My Country

August 10, 2016

Lucy Sheldon Beach, Student at the Litchfield Female Academy

Filed under: Uncategorized — Megan Olver @ 9:46 am

Post by C.C. Borzilleri, Intern

Students arrived to Sarah Pierce’s Litchfield Female Academy for a variety of reasons, ranging from hoping for a future of teaching to the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake. Throughout the forty-one year history of the Academy from 1792-1833 students were all held to consistently high standards of conduct and performance regardless of their motivation for attending the school

A student at the Litchfield Female Academy from 1801-1803, Litchfield local Lucy Sheldon was a model of success at the Academy, thriving on the regimented schedule and exceeding the lofty expectations of her superiors. Her diary reveals the thoughts of a young woman striving for nothing short of perfection in both her studies and her development as a young woman of society. Her good fortune to be a Litchfield resident provided her with a lifetime of exposure to two of the most prominent educational institutions of the era—The Litchfield Female Academy and the Litchfield Law School—as well as a position in the high society of Litchfield which often served as a gateway for residents, especially male law graduates, to make their way to national notoriety through strong connections to the powerful elite in Washington, DC, many of whom were also fellow Litchfield Law School alums.

Portrait of Lucy Sheldon Beach

Portrait of Lucy Sheldon Beach

Lucy was born in 1788, making her a young 13 year old when starting her studies at the Female Academy in 1801. As a Litchfield local, she lived in her own home with her family rather than boarding in another private home like many of her fellow students. Throughout her diary, Lucy references not only her dedication to studying, but her supportive role in the management of her family’s household. A particularly telling passage comes from New Years Day of 1802: “Friday. This is the first day of January the beginning of the year 1802, and I intend if it is in my power, to conquer all my faults, but as perfection is not the lot, of mortals I shall not expect to attain so near to it, In the forenoon painted in the afternoon there was not any school and I remained at home, assisted Mama & sewed.”

Her desire to thrive within all aspects of her life is clear through her writing, often providing positive feedback to the lessons heard from her teachers and the sermons heard at weekly attended meetings of the Church, which were only ever missed in extreme cases of bad weather or ill health.

Lucy was a competitive girl, likely motivated by the various prizes and awards of recognition that Miss Pierce made available to her best students. Weekly recitations of lessons were the platform from which Lucy and other stellar students could prove themselves to be well-versed in their work—and Lucy took the high stakes of performance to heart. “Wednesday. Studied a geography lesson and recited it. Had the mortification to have Miss Mary Ghen get above me, began to draw a map, in the afternoon.” This incident is followed by an increased emphasis, in her written diary at least, on the careful study of geography: most every day featuring either “drew on my map,” “studied a geography lesson,” or both for the next several weeks.

Painting by Lucy as a student at the Academy titled, "The Sailor"

Painting by Lucy as a student at the Academy titled, “The Sailor”

After her schooling was complete, Lucy Sheldon remained in Litchfield, living in her family home on North Street until her death on April 7, 1889 at 100 years of age. Lucy married physician Theron Beach, and though the couple had no surviving children of their own, Theron’s daughter Hannah Beach upheld Lucy’s legacy of dedication to studies through her time as a student of the Litchfield Female Academy from 1827-1830 and in 1832. Hannah Beach later married Edgar Simeon Van Winkle, a lawyer who had studied and trained under Litchfield Law School graduate John P Jackson.

Lucy Sheldon Beach’s life in Litchfield during the turn of the 19th century was highly characteristic of women in Litchfield of that era: her motivation toward greatness and dedication to her family made her a great success story of the sort that Miss Pierce hoped to see come from her Academy.

Complete biographies of the individuals mentioned can be found in the Litchfield Historical Society’s Ledger, and more information, associated objects, and the complete diary of Lucy Sheldon can be found through Archon and in the Helga J. Ingraham Memorial Library.

July 8, 2016

Anson’s Brother: Portrait Miniatures by Daniel Dickinson

Filed under: Uncategorized — Alex Dubois @ 3:09 pm

Article written by Molly Ford, Curatorial Intern.

Daniel Dickinson (1795-c.1866) was born on October 20th in 1795 in Milton, Connecticut, to Anna Landon and Oliver Dickinson, Jr. He was the younger brother of well-known portrait miniature painter Anson Dickinson. His father Oliver was also an amateur portrait painter. Daniel Dickinson grew up with his siblings Anson (1779-1852), Raphael (1781-1837), Ambrose (1783-1806), Lucinda (1785-?), Leonard (1788-1824), Henry (1790-?), Anna (1792-1792), Anna Landon (1798-?) and Andrew (1801-1883), and his parents in Milton, a village located on the banks of the Shepaug River in the township of Litchfield. In Milton, he was apprenticed to become a silversmith like Anson, but also like Anson, Daniel abandoned the craft to paint portrait miniatures.

Portrait miniature of unidentified gentleman, attributed to Daniel Dickinson. Recently acquired by the Litchfield Historical Society.

Portrait miniature of unidentified gentleman, attributed to Daniel Dickinson. Recently acquired by the Litchfield Historical Society.

Daniel is believed to have studied in New Haven, Connecticut in about 1812. There, he studied draftsmanship from drawings and books with the brothers Nathaniel (1796-1881) and Simeon Smith Jocelyn (1746-1823). While there, Daniel was almost unconsciously drawn into miniature portrait painting, and in his experimental years at school he created fancy sketches that were very attractive and popular. These sketches mostly consisted of female figures in graceful positions. Daniel Dickinson wrote himself that “I have employed my leisure time in fancy subjects, such as might best illustrate female beauty and grace”.

Because his work was so popular in New Haven and showed much potential, after his schooling he moved to Philadelphia to paint portraits and miniatures, which he did from 1818 to 1846. He was exhibited annually at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and regularly at the Artists’ Fund Society, as he was a member himself. He became very successful and well-patronized in Philadelphia, so he remained there for a great number of years.

On his painting style, Dickinson wrote, “I adopted a style between my brother Anson’s, Malbone’s and J. Wood’s, fifteen years after my brother commenced”. This style included a feigned landscape background, and a more fashionable rectangular format. Daniel’s miniatures are often mistaken for his brother’s work; however, Daniel’s style differs in that he worked with a broader and more painterly brushstroke than Anson, which left the effect of a freer, less controlled presentation of hair and clothing. Also, his faces were strongly modeled, with deep contrasts between light and dark areas. His main method of creating portrait miniatures was watercolor on ivory. Daniel also advanced to painting on some larger canvases and oil portraits around 1830.

An example of Daniel Dickinson's trade label, found inside the case of a recently auctioned portrait miniature.

An example of Daniel Dickinson’s trade label, found inside the case of a recently auctioned portrait miniature.

In 1847, Daniel moved to nearby Camden, New Jersey, and as the years went by and his success dwindled due to the rapid development of photography. Soon after, he abandoned his career as a portrait painter and devoted himself to horticulture. In Camden, he opened a rose and grape nursery in 1850. Daniel Dickinson died in 1866 in Litchfield, Connecticut.

July 5, 2016

Litchfield and the Old Connecticut Game of Wicket

Filed under: Uncategorized — Alex Dubois @ 11:00 am

Dr. D. E. Bostwick, father of noted librarian and author Arthur E. Bostwick, was crossing the village green in Litchfield, Conn. sometime in 1870. A hot liner from a nearby baseball game struck him in the eye, knocking him to the ground. While Dr. Bostwick recovered from the injury, his son Arthur wrote in 1930 that his father “might have been killed by it.”(1) The accident, he believed, may have resulted in the game of baseball being banned on the Litchfield town green.  By the 1870s, baseball had taken hold in America, with sports journals already touting the game as “America’s pastime.” Luckily for the residents of Litchfield, there was always wicket.

Wicket, or wicket ball, was one of a number of bat-and-ball games played by Americans in the era before baseball. New England was the heart of wicket country, with Western Massachusetts and especially Connecticut serving as strongholds of the game. There is little definitive history on the origin of the game. Most historians agree that wicket began as an early form of cricket imported to New England by English settlers sometime in the late seventeenth century. (2) Some speculate that the cricket “savored so much of the English aristocracy” that the settlers of New England gradually changed the game’s features, shaping a primitive version of England’s national pastime into a uniquely American sport. (3) Wicket utilized a larger and lighter ball than cricket, and was played with low-standing wickets of greater width and as many as 30 players a side. So far, no documented variation of cricket played before the mid-eighteenth century (when English players began codifying and regulating cricket play) has contained these traits, leading wicket scholars to surmise that whatever the form of the game that arrived in America, “wicket most likely evolved markedly once it had set down American roots.” (4)

