Friday, May 9, 2014

Sartain's Original Engraved Steel Plate Of Charlotte Brontë Portrait Comes To Market

by Stephen J. Gertz

The plate.
(Image surrounding engraved oval is a reflection off the plate while photographed).

The original steel plate of the mezzotint portrait of Charlotte Brontë engraved by John Sartain has surfaced.

Sartain (1808-1897), known as the "father of mezzotint engraving" in the U.S., produced the portrait, engraved after George Richmond's famous portrait in chalk, in Philadelphia c. 1857.

The 10 1/4 x 7 inch beveled steel plate, engraved with Sartain's signature (verso with dagger-and-S mark of John Sellers & Sons Sheffield, an English manufacturer of steel and copper plates for engravers, amongst other goods, with an office in New York), appears to have been made to accompany the long review essay, The Life of Charlotte Bronte, in the October 1857 issue of The Eclectic Magazine of Foreign Literature, Science and Art, which Sartain had an early financial interest in. 

A print struck from the plate.

John Sartain was arguably the foremost American engraver of his time and inarguably the pioneer of the mezzotint process in this country. He popularized the intricate printmaking process when he emigrated to the United States from England in 1830. His mezzotint prints possess a strong and rich texture that heightens and intensifies their aesthetic character.

Sartain was born in London in 1808. Left fatherless at the age of eight, he became responsible for the support of his family.  At age eleven, he took a job as assistant scene painter to an Italian pyrotechnist working at Covent Garden under Charles Kemble’s management and at Vauxhall Gardens in London. 

John Sartain.

In 1823, Sartain became an apprentice to engraver John Swaine (1775-1860), with whom he studied and worked for seven years.  Sartain also learned to paint, studying miniature painting with Henry Richter (1772-1857). He moved to Philadelphia in 1830.

He then produced engravings for various American periodicals including Gentleman’s Magazine, The Casket, and Godey’s Lady’s Magazine.  Sartain, beginning 1841, made quite a few  engravings for Graham’s Magazine, and, in 1849, he, along with William Sloanaker, bought the magazine for $5,000.  They changed the title to Sartain’s Union Magazine of Literature and Art. Among Graham's noted contributors were Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Edgar Allan Poe (an assistant editor there, as well), who became a close, personal friend of Sartain.

Charlotte Brontë by George Richmond, 1850.

George Richmond (1809-1896), in his youth a disciple of William Blake, was a painter and draftsman with 326 portraits to his credit.

Brontë's publisher, George Smith of Smith Elder & Co., commissioned this portrait in chalk of the novelist from Richmond as a gift for Brontë's father, who saw in it "strong indications of the genius of the author." Novelist Elizabeth Gaskell recalled seeing the portrait hung in the parlour of the Haworth parsonage, and a copy of it appeared in her biography of Brontë.

Only a handful of likenesses of Charlotte Bronte have survived,  Richmond's portrait is by far the most celebrated, and Sartain's mezzotint is the finest engraving based upon it.

The plate exhibits the mezzotint (half-tone) process very well. Mezzotint achieves tone variations by working the plate with thousands of little dots made by a metal tool with small teeth called a "rocker." In printing, the tiny pits in the plate hold the ink when the face of the plate is wiped clean.  Subtle gradations of light and shade and richness in the print can be accomplished in skilled hands, and Sartain was a master of mezzotint, the first tonal process used in engraving, with aquatint to follow. Previously, tone and shading were possible only by employing hatching, cross-hatching, or stipple engraving, line or dot-based techniques that left a lot to be desired for nuanced effects.

There is no truth to the rumor I started that the Van Morrison-penned song, Mystic Eyes (recorded by Them, 1965), was inspired by the Richmond-Sartain portrait of Charlotte Brontë.

The plate is being offered by The 19th Century Rare Book & Photography Shop, of Maryland and New York.

[BRONTE, Charlotte]. SARTAIN, John. Charlotte Bronte mezzotint portrait. Original steel plate, signed in the plate by John Sartain after George Richmond. N.P., [Philadelphia], c. 1857.

