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Old Prints Of Boston



In the year 1634 William Wood wrote in picturesque seventeenth century style in his New England Prospect an impression of Boston, which had been founded in 1630, "Boston is two miles Northeast from Koxberrv: His situation is very Pleasant being a Peninsula... so that a little fencing will secure their cattle from the wolves. Their greatest wants be Wood and Medow ground which never were in that place . . . It being a neck and bare of wood they are not troubled with three great annoyances of wolves, rattlesnakes, and Mosquitoes..This Towne, although it be neither the greatest nor the richest, yet it is the most noted and frequented...There were sixteen other settlements in the Massachusetts Bay Colony but Boston soon established her supremacy over them all.

Of this early Boston we have no picture from a contemporary hand, but in the 18th century the case alters all and we have such print, as A SouthEast View of Ye Great Town of Boston, drawn by Williarn Burg is and engraved by, the enterprising book seller, John Harris, in 1722. This is the most rare and costly of Boston views, just as the Burgis view of New York and the Burgis view of Harvard are leaders in scarcity and value in respect to their subjects. Paul Revere's Boston Massacre, and the even more elusive engraving of the same event by Peter Pelham are also beyond the expectation of ownership for most collectors, but with the nineteenth century, and the introduction of lithography as a means of producing popular and attractive local views, the possibility of assembling an attractive group of Boston subjects is within reasonable reach. Nineteenth century lithographs are delightful in color, animated and picturesque in subject matter and give a more vivid impression of the life of the period than hundreds of pages of description in books.

The Battle of Bunker Hill, which was issued in 1875 in commemoration of the centennial of that immortal victory. It was published by C. Frank King of 32 Winter Street, Boston. after a drawing by Henry A. Thomas of New York, and possibly follows in general plan an earlier print, but based more on imagination than fact, as no sketch from an eye witness. When the, great historical painter. John 'Trumbull, who was living at the time but not present at the battle, attempted to paint the subject. he collected as nmch verbal evidence as possible but his version (now at Yale Univerity) was not popular with those who had been there or had heard of it at first hand. The present scene shows the English frigate Somerset firing on the height held hy Putnam. Prescott and Warren,while several boatloads of British Regulars approach to join their comrades on shore. At the left a wounded soldier is being carried front the field. perhaps the English Major Pitcairn who lost his life on this occasion. In spite of its primitive character the print is a spirited one, and much more attractive than most of the late nineteenth century versions of eighteenth century historical subjects.

The most spectacular as well as disastrous event in Boston"a history was the Great Fire of 1872. New York had had a devastating fire in 1835, Pittsburgh had a great conflagration which wiped out one third of the city in 1845. In 1877 Chicago had what was probably the most destructive of all the great fires of the century, in the amount of territory laid in ruins. The Chicago fire occurred after a long draught and the flames were fanned by an exceptionally high wind so that they swept through blocks of wooden buildings as though they were constructed of paper. The Boston fire was almost equally disastrous and as the region covered was full of historic buildings, rich in old associations, it seemed that much of old Boston was destroyed forever. The flames reached, but did not consume the historic Old South Church, whose spire may be seen encircled in flames and smoke in the Currier and Ives lithograph. The dome of the State House stands out, as the dominant landmark in the skyline of the city as seen from the water front. At the time of the Chicago fire Boston had sent a sum of money for the relief of the homeless and when the Boston fire occurred within the next year Chicago offered to return part of the gift, but the Bostonians were too proud to take back any of the funds, though badly in need of them.

One of the best known of Boston lithographic firms was that of Louis Prang, who issued the print,"Old Warehouse-Dock Square". This interesting old building was erected in 1680 and demolished in 1860. It is described in The Memorial History of Boston(1880) as 'one of the most remarkable buildings in the town, known variously as the "Old Feather Store', also The Old Cocked Hat". The building was of wood covered with a kind of cement stuck thickly with course gravel, bits of broken glass, old junk bottles, etc. The lower story was rather contracted after the usual fashion of the time, and it may have been owing, perhaps, in this case, to the limitations of the lot, which on the south and southwest abutted upon the dock: but above this were ;jetties, that is, projecting stones, and a roof whose gables gave it a fancied resemblance to an old cocked hat. The house was designed for two tenements, and had separate entrances. It was used for many purposes in its long career. At one time there was kept here the principal apothecary's shop of the town, while from 1806 for a long series of years it was occupied as a feather store: hence one of its nick-names. At the time the print was issued, near the end of its long history, the dock had long since been filled in. and the water front driven back considerably. It was then occupied by a drygoods merchant. Charles J. Lovejoy, who displayed clothing by hanging men's coats and trousers outside his shop.

The building of the Mill-Dam in 1821 greatly increased the area of the city. It reclaimed a great deal of land from the Charles River, and was the first of later improvements which still further added to the city, such as the leveling of Beacon Hill to fill in around Long Wharf, and the widening of Roxburv Neck. The Mill-Dam, incidentally- offered a place for such winter sports as are pictured in Haskell & Allen's lithograph of 1871, Leaving Brighton Hotel for the Mill-Dam. Winter, which shows a number of smart sleighs and cutters and the inevitable "spill" which we trust the deep snow rendered harmless.

"Boston Common" is a lithograph from the same firm,. Haskell & Allen, and shows the historic spot as it might have looked some pleasant summer morning with a few of its citizens, young and old, enjoying the placid calm of its gracious trees. At the left. The history of the Comruon might be said to be the history of Boston. It is its most hallowed ground, and the early records of its use and improvements trace the development of the community from its simple pastoral existence in the seventeenth century, through the troubled times of the Revolution, when soldiers were quartered there, to the well disciplined days of the nineteenth century when it filled no more than the function of a city park.

Shortly before the Civil War a young artist made an unheralded appearance in Boston. Winslow Homer, who was later to become the greatest painter of the American seacoast, began his career as an apprentice to the lithographic firm of Bufford in Boston. His early work in woodcut and lithograph was chiefly as an illustrator. He drew quickly and well and had a gift for characterization which freed his sketches of contemporary types fronr the stilted conventions prevalent in his day. This was to make his Civil War sketches and scenes of camp life invaluable. In the 'Fifties he was doing scenes like the Class Day at Harvard University, which shows the time honored melee in the "Yard."Many drawings were done by Homer for Harper's Weekly, and any study of his art, which later developed along quite other lines as he turned to seascape and the water color impressions of the West Indies and Maine, begins with the amusing contributions to the contemporary American scenes, made known through wood cuts in popular magazines to a wide public. So important has Homer become that these old magazine illustrations are sought out once more and given their place in the print collection.



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