William Birch. "Destroy'd by Fire in 1820. The late Theatre in Chestnut Street Philadelphia. Drawn & Published by W. Birch near Bristol 1804. Gilbert Fox Aquafortus." From The City of Philadelphia.
Philadelphia: William Birch, 1827-28. Fourth edition. 7 7/8 x 10 ¾. Engraving. Hand color. Faint mat burn in margins. Margins trimmed near plate marks. Else, very good condition.
The Chestnut Street Theater, located on the north side of Chestnut Street west of Sixth, was designed in the Palladian style after the theatre in Bath, England. This was the principal playhouse in Philadelphia, offering the best plays and actors, and drawing the most distinguished crowds. The building was destroyed by fire in 1820, and was shortly replaced by another theatre in 1822 called the New Chestnut Street Theatre.
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. Each print shows a scene of the vibrant city, with the buildings providing a stately backdrop for the bustling activity that characterized Philadelphia, thus presenting both a physical picture of the city and a feel for its texture and vitality. The project of producing this series was carried out entirely in Philadelphia, and while many other individuals had a role, including Birch’s son Thomas who provided many of the original drawings, the prints were mostly the product of the efforts of William Birch. Not only did he conceive and plan the project, but he also drew many of the scenes and did much of the engraving and publishing. The first edition, published in 1800, included 27 plates engraved by S. Seymour, and it was a great success, and this prompted a second edition that was issued in 1804. A third edition was issued in 1809 and a final edition with eleven modified plates and three new plates appeared in 1827-1828.
Other prints by William Birch: