Rare Book Monthly

Articles - February - 2017 Issue

There is always more: Edwin Whitefield

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Poughkeepsie, 1852. By Edwin Whitefield

Recently I was reading Antiques & Arts Weekly and chanced upon a 3-column ad for a Poughkeepsie print.  As it’s within my collecting focus I called the advertiser, Holden Antiques, to inquire and Ed Holden quickly explained he would offer his best price and that would be that.  He apparently had fielded other inquiries but the price had seemed to them a bit steep.  He had it listed at $1,150 but would let it go for $950.  He then quickly excused himself as if to say goodbye as I asked for his mailing address.  “Why” he asked?  “I’m going to send you a check.”  “You are?”  “Yes, and what about the shipping?  He said $200 and I asked him to reconfirm the size:  Frame dimensions were 40.5” x 27.75”, engraving dimension 34” wide x 16.5” high.  This was one of the few known large prints of Poughkeepsie executed by Edwin Whitefield.  Others who inquired may have thought this was the common 5” x 8” version Whitefield had done in 1845.  This larger version is dated 1852.

 

Whitefield was an engraver.  He’s not a household name although records associated with him are in the RBH Database.  Initially I searched for E. Whitefield as that is how his name appeared on the Poughkeepsie print.  Subsequently I realized that E. was for Edwin and ran that search.  The first search had 7 results in the RBH Database and the later 73.  Fifty of the records relate to a book that Whitefield published in several editions in the 1880s.  The balance mainly relates to North American Scenery, published in 1847 and to the occasional large format prints he executed between 1846 and 1865.  According to Donald Heald, the New York dealer who has made a market in Whitefield material for more than twenty-five years, his work is frequently first rate and his skill set, among the best of his era.  Nevertheless he is, and remains, mainly unknown.

 

He both wrote his own books and illustrated other author’s work. 

 

And there have been books written about him.  Hudson River Houses by John Zukowsky [1981] and Bettina A. Norton, in her book Edwin Whitefield – Nineteenth Century North American Scenery published in 1977, wrote about the New York Public Library’s Whitefield sketchbook and mentions:

 

“By the time of the publication [1852] of [the] Poughkeepsie [large format] print, Whitefield’s handling of the foreground was fully developed, and, with its topographically attractive horizon with College Hill, its varying tones, and its skillful drawing, it is one of the most attractive.”

 

May I admit I’m happy neither the dealer nor the other prospective buyers read that.  The price would have been higher and the print long gone when I called.

 

But if its obscure it is also rare.  A check of inventories suggests that New York Public and New York Historical Society have copies.  The Minnesota Historical Society has prints from his later career but no example of Poughkeepsie.  Boston Public also has his material but lists only 4 four Massachusetts scenes among its holdings.  In the OCLC there are references to Whitefield and some of the books he illustrated and there is a reference to the 1852 Poughkeepsie print but no locations given.  In Whitefield’s own records he describes his Poughkeepsie print as No. 27 in his Views of American Cities and the OCLC reference to it seems to be a reference to this list rather than to a specific example.

 

The print is rare.  No question about it.

 

Poughkeepsie was in its golden moment and Whitefield captured it.  This city on the Hudson was important in the 1820 – 1860 era of the Hudson River as America’s Broadway but, by 1852, the pendulum of American growth was swinging west and this survival is one of the clearest images we have of what Poughkeepsie was like then.

 

As to what it’s worth the parameters are size, condition, rarity, importance, significance and of course, how many people care.

 

The printed and hand-colored piece is robust at 16.5” x 34”[image dimension] and the condition very good.  I’m no expert but there are neither tears nor discoloration.  And the print is rare but why isn’t clear.  Was it produced in just a few copies or were they too fragile to survive?  Perhaps both.  Important is to some extent what matters to you.

 

As to significance the image offers a unique highly detailed view.  Ten years later photographic images would begin to appear but no images of Poughkeepsie of any significant size appear for another decade or two.   So this print is probably the best image of the city in that era.  But who knows?  Many people inquired about the print and it was still available when I called.  I think they were confused and I just lucky.  Certainly some, perhaps all, who inquired thought it was an example of the 5” x 8” print of Poughkeepsie he executed 7 years earlier.  That print is worth $200 to $300.

 

Ed Holden remembers another copy coming up at Cal Smith’s auction in Pleasant Valley nearby in 1977.  He recalled that the price was driven by the Banta Family who owned the Steak and Stein Restaurant in Wappingers and that the price was more than $2,000.  What would have been a big price then today, using the calculations provided in Rare Book Hub, is $10,827.40 and that sounds about right. 

