George Washington on the Editing Table

In the historical autograph world, we see them all the time, usually accompanied by an autograph of Abraham Lincoln or some other great historical figure.  Engravings are all around us.  Most of them originated in the 19th century and were either sold separately or contained in books.  Today, they are the artwork of choice for many hotels, businesses, law firms, homes.  But did you ever wonder how the scenes of great events and portraits of famous people were produced?  A study in George Washington will help illustrate the process.

First a proof is created to be sent to the editor.  Below is one of many engravings from the files of George Palmer Putnam, publisher of Washington Irving’s "Life of Washington," a recent acquisition by The Raab Collection.  One of Putnam's editors has evidently found fault with the engraver’s work. "Forehead a little more shaded – too broad a light over the right brow 1/2 way up."

This same editor has given instructions to scrape out the shoulder and make several changes to Washington's face, presumably to conform more to the original painting from which it was taken.

But this was mild criticism compared to his overall critique. Below he writes "The Engraver promised to send me the first of every other proof for correction.  He has been much in fault."

And our final version?  It lists the artist (Rembrandt Peale), engraver (HH Hall) and publisher (GP Putnam). Peale’s work captured on a steel engraving.

Many collectors of historical autographs present their treasures alongside a historical print (usually by way of framing).  It's a way to give a face to the sentiment that caused the purchase.  It's a good exercise to consider not only the story of the historical figure, or the autograph, but also of the print that often comes to mind along with the person's name.

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