Category Archives: painting and watercolors


Albert M. Cohn’s album of Cruikshank sketches

George Cruikshank (1792-1878 ), Album of Original Drawings, Sketches and Manuscript. Graphic Arts Collection GAX 2021 – in process. Provenance: Albert M. Cohn. Acquired in honor of Henry Martin, Class of 1948


First deposited at the Princeton University Library in 1913, the Richard W. Meirs, Class of 1888, Collection of George Cruikshank, comprises one of the finest Cruikshank collections in the United States. About 1000 volumes, many separate prints, as well as drawings, finished oil paintings, oil sketches, “panorama” prints on rollers, etched plates, broadsides, bound manuscripts, autograph letters, and Cruikshank correspondence can be found in Princeton stacks.

Meirs used the Cruikshank bibliography prepared by Albert M. Cohn in his collecting and the library did the same in organizing the collection in our vaults. Throughout the 20th and 21st centuries, we have continued to expand on the Meirs gift, most recently with a unique scrapbook owned by Cohn containing Cruikshank sketches, letters, and other miscellany. This acquisition is made in honor of the artist and friend of this collection in particular, Henry Martin, Class of 1948.


This substantial album contains original sketches and manuscripts from the Cohn’s collection and confirms that Cruikshank drew or wrote on anything, here using letters, lists, envelopes and assorted ephemera. Of particular interest is an invoice from Draper Charles Coleing, Commercial House, an invitation from the Council of the Photographic Society and on a printed letter from the British Institution for Promoting The Fine Arts in the United Kingdom.

There is a letter to English artist Andrew William Delamotte, 1775-1863, in which Cruikshank notes his prolific output: “I cannot give any idea of the number of drawings and etchings I have made – somewhere about a cart load – of rubbish with a few tolerable specimens here & there.” Among the sketches are many curious notes, such as the comment on a sketch of a fisherman coming home: “I wonder why the fish don’t bite, if they were as hungry as I am they would bite fast enough.”


Additional information of Cruikshank at Princeton (compiled by Steve Ferguson):

A list of Library holdings as of 1920 appears in the Princeton University Classed List, (Special Collections) vol. 6 (Princeton, 1920) pp. 3565-3583 [(ExB) 0639.7373.5], published after the major deposit of Cruikshank material by Mr. Meirs. A large portion of the collection is found at

The Cohn Cruikshank bibliography (covering illustrated books and separate prints) has been checked (recording call numbers) for the Library’s holdings. For particulars refer to: Albert M. Cohn. George Cruikshank, a catalogue raisonné of the work executed during the years 1806-1877. (London, 1924) [(GARF) NC1479.C9 C72q, copy 2)

An important article about how and why Americans collected Cruikshankiana was published in 1916 by Arthur Bartlett Maurice, Class of 1894. See A. B. Maurice, “Cruikshank in America”, in The Bookman November 1916.  Maurice was editor of The Bookman from 1899 to 1916. This article has many particulars about the Meirs collection.

See also: Howard S. Leach “Cruikshank’s Illustrations of Shakespeare in the Meirs Collection, Princeton University Library” in the Princeton Alumni Weekly (13 December 1916, p 259-262). An editorial note on the same page as this article states “Alumni visiting Princeton may spend a very entertaining and profitable afternoon in looking over this collection, which is in the exhibition room of the Library.”

Also see: F.J. Mather “Rowandson and Cruikshank” in the Princeton Alumni Weekly (4 March 1932); Frank Jewett Mather, “A Statistical Survey of the Meirs Cruikshank Collection” in the Princeton University Library Chronicle IV, 2-3 (February-April, 1943) pp. 50-52; E.D.H. Johnson. George Cruikshank: the Collection at Princeton (Princeton, 1973) [(Cruik) 747] which is the offprint of: E.D.H. Johnson, “The George Cruikshank Collection at Princeton” in Princeton University Library Chronicle XXXV, 1 (Autumn and Winter, 1973-74) pp. 1-33.