Reward of Merit engraved by John Cheney, c.1821, depicting an early game of wicket. Courtesy of John Thorn, “The Oldest Wicket Game, Newly Found” on Our Game,

The earliest recorded games of wicket date from the late-colonial period, although later wicketers recalled the game being a favorite pastime “long prior to the Revolution.” (5) Project Protoball contains numerous entries for the game, the earliest specific mention of wicket being a game played on the Boston Common sometime around 1725. (6) On two occasions in May, 1778, soldiers stationed at Valley Forge recall playing wicket. The latter game involved George Washington himself, who played wicket with his men after dining with General Henry Knox. (7) It is likely that wicket play in the eighteenth century was largely unorganized and played without written rules or officiating. By the 1800s, however, organized wicket clubs and village teams began appearing in New England, though most (if not all) lacked formal club constitutions or officers. While the sport never attained the professional organization of baseball, wicket games were often accompanied by official rules and officiated by up to three umpires or judges. Diaries, memoirs, and newspaper articles also attest to the fact that wicket was a spectator sport: when the wicketers of New Britain, CT, headed to Bristol in 1859 to play for the state championship, the following occurred:

“Interest had also grown in Hartford to such an extent that a special train was made up in that city for the event. The train left Hartford at 7:30 A.M., with one carload of Hartford people and when it reached New Britain, four cars were quickly filled with excited people. Every car was trimmed with flags and bunting and as the train reached the local station about nine o’clock it presented a grand appearance. The visitors had a band with them and the crown that greeted them at the station was a large one. It is estimated that when the game commenced there were fully 4,000 people in and around the grounds.” (8)


June 16, 2016

Creative Lives of Litchfield

Filed under: Uncategorized — Megan Olver @ 11:45 am

Author Sinclair Lewis said of Litchfield, “The only street in America more beautiful then North Street in Litchfield, is South Street in Litchfield.” This beauty is one of the reasons Litchfield has been represented in drawings, sketches, paintings, and photographs. I began researching this topic for a walking tour and soon became fascinated by the various creative types who can be found in the town’s history. Actors, authors, and artists made the town home. Poets and performers passed through here. Some of these people came to Litchfield for ancestral reasons, others because of its proximity to New York City. And some vacationed and later retired here. Not all represented the town in their work, but many did.  These are just a few of my personal favorites!

If you viewed our exhibit Ballots for Both! The Fight for Equal Voting Rights, on display last year, the name Julia Marlowe Sothern might sound familiar. She was an honorary member of the Litchfield Equal Franchise League and fought for women’s rights in Connecticut and New York City. However, Julia was, first, and foremost a premier Shakespearean actor who starred in more than 70 Broadway productions. Julia Marlowe’s birth name was Sarah Frances Frost. English-born, her parents moved the family to Cincinnati, Ohio where Julia first caught the performing bug. In her teens, she performed with the Cincinnati Opera House, before moving to NYC in her 20’s. It was here that “Julia Marlowe” was born. Using her theater connections from Ohio, Julia made her Broadway debut in 1859. Julia starred alongside E. H. Sothern, a fellow Shakespearean actor, and after many years of performing together, the two were married. He was Julia’s second husband, she was his third wife. By 1906, the two were considered premier Shakespearean actors, until their deaths. Julia and E.H. spent many years vacationing in Litchfield, and it became her retreat during periods of retirement from 1915-1924. Julia officially retired in 1924. While in Litchfield, Julia became involved in town affairs, and was often a presenter at talent shows, fundraisers, and other community events. When E.H. died in 1933, Julia became a recluse, often splitting time between NYC and Litchfield, but was rarely involved in the town. She died in 1950 in NYC. She is quite the legend among Shakespearean theater groups and by all accounts, was very talented. Although her time in Litchfield was brief and sporadic, she was nonetheless a very unique and important resident.

