Rare Book Monthly

Articles - April - 2010 Issue

Frederick Copley: the passing glance

Roslyn-1856

Roslyn. Sep. 23, 1856


Frederick's first watercolors, painted when he is nineteen, are of Brooklyn and Gowanus. The following summer he travels along the Hudson, across New York state and into New England, on trips that last a month and more and eventually take him to Niagara, into Canada and as far east as Portland, Maine. He paints what he sees, communities large and small on the cusp of development, towns that have since emerged and some that have all but disappeared. In 1850 he records his impressions of Boston, Portland and sundry in-betweens but never paints western Massachusetts, Connecticut or Rhode Island, a sequence of hits and misses that suggest he reached Boston by boat. Precisely how he traveled and how he could afford to take such extended trips is unclear. That he did, when he did, is known because he labeled, signed and dated his work.

He becomes a naturalized American citizen in 1849 and is listed in his father's household in the census' of 1850, 1860 and 1870. Over the decades the official address changes and the number of siblings rises and falls. Among his thirty pen images are sketches of his family in the 1850s which cross-reference to information in the censuses. That names of younger siblings disappear may suggest his sisters died young or married away. It's unclear.

In 1864 he publishes his first of two books. It is Copley's Improved Geometrical & Universal Chess-men, adapted for every game on the checkerboard,... We know of it only because a single copy exists in the OCLC.

In 1865 there is evidence that Charles Copley & Sons continues. The elder Mr. Copley, now 65, is listed as author of Coast of the United States, from Cape Fear to the Bahamas, the publisher Charles Copley & Sons.

In 1868 Frederick contributes an article to the monthly >Horticulturalist which is published by his friend George Woodward. We know they know each other because Frederick painted his portrait, one of the sketches in his portfolio. In the article, Garden Ornaments - Designs for Covered Seats by F. S. Copley, artist, Tompkinsville, Staten Island, Frederick includes illustrations reminiscent of his watercolors.

In 1870 Frederick authors a second book Set of Alphabets of all the various hands in modern use with examples in each style, designed as a text book, by Fred'k S. Copley. It is published by the same Geo. E. Woodward, republished in 1877 and again, around the turn-of-the-century.

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