, the date of his death, Jules Maciet became an image hunter, bringing together hundreds of thousands of prints, photographs, documents from all sources from catalogs, books and magazines. He slices, sorts, and sticks them in great albums and imagines a methodical classification in the encyclopaedic spirit of the nineteenth century.”

We pulled the volume on Japanese pochoir and found a complete rare book reproducing stencil color disbound and pasted in. Happily, a box of original Katagami (Japanese paper) stencils were brought out to compliment the research.

Also on the table was a stunning volume of pochoir colored caricatures from the series Le Bon Genre, which we recognized from Princeton’s Charles Rahn Fry Pochoir Collection. Here’s a plate that seems to fit the visit: “Les vapeurs ou le jour des memoires” (The Vapors or the Day of Memories).

Le Bon genre; réimpression du recueil de 1827; comprenant les “Observations…” et les 115 gravures. Préface de Leon Moussinac (Paris: Les Éditions Albert Lévy [1931]). “Les planches ont étés gravées par E. Doistau, imprimées par R. Tanburro, et coloriées par J. Saudé … Il en a été tiré 750 exemplaires”–Verso of p. preceding t.p. Princeton’s copy is no. 444, from the Charles Rahn Fry Pochoir Collection. Graphic Arts Collection (GAX) Oversize 2004-0020F


Frits Lugt’s collection

In 1947, Frits Lugt (1884-1970) established the Fondation Custodia in the historic hôtel Lévis-Mirepoix at 121 rue de Lille and endowed it with his entire of collection of paintings, drawings, prints, rare books, artists’ letters, and much more.

In 2015, the Terra Foundation for America Art opened a Center & Library upstairs from the Fondation, including a joint exhibition space and reading room. It appears to be a good collaboration. We were very fortunate to be allowed to tour both, including the Lugt art collection, housed in adjoining rooms in the eighteenth-century Hôtel Turgot.

Lugt, who began collecting in 1915, was a self-taught art historian and author whose books remain standard works to this day. The famous ‘L’ followed by the number Lugt assigned to sale catalogues and collector’s marks is recognized by all art historians.

Princeton University faculty and students have online access to Lugt’s Répertoire des catalogues de ventes publiques, which lists more than 100,000 art sales catalogues of the period 1600 to 1925 from libraries in Europe and the USA, both in French and in English. It can be searched on Lugt number, date, place, provenance, auction house and existing copies.

At the front door, you are greeted by a terra-cotta bust of Jacques Turgot, Baron de l’Aulne (1727-1781), which may have been sculpted by Jean-Antoine Houdon. All along the 18th-century staircase, the walls are filled with Lugt’s collection of painted landscapes.

One of the treasures pulled for us was a 1596 copy of Ludolf van Ceulen (1539-1610), Van den circkel: daer in gheleert werdt te vinden de naeste proportie des circkels-diameter tegen synen omloop, with a portrait of the author on the title page, engraved by Jacques de Gheyn II (1565-1629). Lugt also acquired a proof without lettering and a rare variant. See all three below.

“In the late sixteenth century, especially in the Netherlands, there was a revival of interest in the works of Archimedes. Van Ceulen was a part of this Archimedean renaissance, and early in his career, he read a translation of Archimedes’ treatise, Measuring the Circle. In this work, Archimedes estimated the value of pi by calculating the circumferences of polygons that just fit inside and outside the circle, reasoning (correctly) that the circumference of the circle must lie between those two values. Using polygons of up to 128 sides, Archimedes found that pi must lie between (using modern notation) 3.141 and 3.142. Van Ceulen found a way to increase the number of sides of the inscribed polygons from 128 to well into the millions, and he initially found a value of pi accurate to 20 decimal places. This number was engraved just below his portrait on the title page of his first book, Van den Circkel (1596).”

The Art of Noises in a silent gallery

There is nothing so wonderful as having a museum to yourself.

Colleagues in the Kandinsky Library at the Georges Pompidou Center, also known as the Musée National d’Art Moderne (MNAM), not only welcomed a few visitors by pulling treasures from their vaults but also led a tour of the stunning, newly hung galleries of the museum’s permanent collection.