Original beveled steel plate (7 x 10 ¼ in.),  Light surface wear, a small tarnish mark.

Brontë plate and print images courtesy of the 19th Century Rare Book & Photography Shop, with our thanks.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

1st Edition Of Emancipation Proclamation & Final Edition Of Lincoln's Hair

by Stephen J. Gertz

A copy of the first edition in book form of the Emancipation Proclamation, the document that freed the slaves in the Southern states during the American Civil War, will be offered by Heritage Auctions in its Americana and Political Signature sale May 24, 2014. It is estimated to sell for $5,000-$7,000.

The Proclamation in its preliminary form was issued by President Lincoln on September 22, 1862. It stressed military necessity as the basis for the freeing the slaves. The revised and final Proclamation became official on January 1, 1863. It was published as a broadside and simultaneously as a  seven-page booklet (3 1/8 x 2 1/8 in.) in pink wrappers in December 1862 by John Murray Forbes, a Boston Unionist who helped to raise troops, including the famous 54th Massachusetts Regiment. The booklet, seen above, was intended for distribution to Union troops who, in turn, could distribute copies to slaves in regions of the South occupied by Union forces.

It has the original thread binding and a brass grommet through pages 5-7 and the back cover. It is estimated that less than ten copies have survived.

Collectors of celebrity and historical hair will have their own stand on end and dance a jig in their follicles when Heritage offers five strands of Abraham Lincoln's scalp hair, part of a lock clipped while The Great Emancipator was on his deathbed. The hairs are estimated to sell for $1,000-$1,500.

The lock was originally owned by Dr. Charles Sabin Taft who was the second surgeon to treat Lincoln on the evening of his assassination. The five hairs are part of the most authenticated lock of Lincoln's hair extant. It was originally removed by Dr. Charles Leale, the first surgeon to arrive in aid of the dying President, so he could have clear access to examine and treat Lincoln's wound.

The lock was given to Mrs. Lincoln who soon returned it to Dr. Taft as a gift in appreciation of his efforts. Taft was a young surgeon who attended wounded Union troops at a Washington hospital and had become acquainted with the President during Lincoln's visits to the recovering soldiers. Dr. Taft willed the hair to his son, Charles C. Taft, who sold it to William H. Lambert in 1908.

Upon Lambert's death, the Lincoln hair was sold to Henry C. Hines, in whose possession it remained until 1993 when it was discovered in his estate. The small hairs are preserved in a plastic sleeve and barely perceptible in the image above. Copies of dozens of letters, documents and articles accompany the strands of hair as well as a Certificate of Authenticity from John Reznikoff of University Archives, holder of the Guinness World Record for the largest and most valuable collection of celebrity hair. A dubious distinction to the artifact-jaded, perhaps but I, for one, think DNA testing on literary celebrities' hair could be quite revealing; I'd like to get a load o' Georges Sand's genome, for historical purposes only, of course.

Included is a letter from Charles C. Taft to Civil War sergeant, writer, and famed collector of Lincoln memorabilia, Osborn H. I. Oldroyd (1842-1930), offering the lock of hair in 1907.

Dear Sir,

I am in receipt of yours from the 13th and contents noted. in reply will state that I will sell you the Lock of Hair and cuff button from the late President Abraham Lincoln for one thousand dollars. I consider this a very low figure for such precious articles, and were it not that I can use the money, I would not part with them at any price. Awaiting your reply.

Very truly yours,

Charles C. Taft

It is unknown how many strands of hair were in the original lock. Charles C. Taft split hairs, presenting six strands to John Hay, Lincoln's personal assistant and, later, Secretary of State. Hay had his six strands put inside a ring and in 1905 presented them to President Theodore Roosevelt upon the occasion of his inauguration with a letter that read "The hair in this ring is from the head of Abraham Lincoln. Dr. Taft cut it off the night of his assassination." The rest of the lock remained in Taft's possession.

His offer to Oldroyd declined, in 1908 Taft wrote to General James Grant Wilson offering the Lincoln Hair and a cuff button for sale. Wilson couldn't purchase the items but he alerted Major William H. Lambert. Lambert purchased the Lincoln items in a well documented sale on March 12, 1908.