C.E. Brock’s illustrations for Austen’s Persuasion

C.E. Brock (1870-1938), “Politely Drew Back and Stopped to Give Them Way” watercolor, signed & dated. Provenance: Chris Beetles. Exhibited at The British Art of Illustrations 1870-2010.

The Graphic Arts Collection recently acquired two watercolors by C.E. (Charles Edmund) Brock (1870-1938), illustrations to Jane Austen’s Persuasion, her last novel, originally published in 1816. A complete history/bibliography of Charles and brother Henry Brock’s illustrations for the Austen novels has been written by Cinthia Garcia Soria, “Austen Illustrators Henry and Charles Brock,” and can be read here:

This is a brief exert:

…However, by 1898 a new printing technique that allowed inclusion of illustrations in colour had emerged—lithography, and Dent asked both Charles and Henry to create a new set of illustrations for the six Jane Austen novels.

The brothers agreed to share the task in equal parts: five volumes each, six illustrations per volume, one as frontispiece. Charles was in charge of Sense and Sensibility (volumes 1 and 2), Emma (volumes 7 and 8) and Persuasion (volume 10), while Henry was responsible for Pride and Prejudice (volumes 3 and 4), Mansfield Park (volumes 5 and 6) and Northanger Abbey (volume 9).

Thus the new 10-volume set of Jane Austen’s novels by J.M. Dent with illustrations by C.E. and H.M. Brock appeared in 1898 with great success. These “pen and ink drawings tinted in watercolour” gave a more exact and detailed period representation than ever before. It is classified by Gilson as E 90 and as he clearly notes, each volume included a frontispiece and five inserted plates, all in colour. They are bound in a now green-greyish gilt cloth and the covers presents a girl in Regency attire.

…The American reproduction of the 1898 illustrations took eight years to appear. In 1906, they were issued in New York by Frank S. Holby, also in ten volumes—since the publisher used the same text setting by Dent—but with an introduction by William Lyon instead of R. Brimley Johnson. This edition is also known as “The Old Manor House Edition” and Gilson catalogues it as E 106.


C.E. Brock (1870-1938), “Lady Dalrymple & Miss Carteret Escorted by Mr Elliot & Colonel Wallis” watercolor, signed & dated. Inscribed with publication details below mount. Provenance: Chris Beetles. Exhibited at The British Art of Illustrations 1870-2010.




Carroll, Laura and John Wiltshire (2006). “Jane Austen Illustrated” in Johnson, Claudia and Laura Tuite (eds.), A Companion to Jane Austen (Blackwell Companions to Literature and Culture, 56). Wiley-Blackwell, Singapore.

Gilson, David (1997). A Bibliography of Jane Austen. New Introduction and Corrections by the author. Delaware : Oak Knoll Press.

Gilson, David (2005). “Later publishing history, with illustrations” at Todd, Janet (ed.). Jane Austen in Context. New York : Cambridge University Press.

Kelly, C.M (1975). The Brocks: A Family of Cambridge Artists and Illustrators. London & Edinburgh: Charles Skilton Ltd.

Parker, Keiko (1989). “Illustrating Jane Austen” in Persuasions, no. 11. December, 1989. USA. JASNA. Available on-line at:

Rogerson, Ian. Entry for the “Brock family” in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

Southam, Brian (2006). “Texts and Editions” in Johnson, Claudia and Laura Tuite (eds.), A Companion to Jane Austen (Blackwell Companions to Literature and Culture, 56). Wiley-Blackwell, Singapore.



Meekly Obstinate Pious VS The Fejee Islanders, January 1858

Unidentified artist, Rev’d Meekly Obstinate Pious vs. the Fegee Islanders. January 1858 [England, mid-19th century]. Fourteen watercolors in oblong album. Graphic Arts Collection GAX 2021- in process


The Graphic Arts Collection recently acquired a pictorial narrative set on the island of Fiji and dated January 1858. It tells the story of a British missionary known as Rev. Meekly Obstinate Pious and his wife, who sail to Fiji in order to convert the indigenous people to Christianity. Through a series of events, they build a church and make friends with their neighbors but ultimately are killed and eaten. When British sailors arrive in search of Rev. and Mrs. Pious there is a battle and everything on the island is destroyed.