One feature of the museum’s new interpretation of their collection are the works on paper interspersed throughout, this year highlighting the relationship between art and music in the 1900s.

Paintings, books, sound, and documents are intertwined in cases and on the wall, such as the work of Arnold Schönberg (1874-1951), who was both a painter and a composer, and that of painter and philosopher Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944).

Their books are seen side by side, with the proofs marked up by Schönberg.

Another section explores the many artists’ balls held regularly in Paris, including invitations, posters, paintings, photographs, and this pochoir program from one evening’s entertainment.


In another corner is Luigi Russolo’s Futurist manifesto The Art of Noises, written in a 1913 letter to Francesco Balilla Pratella and published in 1916. Russolo argues that we have become accustomed to urban industrial sounds and so, they should be incorporated into our music. The museum presents both the visual and the audio documents of the movement. See an English translation here:

Luigi Russolo, L’arte dei rumori (Milan: Edizioni futuriste di Poesia, 1916). Marquand Library (SAX): Rare Books ML3877 .R87 1916


The Shakespeare that almost didn’t happen

The newspaper headline read: “Spruce Street fire, Monday night, set accidentally by a porter in the basement of the building owned by Newell and Company, were insured.”

In the fall of 1845, the wood engraver and manager of the printing office at Spruce Street Nathaniel Orr wrote to his fiancé, “Here I am, not dead but alive and kicking . . . I had a pretty narrow escape last night. But thanks to my “guardian angel” I made my exit from the burning [building] with scarcely a bruise. Just my luck. My loss will be but trifling. Though [Henry W.] Hewet paid me twenty dollars per week. I have already had offers equally as lucrative.”

“The Harpers tell me all will be right as soon as Hewet returns. I wrote to him last night and shall expect him tomorrow morning. When I found my passage completely cut off by the falling of the stairs I most assuredly thought my time had come. Oh, a thousand thoughts rushed upon my mind in a moment. I thought of you, of my bright hopes, of the horror of perishing in the flames. It was life or death, so I made the leap and here I am your own.”

A week later, Nathaniel wrote again to say that “Every article in our office was entirely destroyed and when I think of my own narrow escape I can but attribute it to a most merciful providence . . . I passed three windows (four stories from the ground) on the outside that I might get in a position for jumping on a small outhouse, two stories from the window. Had I [fallen] there I should not only have been killed but burned to ashes in the ruin. . . . The first John [Orr] knew of my adventures was on his way home, some four or five hours after I had astonished the natives, he met an acquaintance who inquired if I had been found! When he called on me I was asleep, preparing to repeat my leap to the tenor of the spectators.”

By mid-November, Nathaniel wrote to say “the cloud that hung over me for a few days after my late exit from the third story window . . . has entirely disappeared, and I now find myself most delightfully situated in splendid rooms at 289 Broadway under the patronage of Hewet, or more properly, Harper and Brothers, for they have concluded to have all the plates that were destroyed at the late fire reengraved forthwith. It will probably take us eighteen or twenty months to complete the work. So, you see, Phoenix-like I rise again . . . .”


William Shakespeare (1564-1616), Shakespeare’s Plays. With his life. Illustrated with many hundred wood-cuts, executed by H.W. Hewet, [and Nathaniel and John Orr], after designs by Kenny Meadows, Harvey, and others. Ed. by Gulian C. Verplanck, LL. D. (New York: Harper & brothers, 1847). RECAP 3925.1847

Letters by Nathaniel Orr in Orr Family Papers, Special and Area Studies Collections, George A. Smathers Libraries, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida.


To Trenton, in search of the picturesque

As children, John William Orr (1815-1887, top right) and Nathaniel Orr (1822-1908, top left sitting upright) moved every few years from New York to Belfont, Pennsylvania; London Canada; Detroit, Michigan; and Perrysburg, Ohio. Their father died in Ohio and the family moved once more to live with relatives in Buffalo, New York. John was fourteen, Nathaniel was seven, and both dreamed of becoming artists.