For collectors of Americana, particularly of Lincolniana, these five strands of Lincoln's hair should be tantamount to five leaves from a Gutenberg Bible yet they are being offered for only $200-$300 per strand.

For perspective, a lock of Elvis Presley's hair sold in 2009 for $15,000. Our cultural priorities appear to be twisted; sic semper tyrannis, Jack. Perhaps if Lincoln had  sung Heartbreak Hotel while  wearing blue suede shoes on the night of the assassination his hair would be  appraised at higher price.

Not too long ago twelve strands of Michael Jackson's hair sold for $2,000, a price that seems rather low but the hairs were singed in 1984 while Jackson was shooting a Pepsi commercial and his head accidentally caught fire during the pyrotechnical display: condition is everything. Michael Jackson hair in fine condition would surely have been a thriller and fetched a great deal more.

Hair today, gone tomorrow, the auctioneer declared then ducked a tomato thrown his way.

Images courtesy of Heritage Auctions, with our thanks.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Mark Twain, Collector Of Compliments

by Stephen J. Gertz

Little Montana Girl's Compliment
"She was gazing thoughtfully at a photograph of Mark Twain
on a neighbor's mantelpiece. Presently she said, reverently,
'We've got a Jesus like that at home only ours has more trimmings.'"

On January 11, 1908, The Lotos Club in New York City, one of the oldest literary associations in the United States, held a dinner in honor of one of its members, Samuel L. Clemens, aka Mark Twain.

Founded in New York City in 1870 by a group of young writers, journalists and critics, the Lotos Club initiated Twain to membership in 1873, who, waggish card that he was, immediately declared it “The Ace of Clubs.” At the dinner - attended by many luminaries - the guest of honor gave a speech announcing that he had become a collector of compliments. PBA Galleries is offering one of those compliments, in Twain's hand, in its Historic Autographs & Manuscripts with Archival Material sale May 8, 2014. It is estimated to sell for $2,500-$4,000.

As reported in the New York Times, January 12, 1908, Twain told the gathering:

"I wish to begin at the beginning, lest I forget it altogether. I wish to thank you for your welcome now and for that of seven years ago, which I forgot to thank you for at the time, also for that of fourteen years ago which I also forgot to thank you for. I know how it is; when you have been in a parlor and are going away, common decency ought to make you say the decent thing, what a good time you have had. Everybody does it except myself.

"I hope that you will continue that excellent custom of giving me dinners every seven years. I had had it on my mind to join the hosts of another world - I do not know which world - but I have enjoyed your custom so much that I am willing to postpone it for another seven years.

"The guest is in an embarrassing position, because compliments have been paid to him. I don't care whether you deserve it or not, but it is hard to talk up to it.

"The other night at the Engineers' Club dinner they were paying Mr. Carnegie here discomforting compliments. They were all compliments and they were not deserved, and I tried to help him out with criticisms and references to things nobody understood.

"They say that one cannot live on bread alone, but I could live on compliments. I can digest them. They do not trouble me. I have missed much in life that I did not make a collection of compliments, and keep them where I could take them out and look at them once in a while. I am beginning now. Other people collect autographs, dogs, and cats, and I collect compliments. I have brought them along.

"I have written them down to preserve them, and think that they're mighty good and exceedingly just."

[Twain began to read a few. The first, by essayist, critic, and editor Hamilton W. Mabie, declared that La Salle might have been the first man to make a voyage of the Mississippi, but that Mark Twain was the first man to chart light and humor for the human race].

"If that had been published at the time that I issued that book [Life on the Mississippi] it would have been money in my pocket. I tell you it is a talent by itself to pay complements gracefully and have them ring true. It's an art by itself.

"Now, here's one by my biographer. Well, he ought to know me if anybody does. He's been at my elbow for two years and a half. This is Albert Bigelow Paine:

"'Mark Twain is not merely the great writer, the great philosopher, but he is the supreme expression of the human being with its strengths and weaknesses.'

"What a talent for compression!"