The story is told through fourteen watercolors and brief captions. It is unclear if the sequential narrative was meant to be reproduced and published, nothing similar can be traced. Some images are disturbingly racist and only a selection are reproduced here.

The presentation of savage cannibals in the South Seas was routinely found in English books, newspapers, and theatricals, such as in the 1831 Theatre Royal, Covent-Garden performance Neuha’s Cave, or, The South Sea mutineers, partly based on Lord Byron’s poem “The Island, or, Christian and his comrades” (1823).


Actual missionaries might have served as the basis for this parody. From 1838 to 1856, James Calvert (1813-1892) and his wife Mary Fowler Calvert (1814-1882), along with John Hunt (1812-1848) lived in Fiji, promoting Christianity. Calvert quickly learned the native language and over time, published religious books in Fijian as well as Fijian dictionaries for English speakers. Hunt published a Memoir of the Rev. William Cross, Wesleyan missionary to the Friendly and Feejee islands (1846) and after Hunt’s death in 1848, the missionary Thomas Williams wrote a memoir of Hunt’s life and work, also know under the Fijian title: Tukutuku kei Misa Oniti (1848).


Walter Lawry’s 1850 book Friendly and Feejee Islands: a missionary visit to various stations in the South Seas, in the year 1847 emphasized the practice of cannibalism and painted an unflattering portrait of a primitive society. Here is a section:

Their cannibal propensity is well known. They do not attempt to disguise it. The eating of human flesh is not confined to cases of sacrifice for religious purposes, but is practised by them from habit and taste. There can be no question that, although it may have originated as a sacred rite, it is continued in the Feejee group for the mere pleasure of eating human flesh as food. Their fondness for it appears from the custom they have of sending portions of it to their friends at a distance, as an acceptable present; and the gift is eaten, even if decomposition has begun before it is received. So highly do they esteem this food, that the greatest praise they can bestow on a delicacy is to say, “ It is as tender as a dead man.”



50 years after: {39:2} Expectans expectavi. Dominum, et intendit mihi = I have waited expectantly for the Lord, and he was attentive to me.

Mithila Art in 2020: Life, Labor, and COVID-19 in South Asia

Shalini Karn, Faces of Corona, 2020. Acrylic on paper. Graphic Arts Collection 2020- in process


Please join us at 10:00 am Eastern (daylight savings) time on Friday March 26, 2021, for the next in our series of webinars highlighting the graphic arts collection. Organized to coincide with the one year anniversary of India’s shutdown due to COVID-19, the March program is entitled: Mithila Art in 2020: Life, Labor, and COVID-19 in South Asia.

A panel discussion including Amanda Lanzillo, Cotsen Postdoctoral Fellow in the Society of Fellows; Lina Vincent, art historian and curator based in Goa, India; and Peter Zirnis, curator and collector of Mithila art, will be hosted by Julie Mellby, Graphic Arts Curator, and Ellen Ambrosone, South Asian Studies Librarian.


Throughout 2020, artists in India have been engaging with pandemic-related themes that reflect the vast inequity with which the pandemic has manifested in the lives of South Asians. While some have managed to maintain safety and stability, many more have experienced food insecurity, displacement, disease, and loss of income.

The Mithila art in Princeton’s collection expresses moments of both serenity and sorrow in the midst of the recent crisis. Panelists will discuss and reflect on the particular expressions of COVID-19 in this art, as well the impact of the pandemic on artisan labor and art markets.

This webinar is free and open to the public, but please register here:

Date: Friday, March 26, 2021
Time: 10:00am – 11:00 am

This webinar is part of the Special Collections Highlights Series. View recordings of previous webinars here.