To help support the family, John spent his teenage years working as a clerk in the Buffalo Post Office. This mundane work ended only a few days after his twenty-first birthday, when John left for New York City to study under the artist William C. Redfield, brother of the publisher Julius S. Redfield. At the end of the year, John returned to Buffalo and became a leading force in the local arts community, elected president of the Society of Fine Arts in 1839.

Meanwhile, his younger brother Nathaniel finished a Buffalo apprenticeship and was accepted as a student of John H. Hall, one of only five students of the earliest and best American engraver Alexander Anderson (1775-1870). Nathaniel moved to Albany where Hall lived and John soon followed.

Between 1838 and 1846, John Orr illustrated part or all of a series of guidebooks to Niagara Falls and upstate New York, including Settlement in the West: Sketches of Rochester (1838); The Falls of Niagara, or Tourist’s Guide to This Wonder of Nature (1839); The Travellers’ Own Book to Saratoga Springs, Niagara Falls and Canada (1842); Pictorial Guide to the Falls of Niagara (1842); The Picturesque Tourist: Being a Guide Through the Northern and Eastern States and Canada (1844); Peck’s Tourist’s Companion to Niagara Falls, Saratoga Springs, the Lakes, Canada, etc. (1845); A Picture of New-York in 1846 (1846); and Sketches of Niagara Falls and River (1846).

Little by little, Nathaniel took over the work being offered to J. H. Hall, including the wood engraving for J. A. Adams (1803-1880) and Harper’s Illuminated Bible (1846). Adams was impressed with Nathaniel’s work and encouraged the young artist to move to New York City, where he became the shop manager for Henry W. Hewet and his multi-volume edition of Shakespeare’s Plays (1847). Once again, John followed his younger brother, setting up a studio at 75 Nassau Street.

In 1851, Nathaniel received a commission to engrave the cuts for Nathaniel Parker Willis (1806-1867), Trenton Falls: Picturesque and Descriptive and became acquainted with the wilderness across the Hudson River in New Jersey. At the same time, John engraved the blocks for George William Curtis (1824-1892), Lotus-Eating…, with chapters on the Hudson and the Rhine; Catskill; Catskill Falls; Trenton; Niagara; Saratoga; Lake George; Nahant; and Newport (1852).

As time allowed, Nathaniel and John, both ardent hunters and fishermen, journeyed out of Manhattan to explore the neighboring state. Fellow Harper’s artist John R. Chapin (1827-1907) who lived in Rahway, must have accompanied the men, finally recording and publishing their adventures in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine as “Artist-Life in the Highlands,” in April 1860 and “Among the Nail-Makers,” in July 1860.

In Chapin’s stories, John is called Neutral Tint, “a tired artist in search of relaxation from a period of close application.” Nathaniel is called “Snell,” and described as a bit of an artist as well as a follower of Izaak Walton (author of The Compleat Angler). The stories are good but even better are the visual portraits drawn of the two brothers, giving us insight into their physical character and relationship.

Nathaniel Parker Willis (1806-1867), editor. Trenton Falls, picturesque and descriptive, The principal illustrations from original designs by Heine, Kummer and Müller. Engraved on wood by N. Orr (New York: G. P. Putnam, 1851). (F) F129.T7 W7 1851


Harper’s New Monthly Magazine (New York: Harper & Brothers, [1850-1900]). Recap 0901.H295



The Poet of the Future

This sheet of drawings by John McLenan (1827-1865) turns up in a scrapbook at the New York Public Library, with no explanation. Over the years, the central portrait has been assumed to be Walt Whitman (1819-1892).

McLenan’s final published prints were discovered recently in our set of the Harper’s New Monthly Magazine CXXI, no. 20 (June 1860), p.141-42. The central drawing is titled “The Poet of the Future.” Below is our death mask of Whitman so that you can decide for yourself whether or not the sketch is meant to be Whitman.