Marlowe as Portia in an early 20th century performance of The Merchant of Venice


Some of you might recognize the next artist’s work from children’s books he and his wife illustrated. Nils Hogner, an American artist born in Massachusetts, was a muralist and book illustrator who specialized in nature books. He illustrated the stories with his wife and author, Deborah Child. They were released in the 1950s and were widely popular. Some are still on library shelves today. Prior to illustration, Hogner studied art in Boston and in Denmark. He traveled extensively and ended up spending much of the 1920s and 1930s in Arizona running a trade post with his first wife, a Navajo native. After their divorce, he returned to the east coast and connected with Deborah Child. They collaborated on over 40 books. Together, they split time between homes in NYC and Litchfield. His oil painting, View up North Street, painted in 1965 is one my personal favorites from our collection. The paint is heavily applied and it has an impressionistic style with its lack of fine detail. This painting is very different in style from what he illustrated for books, but uses similarly bright colors. Although Hogner did not spend a lot of time in Litchfield, he represented it beautifully in his work.

View up North Street by Nils Hoger

View up North Street by Nils Hoger


Last, but certainly not least, is a female artist with deep ancestral connections that brought her to Litchfield. Emily Noyes Vanderpoel was the daughter of  William Curtis Noyes and Julia Tallimadge. Her great-grandfather was Benjamin Tallmadge, Litchfield resident and George Washington’s Spymaster during the Revolutionary War. Emily was raised in New York, attending private schools and studying art at a young age. She was an avid art collector and author, writing various books on color. After she married, Emily moved with her husband and son to Litchfield, purchasing the home on North Street that had belonged to her great-grandfather. It was here that she created most of her work in our collection where she became involved in various local organizations and groups.

Emily Noyes Vanderpoel photograph

Each of these artists are unique and important to Litchfield’s history. These are the stories that make our job so interesting and exciting. You never who you will uncover!

January 7, 2016

All from one Letter

Filed under: Uncategorized — Linda Hocking @ 3:29 pm

William Tracy Gould and Anne McKinne Gardiner Gould

It’s hard to convey to people exactly how connected the nation was in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.  No telephone, no Internet, no wi-fi. And yet, when we begin to do research on nearly any artifact or document with a relationship to one of the students, we inevitably find that they were acquainted or related with so many others. We recently purchased a letter on e-bay written by William Tracy Gould’s sister-in-law to his wife who was visiting Litchfield. As you may know, William Tracy Gould was the son of James Gould, who taught at the Litchfield Law School with Tapping Reeve. Following his studies, the younger Gould moved to Georgia where he opened a law school of his own. He married Anna Gardiner of Augusta, with whom he had three children.

I began research to locate life dates of the author, Elizabeth G. Rose, and from basic searches of a few genealogy sites, was able to determine that this was Anna Gardiner’s sister. Several sources indicated that Gould’s wife was a widow upon their marriage, but I believe they had confused her with another Anna McKinne, and that McKinne was his wife’s given middle name, as it was her mother’s maiden name. According to the genealogy sites I checked, the Anna McKinne who was a widow of Joseph McKinne did not have a sister named Elizabeth.

I would like to say that what happened next is unusual, but I fear it is not. I fell down the rabbit hole of the LLS social network. I happened upon an article about James Gardiner, who had the same parents listed as Elizabeth. I began to read it in the hopes of finding further genealogical information. What I found was far more interesting. James was the editor of a newspaper in Augusta. In 1861, he wrote a series of editorials endorsing Eugenius Aristides Nisbet (LLS 1823) for the governorship of Georgia. He went on to publish a literary journal, and one of its contributors was Augustus Baldwin Longstreet (LLS 1813). He later endorsed Horace Greeley in his bid for the Presidency. Greeley’s wife had  attended the Female Academy in 1827.

As if that isn’t enough to convince you it’s a small world, it turns out that Elizabeth’s husband, Arthur Gordon Rose, had been married previously to Elizabeth Wigg Barnwell whose brother, William Wigg Barnwell attended the Litchfield Law School in 1817. Having found the information I was seeking, I stopped, though I’m sure this is only a snippet of who was on their list of friends. Now to update all of those Ledger pages!

