William Russell Birch. “Philadelphia Bank in Fourth Street, Philadelphia. Built 1809. Taken down 1837.” From the City of Philadelphia.
Philadelphia: William Birch, . McAllister restrike. Engraving. Full hand color. 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 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. This print is a restrike which was issued by John McAllister around 1860 and can be identified as such by a number engraved just outside the image in the upper right hand corner.