Thomas M. Scott. “Northern Liberties & Spring Garden/Water Works.”
Philadelphia: P.S. Duval & Co., ca. 1852. 17 1/4 x 25 1/8 (image) plus full margins. Lithograph by C. C. Kuchel. Original hand color. Multiple marginal repairs. Print has been backed with Japan paper. Else, good condition. Ref.: Wainwright, p. 174; Deak: 637; Prints of Philadelphia: 175. A/A
Several of the most celebrated and rarest nineteenth-century Philadelphia prints were the work of the Philadelphia lithographer 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. 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 attractive view of the shores of the Schuylkill is one of these four prized prints. The subject is the dignified neo-Egyptian water works for the Northern Liberties and Spring Garden. These districts of Philadelphia County built their own water system because they felt there was an unfair surcharge for water from the Fairmount system. Interestingly, the artist of this print was a commissioner for the Northern Liberties. The structure was built about a mile above Fairmount and was completed in 1845. Water was pumped from here to a reservoir located near Girard College. In the print several incidental figures stroll by, a man pumps water perhaps for his waiting horse, and a canal boat is seen passing in the far distance. As is the case with the others of the Duval prints, these encounters with daily life add pleasing human interest, as well as valuable information about the economic and social patterns of the day. The subject here is one of the highlights of Philadelphia economic history, the development of the waterworks in the early part of the nineteenth century.