The Future President; Organ of Veneration; Gushing Poetess; The Great Artist [self-portrait of John McLenan].
Well-balanced Head; Benevolence; The Great Captain; The Poet of the Future; [Embryo] Financier.

“Gifted by nature this subject–with a head that’s swollen with Literary talent–is allow to go to grass…”

Death mask of Walt Whitman (1819-1892), 1892. Laurence Hutton Collection of Life and Death Masks.

American Freemason Magazine

From November 1855 to April 1857, Robert Morris published a semi-monthly newspaper called the American Freemason out of Louisville, Kentucky. When he ran into financial difficulties his printer, Joseph Fletcher Brennan, took over the publication, switching to a monthly format with an emphasis on literature and poetry.

Working from Kentucky, Brennan commissioned his Masonic Brother Nathaniel Orr in New York City to redesign the periodical with a strong header and large wood engraving at the front of each issue. Various small cuts went inside as the stories required. Orr’s next door neighbor A.S. Barnes & Co., Wholesale Booksellers and Publishers, at 51 John Street was asked to help distribute.

Unfortunately, Brennan also had trouble funding the magazine. Writing to Orr from Louisville, October 15, 1857, Brennan explained that he still couldn’t pay the artist for his wood engravings. John Chapman is also doing a few designs for the magazine without receiving payment. “I will have also to arrange with him to wait until I can send him a check to pay both of you. I will be able to do this in the course of a month at farthest. . . . [Asking if Orr will continue his work] I think this would be the best way and I will pay you for it… Do so, if you please, and I will be grateful to you.“

Two weeks later Brennan wrote again, promising to pay Orr in a few weeks.  Chapman’s name does not appear in the magazine, refusing to work without pay while Orr, a devoted Freemason, continued to supply the publication with images. In the end, Brennan was unable to secure financial backing and the magazine only last for two years (although the title is revived again later by others).

The American Freemason’s New Monthly Magazine ([New York: J.F. Brennan, 1859- ). Recap HS351 .A512


New York’s historic Masonic Hall is located in the heart of the Chelsea, home to the headquarters of the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of the State of New York, along with the Chancellor Robert R. Livingston Library and Museum. To get tour information or request a tour, e-mail Free public tours of the Grand Lodge Building and Masonic Hall are conducted Monday through Saturday between the hours of 10:30 a.m. and 2:15 p.m.

Things Japanese, 1742

The Graphic Arts Collection holds a complete 10 volume set of the rare Illustrated Book of Comparable Things in Yamato (Japan), also called Illustrated Study of Things Japanese, written and published in 1742. Each book is bound in black paper with unique floral decoration painted in gold.

Nine of the ten volumes are filled with illustrations by Nishikawa Sukenobu (1671-1751) of Kyoto, compiled by Ban Yūsa of Naniwa of Osaka. The cutting of the blocks was done by Fujimura Zenyemon and Murakami Genyemon.

Each volume is dedicated to one genre or subject matter, including 1. Preface, landscapes, animals.–2. Historical figures of poets and painters.–3. Historical figures of women.–4. Historical subjects.–5, 6. Historical figures in literature.–7. Miscellaneous historical figures.–8. Historical figures in anecdotes.–9. Illustrations of poems.–10. Contents, text and notes.


Nishikawa Sukenobu (1671-1751), Ehon Yamato hiji / Naniwa Ban Yūsa sanshū · Heian Nishikawa Sukenobu gazu = 繪本和比事 / 浪華伴祐佐纂輯·平安西川祐信畫圖 = Illustrated Book of Comparable Things in Yamato (Japan) (Ōsaka: Kanseidō Kawauchiya Uhezō ban, Kanpō 2 [1742]) 10 volumes. Graphic Arts Collection 2017- in process

The Graphic Arts Collection also includes Nishikawa Sukenobu’s Ehon mitsuwagusa ([Japan]: [publisher not identified], [between 1750 and 1760]) and his Ehon fudetsubana [ge] (Kyōtō: Kikuya Kihē, Enkyō 4 [1747]).