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When issued in 1800, William Birch's prints of Philadelphia collectively formed the first series of views of any American city, and as such they are of great historical importance. The superior quality of the work is evidenced in the scope of its conception, the artistic excellence of the prints and their fine execution. The prints provide a unique visual record of Philadelphia at a time when it was the most important and cosmopolitan city in the Western Hemisphere, and for a time was the capital of the newly formed United States. Each print illustrates a scene, focusing on the sophistication of the inhabitants and the stateliness of the homes and public buildings.
The project of producing this series was carried out entirely in Philadelphia, and while many other individuals were involved, including Birch's son Thomas who provided many of the original drawings, the prints were the work of William Birch himself. He not only conceived and planned the project, but he also drew many of the scenes and did much of the engraving and publishing.
In order to promote the publication of his famous portfolio of views of Philadelphia, The City of Philadelphia, William Birch decided to have a large view of Philadelphia engraved. Due to the popularity of his views of Philadelphia, Birch contemplated to produce a similar set of views of New York City and in advance he published this large view. Birch advertised these two large views "as elegant furniture for a drawing or setting room, which will serve as references for amusement to the two volumes, when conversation or entertainment of more consequence should cease to be the subject of a party." Unfortunately, the New York series was never published due to financial concerns. The very scarce nature of this large print indicates that not many were produced.
The view of the city is from a grassy lawn at sunset on Long Island. Three states of this print were issued with the first state being identified by a horse grazing in the foreground. In the second state the horse was replaced with a picnic party. The third state is identified by the addition of a publication line "William H. Morgan" just under the image. Morgan acquired this plate and re-struck the image along with the large Philadelphia view around 1820. Overall, a very rare and early view of New York City. $19,500
Thomas Birch. "The City of Philadelphia in the State of Pennsylvania North America." Philadelphia: William H. Morgan, ca., 1820. 18 13/16 x 23 7/8. Engraving by Samuel Seymour. Second state. Full original hand color. Several expertly repaired tears; some chipping in lower margin. Otherwise, very good condition and generous margins. Rare. Ref: M.P. Snyder, "William Birch: His Philadelphia Views," in The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography. Vol. LXXIII; No. 3. Item 42b. Ref: G. G. Deak. Picturing America 1497-1899. Princeton, 1988. #241.
When issued in 1800, William Birch's prints of Philadelphia formed the first series of views of any American city. As the first comprehensive picture of an American city, illustrating its buildings and street life, this work is of great historical importance. The superior quality of the work is evidenced in its scope of conception, the artistic excellence of the prints, and their fine execution. The prints provide a unique visual record of Philadelphia at a time when it was the most important and sophisticated city in the western hemisphere, and for a time was the capital of the newly formed United States.
When William Russell Birch conceived the idea of engraving one of the subjects from his series of views in a larger size to stimulate interest in the series, his son Thomas executed the drawing. A companion print of New York City was published at the same time, for which he planned a series, but was never realized. The two large plates were offered "as elegant furniture for a drawing or setting room, which will serve as reference for amusement to the two volumes, when conversation or entertainment of more consequence should cease to be the subject of a party."
The large tree in the foreground is the Treaty Tree under which William Penn is said to have concluded his famous treaty with the Indians. The first state of this large engraving was issued in 1801 before the addition of the imprint of William Morgan and has some slight differences in the drawing.
Thomas Birch came to America with his father in 1794. Trained in drawing and engraving by his father, young Birch later established an independent reputation as a marine painter. It was for his dramatic portrayal of sea battles during the War of 1812 that he was particularly renowned. $15,000
Birch's Views of Philadelphia. Two Hundredth Anniversary Edition.
S. Robert Teitelman. Philadelphia, 2000. Cloth.
A reduced facsimile of William Russell Birch's The City of Philadelphia . . . as it appeared in the Year 1800. The twenty-seven engravings are reproduced in full color, with accompanying photographs of the sites as they appeared in 1960 and in 2000. $45.00
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