[Novelist, editor, and critic William Dean Howells, Twain said, spoke of him as first of Hartford and ultimately of the solar system, not to say of the universe].

"You know how modest Howells is. If it can be proved that my fame reaches to Neptune and Saturn, that will satisfy even me. You know how modest and retiring Howells is, but deep down he is as vain as I am."

"Edison wrote: 'The average American loves his family. If he has any love left over for some other person he generally selects Mark Twain.'

"Now here's the compliment of a little Montana girl, which came to me indirectly. She was in a room in which there was a large photograph of me. After gazing at it steadily for a time, she said:

"'We've got a John the Baptist like that.' 

"She also said: 'Only ours has more trimmings.'

"I suppose she meant the halo.

[Since the offered "compliment" is numbered “4” and the Times reported the little girl’s compliment after three prior, this sheet was most likely Twain’s reading copy; he extemporaneously changed some of the words but it was basically the same story].

"Now here is a gold miner's compliment. It is forty-two years old. It was my introduction to an audience to which I lectured in a log schoolhouse. There were no ladies there. I wasn't famous then. They didn't know me. Only the miners were there with their breeches tucked into their boot tops and with clay all over them. They wanted someone to introduce me, and then selected a miner, who protested that he didn't want to do on the ground that he had never appeared in public. This is what he said:

"'I don't know anything about this man. Anyhow, I only know two things about him. One is he has never been in jail and the other is I don't know why...'"

The dinner was Twain-themed. As tasty as his speech was, the meal was tastier, a feast for those whose tongue for Twain went all the way. On the menu that evening:

Innocent Oysters Abroad.
Roughing It Soup.
Huckleberry Finn Fish.
Joan of Arc Filet of Beef.
Jumping Frog Terrapin.
Punch Brothers Punch.
Gilded Duck.
Hadleyburg Salad.
Life on the Mississippi Ice Cream.
Prince and the Pauper Cake.
Pudd'nhead Cheese.
White Elephant coffee.
Chateau Yquem Royals.
Pommery Brut.
Henkow Cognac.

Dishes served only in spirit included:

Double-Barrelled Detective Mystery Vegetable.
Connecticut Yankee Stew.
Mysterious Stranger Souvlaki.

Our compliments to the chef - and honoree.

Image courtesy of PBA Galleries, with our thanks.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Stories By Great Danes Are Not Dogs

by Stephen J. Gertz

The literature of mid-nineteenth century Denmark is the subject this anthology of tales and verse selected and translated by Mrs. Anne Bushby (b. ? - d. 1875). 

“Most of the following stories have appeared, from time to time, in the ‘New Monthly Magazine,’ and a few in other periodicals. They are now gathered together, and it is hoped that they may convey a favourable impression of the lighter literature of Denmark, a country rich in genius, science, and art” (Prefatory note).

Included are stories and poems by Hans Christian Andersen (“Morten Lange. A Christmas Story” and “The Man from Paradise. A Comic Tale”); Carl Bernhard aka A.N. Saint-Aubain (“Cousin Carl,” “Aunt Francisca,” “Damon and Pythas,” and “The Bankrupt”); novelist and poet Bernard Severin Ingemann (“The Doomed House,” “The Secret Witness,” “All Souls’ Day,” “The Aged Rabbi. A Jewish Tale,” and “The Death Ship”); Carit Etlar (“Too Old,” “The Shipwrecked Mariner’s Treasure,” and “Twice Sacrificed”); poet Hans Peter Holst (“Lisette’s Castles in the Air”), poet and playwright Adam Oehlenschlager (“Death and His Victims”), and others.

The translations were not universally admired; Mrs. Bushby took liberties; hers is not a literal translation. Yet she understood what the authors meant and captured the underlying sense of their work.

"Mrs Bushby is in many ways an interesting translator, who did not see Andersen as simply a children's writer, and that some of her divergences from Andersen's text are not mistakes but deliberate adaptations for the benefit of her audience in Victorian Britain...Mrs Anne S. Bushby  knew Andersen personally, had indeed courted his acquaintance since his first visit to London in 1847, when her husband called upon him to invite him to dinner.

