Birch, William  "New Lutheran Church in Fourth Street, Philadelphia"
Birch, William  "New Lutheran Church in Fourth Street, Philadelphia"
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Birch, William "New Lutheran Church in Fourth Street, Philadelphia"

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William Birch (1755-1834).  “New Lutheran Church in Fourth Street, Philadelphia.” From The City of Philadelphia

Philadelphia: William Birch, 1804.  Second edition.  Approx. 8 3/8 x 11 (image). Engraving.  Hand color. Light old stains in margins, not affecting image. Else very good condition.  A/A

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 cosmopolitan 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 Birch focusing on the sophistication of the inhabitants and the stateliness of the buildings.  The homes and public buildings provide a dignified 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 publication of the prints was in 1800, with 27 plates issued, engraved by S. Seymour.  Many of these plates appeared in later editions, but with Birch’s concern of giving an up-to-date portrait of the city, they were always modified to reflect any changes.  The first edition was a success, its subscription list numbering 156, including Thomas Jefferson, and this prompted a second edition that was issued in 1804.  The second edition contained one completely new plate, six revised plates, and thirteen modified plates.  These were engraved and published by Birch.  A final edition with eleven modified plates and three new plates appeared in 1827-1828, again engraved and published by Birch.

The New Lutheran Church was located on the east side of Fourth Street, just north of Arch.  It had originally been built in the 1760s, but it burned the day after Christmas, 1794.  This print shows the rebuilt structure which stood until 1869.  Of particular interest is the depiction of a delegation of Native Americans strolling down the street.  As Philadelphia was at this time the capital of the United States, such delegations of Indians were a common sight in the city.

Other prints by William Birch:

High Street Market

Library & Surgeons Hall, 5th St Philadelphia

Theatre in Chesnut [sic] Street Philadelphia

Destroy'd by Fire in 1820. The Late Theatre in Chestnut Street ...

New Theatre in Chesnut [sic] Street Philadelphia

The New Theatre in Chestnut Street Philadelphia Built 1822. Taken down 1856...

Girard's Bank, late the Bank of the United States ...

Philadelphia Bank in Fourth Street Philadelphia

Arch Street, with the Second Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia

New Market, in South Second Street Philadelphia

Back of the State House, Philadelphia

Second Street North from Market St. with Christ Church Philadelphia

High Street, with the First Presbyterian Church. Taken down in 1820. Philadelphia

An Unfinished House, in Chestnut Street Philadelphia

The Water Works in Centre Square Philadelphia

Landsdown, the Seat of the late Wm. Bingham, Esq. ...

Bath, Near Bristol, Pennsylvania