Previous webinars include:
May 2020: New Theories on the Oldest American Woodcut: The Portrait of Richard Mather by John Foster
June 2020: Thomas Eakins and the Making of Walt Whitman’s Death Mask
July 2020: Afrofuturism: The Graphics of Octavia E. Butler
Aug 2020: Celebrate the 100th Anniversary of Women’s Suffrage
Sept 2020: The Books and Prints of Anaïs Nin and her Gemor Press
Dec 2020: Before Zoom, Pre-Cinema, Optical Devices Tour
Feb 2021: Acrobatics: Moving Through the Trans Archives
March 2021: Mithila Art in 2020: Life, Labor, and COVID-19 in South Asia
April 2021: April is for the Birds: Audubon and Field Guides


Matthews’ views of Sierra Leone

The papers of Captain John Matthews (died 1798), lieutenant in the Royal Navy were pulled yesterday to view his watercolors of the African coast, mostly 1785-1797. The Matthews collection, C1575, documents his involvement in the transatlantic commerce of enslaved Africans in Sierra Leone. Four detailed journals document Matthews’s employment as an agent for the African Company of Merchants between 1785 and 1787; as captain of the HMS Vulcan and the HMS Courageux in the Mediterranean Sea during the 1793 campaigns of the French Revolutionary Wars; and as captain of the HMS Maidstone, a British patrol ship monitoring trade in Sierra Leone and the Caribbean in 1797 and 1798.

The watercolors by Matthews were engraved by William Porter for his later published book. One is by Lieut J. Larcom and four signed M.C. Watts.

“…By this conversation nothing more is meant by the African than that his brother, or his friend, was gone into the country to purchase slaves from the nations who are at war; or, perhaps, his own tribe might be at war with some of the neighboring states; and as they in general sell their prisoners, (though even now it is not always the case, revenge sometimes proving too powerful for avarice) they may with the ship to remain in expectation of having more prisoners to dispose of, But I must again repeat that the primary cause of these wars is not merely to procure slaves, but arises from the captious, quarrelsome, and vindictive, disposition of the people. But it is not the prisoners made in the wars which the inhabitants of the sea-coast have with each other, nor those whom the laws of their country, in consequence of their crimes, punish with slavery, that constitute a tenth part of the Naves who are purchased by the Europeans; for, in fact, the inhabitants of the sea-coast are only the merchants and brokers, and carry the goods which they receive from the Europeans into the interior country, and there purchase the slaves from other merchants. The nations who inhabit the interior parts of Africa, east of Sierra-Leone, profits the Mahometan religion; and, following the means prescribed by their prophet, are perpetually at war with the surrounding nations who refuse to embrace their religion …”

–selection from: John Matthews, A voyage to the River Sierra-Leone, on the coast of Africa; containing an account of the trade and productions of the country, and of the civil and religious customs and manners of the people; in a series of letters to a friend in England by John Matthews … during his residence in that country in the years 1785, 1786, and 1787. With an additional letter on the subject of the African slave trade. Also, a chart of part of the coast of Africa, from Cape St. Ann, to the River Rionoonas; with a view of the island Bananas (London, Printed for B. White and Son, and J. Sewell, 1788).


See more of the journals and Matthews sketches digitized:


The First Opium War

The First Opium War between Great Britain and China ended with the signing of the Treaty of Nanking on August 29, 1842. Sir Henry Pottinger met with Qiying, Yilibu, and Niu Jian to finalize the document. The treaty was ratified by the Daoguang Emperor on October 27, 1842 and by Queen Victoria on December 28, 1842. This allowed for the opening of five ports including Amoy, Guangzhou, Foochow, Shanghai and Ningpo, altering British-Chinese trade for the rest of the century.

Several British artists depicted the major battles and final events of that war, including Michael Angelo Hayes (1820–1877) and Sir Harry Francis Colville Darrell (1814-1853). One artist who has no record of Opium War battle scenes is George Cruikshank (1792-1878). Nevertheless, when Richard W. Meirs, class of1888, donated his George Cruikshank collection — including approximately 1000 books, nearly 1,000 prints, drawings, oil paintings, broadsides, panoramas, and a significant archive of correspondence — the six watercolor sketches concerning the First Opium Wars were attributed to George Cruikshank.