"At that time Andersen's English translator was Charles Beckwith Lohmeyer, but his English publisher, Richard Bentley, apparently encountered difficulties with him, and in a letter to Andersen dated 18 January 1853 suggested Mrs Anne Bushby instead, referring to her as 'a friend of yours, I believe.' How Mrs Bushby came to know Danish we do not know. However, it is remarkable that unlike most of Andersen's other translators from the same period, she seems to have translated mainly poetry, and of prose only Danish…

"...Mrs Bushby was not a professional translator, but that her work was indeed a labour of love. It is equally clear from examining the stories she chose that she was not aiming at the children's market, where stories like 'The Old Bachelor's Nightcap' have never belonged. Nor are her two volumes of tales (A Poet's Day Dreams (1853) and The Sand-hills of Jutland (I860) illustrated or in other ways made appealing to the young. Indeed it would seem that she saw it as her job to supplement the earlier translations, translating new work by Andersen rather than bringing out established successes in yet another version. This was undoubtedly also the attitude of her publisher, Bentley, who at one point complained to Andersen that competition was becoming so fierce and pirating so rife that only new work which could be published and sold before competitors could pirate it was reasonably sure of earning a profit... In the end, Bentley gave up publishing Andersen altogether" (Viggo Hjørnager Pedersen, Anne Bushby, Translator of Hans Christian Andersen, Gothenberg University, 2004).

Andersen's The Man From Paradise could not be more different than the children's stories that earned him fame. A widow, recently remarried, is depressed, thinking about her first husband in the great beyond while the second is away. Suddenly, she hears a knock on the door and presumes a ghost "or corpse-like form" will appear. It is, instead, a young man.

Upon questioning him she learns that he is on his way to Paris.  Unfortunately, she hears it as "Paradise," and asks him to give her love and that of their daughter to her late husband, as well as "his successor's compliments."

The young man, an itinerant con man, plays along, claiming to have met her husband in Paradise, who, according to him, is currently in bad shape and in need of all she can provide to him.

The widow loads the knave up with food and clothing and sends him on his way. Enter husband number two, who upon hearing his wife's tale "smelled a rat" and took off on horseback after him, not admitting his suspicions to his wife.

He catches up to the thief but is bamboozled into believing that the real bandit just passed by on foot a moment ago. Leaving his horse in trust with the stranger, the man takes off into the forest after the knave, who, as expected, mounts the horse and rides off, his laughter trailing behind him.

The duped and embarrassed husband schleps back home.

"'Well, did you find him?' asked his smiling wife.
He answered, in a tone subdued, 'My life,
I did. I found him, and--and--for your sake,
Our best, our swiftest horse I let him take,
That he with greater speed might find his way.'
The dame smiled on him, and in accents gay
Exclaimed, 'O best of husbands! who could find
Your equal--one so thoughtful, wise, and kind!'"

The similarity to a typical Raymond Carver short story is manifest in the tacit ending wherein the defeated husband collapses into the Lazy-Boy in the rec room of their seedy-side of the San Fernando Valley house-wreck in foreclosure, pours himself a tall whiskey, drains it, and proceeds to empty the .38 kept on the coffee table as a conversation piece, shot by shot, into the ceiling, a wall, the big-screen TV, a window, his framed high school diploma, the widow, and himself: what we talk about when we talk about love.

[BUSHBY, Mrs. Anne, editor and translator]. The Danes Sketched by Themselves. A Series of Popular Stories by the Best Danish Authors. Translated by Mrs. Bushby. In Three Volumes. London: Richard Bentley, 1864.

First edition. Three octavo volumes (7 7/8 x 4 15/16 inches; 200 x 125 mm.). [2, publisher’s advertisements], [6], 312; [4], 303, [1, blank]; [4], 303, [1, blank] pp.

Original terra cotta pebble-grain cloth with covers decoratively stamped in blind and spines ruled, decoratively stamped, and lettered in gilt. Original cream-colored endpapers.

Not in Sadleir or Wolff.
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