In any event it’s a gem and I’m grateful to have it. 

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Charles Darwin on sexuality and the transmission of hereditary characteristics: Autograph Letter Signed to Lawson Tait. Down, 17 January [1877].
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> MILTON, JOHN. <i>Paradise Lost. A Poem written in ten books.</i> London: 1667. A very rare example with the contemporary binding untouched and with a 1667 title page.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Hamilton secures the ratification of the Constitution: <i>The Debates and Proceedings of the Convention of the State of New-York, assembled at Poughkeespsie, on the 17th June, 1788.</i>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> The social contract “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains”: ROUSSEAU, JEAN-JACQUES. <i>Principes du Droit Politique [Du Contract Social]</i>. Amsterdam: Michel Rey, 1762
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> “The first English textbook on geometrical land-measurement and surveying”: BENESE, RICHARD. <i>This Boke Sheweth the Maner of Measurynge All Maner of Lande…</i>
  • <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Shackleton, Ernest. <i>Aurora Australis.</i> Printed at the sign of 'The Penguins'; East Antarctica, 1908. $70,000 to $100,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Shackleton, Ernest. <i>South Polar Times.</i> 1st edition, limited issue. from the library of Michael Barne. $20,000 to $30,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> General Washington's <i>Proceedings of a General Court Martial... of Major General Lee.</i> Philiadelphia, 1778. 100 copies printed for Congress. BOUND WITH: ...Court Martial... of St Clair and ...Schuyler. $25,000 to $35,000
    <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> <i>The Voice of the People.</i> Boston, 1754. Rare pamphlet on the Excise Tax. Nathaniel Sparhawk's copy. $4,000 to $6,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Autograph Letter Signed ("S.L. Clemens"), offering extensive hard-earned advice on writing, 5 pp, 1881. $30,000 to $50,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> After Fra Egnazio Danti. <i>L'Ultime Parti not:e nel Indie Occid:ntli" [The last known parts of the Western Indies].</i> Painted Map of California, Western Mexico, and Japan. $70,000 to $100,000
    <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Ptolemaeus, Claudius. <i>Geographie opus nouissima...</i> 1513. The most important edition of Ptolemy, containing the Admiral's Map. $250,000 to $350,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> De Arellano, Don Alonso. Manuscript, his <i>"Relación mui singular y circunstanciada... Capitán del Patax San Lucas,"</i> manuscript copy from the Sir Thomas Phillips collection. $50,000 to $80,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Purchas, Samuel. <i>Purchas his Pilgrimes.</i> First edition. With John Simth's engraved map of Virginia. $70,000 to $100,000
    <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Lewis, Meriwether. Contemporary manuscript true copy of his final power of attorney, 1809. $8,000 to $12,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> <i>A New Method of Macarony Making, as Practiced at Boston in North America.</i> Mezzotint. London, 1774. $5,000 to $7,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> <i>Scientific Base Ball Pitching: A Treatise on the Pitcher, Pitching, Origin and Philosophy of the Curve.</i> Chicago, 1897. $2,000 to $3,000
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Franklin H. Brown, <i>State Sovereignty, National Union,</i> Chicago, 1860. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Thomas Paine, <i>The American Crisis,</i> Fishkill, NY, December 1776. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b><br>The Aitken Bible, Philadelphia, 1781. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Francisco Loubayssin de Lamarca, probable first edition of the first novel set in the Spanish New World, Paris, 1617. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Juan de la Anunciación, <i>Sermonario en lengua mexicana,</i> first edition, first book of sermons in Nahuatl, Mexico, 1577. $30,000 to $40,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Maturino Gilberti, <i>Thesoro spiritual en lengua de Mechuacá,</i> first edition, Mexico, 1558. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Commission of William O. Stoddard as secretary to the president, signed by Lincoln, Washington, 1861. $7,000 to $10,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> <i>Clay and Frelinghuysen,</i> flag banner, circa 1844. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Daguerreotype of a man believed to be Frederick Granger Williams Smith, son of Joseph Smith, circa late 1850s. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> John C. Wolfe, <i>Portrait of Abraham Lincoln,</i> oil on board in period wooden frame, circa 1860s. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Francis W. Winton, manuscript on pow-wows with indigenous Canadians, 1881. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Family letters from two young daguerreotype artists, 1826-79. $10,000 to $15,000.

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