Recently the Cruikshank attribution has been called into question. Not only is the line quite different from his other work, Cruikshank was extremely busy at that period illustrating his own publications and creating plates for Richard Harris Barham, Catherine Grace Frances Moody Gore, Thomas Ingoldsby, Samuel G. Goodrich, and William Harrison Ainsworth. We are now researching the six Opium War sketches to find their true artist. Do you have a suggestion? A start might be this lithograph [above] by James Henry Lynch after Michael Angelo Hayes, The 18th (Royal Irish) Regiment of Foot at the storming of the forts of Amoy, 26 August 1841. More work is needed to make an attribution.



Rethinking the Incarnation of God as a Corona Warrior

Fragment from Nisha Jha, Incarnation of God as a Corona Warrior, 2020. Ink and acrylic on paper. Graphic Arts Collection GAX 2021- in process


The wonderful thing about these posts is the discussion and research and rethinking they initiate, either immediately or over time. Such is the case with this intriguing new acquisition. We are re-posting with new information and a slightly new interpretation thanks to Ellen Ambrosone and Peter Zirnis.

In this painting, Nisha Jha pairs two figures in one: the god Vishnu and a contemporary medical doctor taking a patient’s temperature with one hand while administering the COVID vaccine with the other: a Corona Warrior! The lifesaving syringe also forms a border isolating and protecting Mithila residents from the virus elsewhere.

This composite figure immediately brings to mind the union of the god Shiva and his wife Parvati in a form known as Ardhanarishvara, the god who is half female. But the chakra, a discus used as a weapon, in the god’s raised hand as well as the conch shells in the border tell us this is Vishnu, the god who periodically comes down to earth to rid the world of evil and restore the divine order.  In Corona Warrior Nisha Jha says she presents Vishnu in the form of a doctor to celebrate brave doctors everywhere, their sleepless nights and their absence from their homes. It is through their hard work that “Corona will lose soon and we will win.”


Nisha Kumari’s decision to focus on Vishnu and, purposefully or not, to invoke the easily recognizable male-female form of Shiva and Parvati, allows for a feminist interpretation of the painting. In this work, Vishnu is on the left (for the viewer) as Shiva would be in an image of Ardhanarishvara, and the doctor is on the right as Parvati would be in the same image. Parvati is no ordinary goddess but a form of Shakti, the supreme female force in the universe. Here we see a contemporary expression of the goddess in the form of a doctor battling covid-19 and cleansing the world of an epidemic. One could say we have multiple paintings before us. It’s a matter of looking. If you just see Vishnu you see one painting, if you see Ardhanarishvara you see a different painting.  Or you can see them both at the same time for a more complex view of the world expressed in the Corona Warrior.



This is one of a small group of contemporary Mithila paintings Princeton has acquired, also including work by Amrita Jha, Dulari Devi, Shalini Karn, and Naresh Kumar Paswan. Our sincere thanks go to Susan S. Wadley, professor emerita of anthropology at Syracuse University, for her invaluable help in forming this collection. A virtual session will be held in March entitled: Mithila Art in 2020: Life, Labor, and COVID-19 in South Asia.

Nisha Jha has been painting since she was a child and now works with her mother Vinita Jha refining her skills in a village near Madhubani town. She also has a bachelor’s degree in economics. “Nowadays wives and daughters also learn to paint and supplement family income with their work. Instead of going from village to village to show their scrolls, the patuas now exhibit at craft fairs and melas, and sometimes at venues abroad. Their paints were all made from natural plants, but now some of them admit to buying commercial products.” -Geraldine Forbes

Purvis Young, “People Whit Something To Do”

“Perhaps the most famous painter to ever come out of Florida,” writes Deirdra Funcheon, Washington Post 1/8/2020, “Young had depicted the struggles and joys of Miami’s poor black community and was branded an ‘outsider artist’.” When he died in 2010, he left 1,884 works of art.

Photograph by David A. Raccuglia

It is no longer correct to classify the African American artist Purvis Young (1943-2010) as an Outsider Artist. His work is owned and exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC, along with dozens of other major collections, public and private, around the world. In 2018 the artist was posthumously inducted into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame.

Self-taught might be a better term, although Young credits the Florida public libraries and their collections of art books as his teachers. And so it is appropriate that one of his unique artists’ books be added to the Graphic Arts collection in Firestone Library. Like his paintings, the volume is made of found material–a repurposed book–crammed with multi-colored pages, collaged drawings, and personal symbolism. A handwritten title reads: People Whit Something To Do, with various pages dated 1981-1988.


A wonderful full-length documentary Purvis of Overtown was produced by the Souls Grown Deep Foundation in 2012 and can be viewed here: On March 5, at 12:00 noon EST, Raina Lampkins-Fielder, curator at Souls Grown Deep will deliver the 2021 Griffin Memorial Lecture at Princeton University (through zoom) and tell us more about the Atlanta-based nonprofit that documents, preserves, and showcases art by African-American artists of the American South. Register for the event here:



“I been drawing all my life, but I taught myself to paint in the early seventies. I seen people protesting. I seen the war going on. Then I found out how these guys paint their feelings up North, paint on walls. Wall of Respect. That’s when I start painting like that. I didn’t have nothing going for myself. That’s the onliest thing I could mostly do. I was just looking through art books, looking at guys painting their feelings. The first things I painted were heads with halos around them.”

“I started out about 1971 in Goodbread Alley. I wanted to express my own feeling. I wanted the peoples to see it. I put my paintings on a lot of fronts of abandoned buildings. They was fixing to tear them down and build an expressway. I knowed when I was making the art that one day it was going to go. Nothing’s going to last forever.”– Taken from interviews with Purvis Young by William Arnett and Larry Clemons in 1994 and 1995.



Hop-O’-My-Thumb Boxing Night

Drury Lane Christmas Pantomime, Hop O’ My Thumb, Boxing Night. [London, ca. 1864]. Ink and watercolor on paper. Graphic Arts Collection GAX 2021- in process

Not all our students know that “hop-o’-my-thumb” (or hop on my thumb) is a reference to a very small person. The character first appeared as one of eight fairy tales by Charles Perrault (1628-1703) in Histoires ou countes du temps passé in 1697, translated to English by Robert Samber thirty years later. This is only one of many small characters in literature. There is Tom Thumb or Thombe, who dates back to 1621, along with Der kleine Däumling (Germany), Little One Inch/Issun-bōshi (Japan), Thumbikin (Norway), and many others.

Tom Thumbe, his life and death: wherein is declared many maruailous acts of manhood, full of wonder, and strange merriments: which little knight liued in King Arthurs time, and famous in the court of Great-Brittaine. London : Printed [by A. Mathewes?] for Iohn Wright, 1630.

In the 1850s George Cruikshank (1792-1878) published a series of fairy tales, including Hop-o’-My-Thumb, implanted with his personal abstinence pledge and commitment to the temperance movement. He altered the stories so that villains were alcoholics or gamblers. Charles Dickens (1812-1870) was one of Cruikshank’s detractors, writing “Frauds on the fairies” and “Whole hogs,” in Household Words (October 1, 1853), to which Cruikshank responded with his own widely circulated letter that began:

George Cruikshank (1792-1878), A letter from Hop-o’-My-Thumb [i.e. G. Cruikshank] to Charles Dickens, esq.: upon “Frauds on the fairies,” “Whole hogs,” &c. (London : D. Bogue, [1854?]) Graphic Arts Collection Cruik 1854.

See also a draft: George Cruikshank (1792-1878), The Controversy between Charles Dickens and George Cruikshank concerning George Cruikshank’s Fairy Library; autograph letter, 1853. Manuscripts Collection C0256 (no. 36) Gift of Richard Waln Meirs, Class of 1888.


Theatre Royal Drury Lane staged its first pantomimes in the 18th century and by 1761 they became a regular feature. From 1852 to 1888, E. L. Blanchard was the author of 37 pantomimes performed at the Theatre Royal and the first to present Hop-o-My-Thumb within the Christmas pantomime series.

