Thomas M. Scott. “Commissioners Hall,/Northern Liberties, Phila.”
Philadelphia: P.S. Duval & Co., ca. 1852. 17 1/2 x 25 1/4. Lithograph with original hand coloring. Professionally repaired tears and paper loses in top margin and into sky. Print is backed with rice paper. Else, good condition. Ref.: Wainwright, p. 120. A/A
Several of the most celebrated and rarest nineteenth-century Philadelphia prints were the work of the Philadelphia lithographic firm of P. S. Duval. From about 1835 until his retirement in 1869, Duval dominated the city’s energetic printmaking scene publishing numerous lithographic portraits, periodical illustrations, and historical works. He was, for one thing, the initial publisher of the famed McKenney-Hall portrait gallery of American Indians. Duval was a prominent local citizen and a spirited businessman, being the only lithographer to be admitted to the city’s Board of Trade before the Civil War. He was also an innovator, the first to adapt steam power to the running of all his presses, and one of the early enthusiasts for the possibilities of printing in color. A final key ingredient to Duval’s success was his ability to attract the very best lithographic artists to work for him.
Duval did not publish so many Philadelphia views as did other local firms in the mid-century. But the four ambitious views of the city that he did produce in the early 1850s are of the finest quality and are now perhaps the most prized 19th-century prints of their type. They exhibit the artistic talent and technical skill that helped to create Duval’s commanding reputation. Duval must not have printed very many of these impressive prints, for they are now among the least seldom seen of all the wonderful 19th-century views of Philadelphia.
This delightful winter scene is one of Duval’s four prized prints. Two delicately drawn and colored horse-drawn sleighs travel down a snowy street in front of a dignified stone building flying the American flag. This ‘official’ building served in colonial times as a barracks for British army officers quartered in the city. Located on the east side of Third Street between Buttonwood and Green streets, it was acquired by the commissioners in 1814 and torn down in 1869 to build the Northern Liberties Grammar School. We are thus given an informative view of the governmental center of the Northern Liberties before the area was incorporated into the City of Philadelphia. Incidental figures in precise period dress walk down the street, along with romping dogs, snowball throwing little boys and a man hard at work shoveling the ankle deep snow. All these carefully worked details add both immense charm and intriguing information about what winter life in Philadelphia would have been like in the mid 1850s.