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American Steel Engravings

Although many of us can remember seeing such steel engravings as "Washington and His Generals," "First Blow for Liberty," and similar historic subjects in the homes of our grandparents, these are among the heirlooms so far passed over by most collectors in favor of the colored prints by Currier & Ives and other lithographers. Yet they date from the same period.

Steel engravings were made from about 1835 to 1880. Those of small size were used mostly as book illustrations. The large folio were for framing. Some were hand-colored but the majority were published in black and white. Origi nally they were considerably more expensive than lithographs, but today they lag far behind. From five to about twenty-five dollars is a fair price for the black and white and possibly more than fifty dollars for the colored. Many of them can still be found in their original gold leaf frames.

In their way, they give just as interesting account of the American scene as the more costly lithographs but lack of demand keeps them in a low price group. It seems to me here is a chance for someone to assemble a good repre sentative collection of these steel engravings. "There is the excellent Genre print, "County Elections" after Bingham's painting , engraved by John Sartain of Philadelphia, one of the best and most prolific of American steel engravers. Another fine print is "Mexican News," engraved by Alfred Jones from the painting by R.C. Woodville.

Typical of American subjects done as steel engravings during the years of their popularity is "Washington and His Generals" . It was drawn, engraved, and published by A. H. Ritchie in 1856 and was reissued in 1870 by Emil Seitz of New York. Ritchie was a Scotch painter who turned engraver after he came to the United States in 1841. He established an extensive business in New York where he continued for many years. Among his other engravings are "Lady Washington's Reception," after the painting by Daniel Huntington, and "The Emancipation Proclamation," from Carpenter's painting, which shows Lincoln reading that document to members of his cabinet.

Other good engravings are "Raising the Liberty Pole" and "Pulling Down the Statue of George III" by J.C. McRea. He is also known for a portrait of General Robert E. Lee. Scenic subjects are desirable, especially views of New York, Boston, and other cities, in large size, done by Mottram from drawings by J. W. Hill. Of little or no demand at present are sentimental subjects, such as "Deathbed of Daniel Webster," "Washington Irving and Friends," and others of such type.

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