1861 – The House That Jack Built; or, Old Mother Hubbard and Her Wonderful Dog
1862 – Little Goody Two Shows; or, Harlequin and Cock Robin
1863 – Harlequin Sindbad the Sailor; or, The Great Roc of Diamond Valley
1864 – Hop o’ my Thumb and his Eleven Brothers!; or, Harlequin and the Ogre of the Seven-Leagued Boots
1865 – Little King Pippin; or, Harlequin Fortunatus and the Magic Purse and Wishing Purse
1866 – Unknown
1867 – Faw-Fee-Fo-Fum; or, Jack the Giant Killer
1868 – Grimalkin the Great; or, Harlequin Puss in Boots and the Miller’s Son

The Graphic Arts Collection recently acquired an original ink-and-watercolor advertisement designed as a poster or a program cover for the 1864 production. Note in particular the figures that form the letters of the word Pantomime.

In their review, The Times of London praised the performers of the show for executing their craft “in the best manner that circumstances will allow” and for the “great importance” they attached to their pantomime. The Times continued with further accolades: “All the artists are the best….The painter is Mr. William Beverley, the acknowledged chief of faery illustration, the genius to whom the ‘transformation scene’ in the present sense of the word may be said to owe its existence.”

It is hard to make out the artist’s signature in the bottom right corner. Can you recognize the name?

Read more: Jeffrey Richards, The Golden Age of Pantomime (London & New York: I.B. Tauris, [2015]),

James Herbert Parsons’ design for Princeton College

James Herbert Parsons’ scrapbook, ca. 1900. Graphic Arts Collection. Gift of W. Allen Scheuch II, Class of 1976.

Thanks to the generous gift of W. Allen Scheuch II Class of 1976, the Graphic Arts Collection holds a scrapbook assembled by James Herbert Parsons (1831-1905), containing approximately 170 sketches and finished designs including heraldry, monograms, figures, birds, animals, and jewelry, some of which are miniatures. Most are watercolors but there are also drawings in pen-and-ink, charcoal, and pencil. The scrapbook, begun while the artist was still in England, was handed down to his youngest son Philip in 1905 and then, to Philip’s niece Mary Evelyn Parsons Austin in 1942.

The highlight of the collection is a design for Princeton College (or the College of New Jersey), including no less than three tigers. It is not known whether the campus ever adopted Parsons’ design for regular use. Although it is not dated, the design was made some time before 1896, when the school’s name was officially changed to Princeton University during its Sesquicentennial Celebration. More about the Princeton colors and shield here:

For many years the same brief biography for Parsons was listed in every source: “An artist, died in West New Brighton, Staten Island, N. Y., on December 25, 1905, at the age of seventy-four years. He was with Tiffany & Co. for twenty-three years, and obtained the Beaconsfield gold medal in 1880. He won medals for his employers at the Paris and Chicago expositions. One of his best works was the [1895] marriage certificate of the Duke of Marlborough and Miss Consuelo Vanderbilt.” — American Art Directory v.6

But this is only a small part of the story.

James Herbert Parsons was born in March 1831, London, England, to Peter and Mary Parsons. He was baptized on May 25 at St. Mary Abbots Church in Kensington, and as an adult rented a house on Edwardes Square, Kensington, never moving more than a few blocks from his extended family. James married Mary Flowers (born 1832) and together they had 5 daughters and 3 sons. He worked as a fine art engraver and by the age of 39, is listed as a draughtsman, which meant he was creating his own designs rather than engraving the designs of others.

In 1881, James emigrated to New York City, leaving his wife to care for their 8 children, all still living at home. Presumably he was offered a position with Tiffany & Company, which had stores in Paris and New York City but not London. The following year, Mary and (at least) her two youngest children sailed for New York and moved into James’ apartment at 416 West 68th Street off 9th Avenue, which was large enough to include an Irish maid. You might think they lived here so that he could walk to work but at that time Tiffany’s headquarters was located at 15 Union Square West, where it remained until 1906. The New York Times called the building the “palace of jewels.”

His position with Tiffany’s brought the Parsons family wealth and stability, even throughout the bank panic of 1893, when his design work won a medal for Tiffany & Co. at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago.

The family eventually moved to Staten Island only a few years before James’ death Christmas Day at the age of 74, the cause listed on the death certificate as Typhoid, Pneumonia, Senility.

Here are some of the other treasures in the Parsons scrapbook:


–mice found in the garden of their new home on Staten Island 1891