Additional Information:

In addition to the Ledger pages linked to above, these are resources that helped me in my research:

Find-A-Grave: Arthur Gordon Rose

Yale Obituary Record

Biographies of Richmond County, GA

Augusta’s Other Voice: James Gardner and the Constitutionalist
Russell K. Brown
The Georgia Historical Quarterly
Vol. 85, No. 4 (WINTER 2001), pp. 592-607

September 21, 2015

Professor Lyon’s Trick Oxen

Filed under: Uncategorized — Linda Hocking @ 2:25 pm

The Institute of Museum and Library Services awarded a grant of $24,750 to the Litchfield Historical Society for a one-year project, Improving Access: CollectionSpace and ArchiveSpace to enhance public access to the Society’s collections through modifications to its databases. You may wonder what that has to do with Professor Lyon’s Trick Oxen. Currently, users who want to find what we have on the topic have to know where to look. The first stop might be a search of Archon, our database of finding aids (tools to help locate information within a collection of documents), followed by a search of CollectionSpace, our database for museum objects.

Assuming the researcher knew to look in both places, s/he would find a ribbon printed for the Columbian Exposition, and a finding aid for a small collection of papers. Upon the completion of the grant project, users will be able to retrieve all related materials in one fell swoop. In addition, they will be able to “tag” photographs, artifacts, and documents using a new social tagging feature. Finally, rather than seeing the archivist’s biography of the creator (here, Professor Lyon) in the finding aid, and the curator’s biography in the collectionspace record, users will see only one biographical note, and staff will only need to create one. While you await this amazing enhancement, please enjoy a few selections from the collection.

According to other documents in the collection, Lyon’s cattle won four first prizes at the World’s Fair. They were said to, “march, waltz, stand cross-legged, kiss, walk on their knees, perform on pedestals, roll a turntable, roll a ball, perform on a barrel, sit, lie down, jump over, walk backwards, ride the turntable, etc.”





October 21, 2014

Four Generations Turn and Adapt their Business

Filed under: Uncategorized — Linda Hocking @ 11:56 am

Four Generations Turn and Adapt their Business: this article details the business ventures of various members of the Hopkins family. It was contributed by Julie Leone.

Wise and Brave: The Fight for Women’s Voting Rights in Litchfield

Filed under: Uncategorized — Linda Hocking @ 11:56 am

Wise and Brave: The Fight for Women’s Voting Rights in Litchfield: read about Litchfield’s role in the Connecticut Women’s Suffrage Association and the creation of the Litchfield Equal Franchies League. It was contributed by Jessica Jenkins.

November 19, 2013

A Family Reunion

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jessica Jenkins @ 3:42 pm

It’s hard to believe that it is mid-November already. Here at the Litchfield Historical Society that means that the museums will soon be closing for the winter season. With only a couple of weeks left we hope that you will take advantage of stopping by the Tapping Reeve House or the Litchfield History Museum by December 1. Although the museums will be closed to the public during the snowy months that does not mean that things will slow down here for the staff. With the museums closed we will be busy changing exhibits in preparation for the beginning of next year’s exhibition season. What does that mean for you? It means you only have a handful of days left to stop in and see our Civil War exhibit, “The Hour of Conflict” before it comes down!



The exhibit closing however, does not mean the end of your chance to come into the museum and learn more about Litchfield during the war. Throughout the year we have all kinds of visitors who come to the historical society to research with both our archival and museum collections. Some are serious scholars, while others may have another reason for wanting to view a specific item. Occasionally the reason is very personal. This past year we had a very touching visit from a family regarding a Civil War item that is as important to their family’s history as it is to our local story about the Civil War.

For almost one hundred years the Litchfield Historical Society has cared for the Civil War overcoat of Sergeant Edgar A. Alvord. In March of 1915 the seventy-five year old veteran, and member of the Litchfield GAR, personally came to the historical society looking for a safe place to deposit the overcoat that he wore during the war. It was his hope that it would be well taken care of and respected even after he was gone. Ninety-eight years later Mr. Alvord’s great-grandson, Don Alvord, came through the same front door of the Noyes Memorial Building and brought with him his wife, cousins, and grandchildren to view the coat that his great-grandfather cared so much for.


Srgt. Alvord’s Overcoat, 1918-34-0, Litchfield Historical Society


Born in Morris, CT in 1840, Edgar A. Alvord was twenty-one years old when he enlisted as a Private in the 5th CT Infantry. After a year of performing guard duty along the Potomac River Alvord was wounded and captured at the battle of Cedar Mountain, VA during a charge on the Confederate Army. He was imprisoned for one month at Libby Prison (notorious for the overcrowded and harsh conditions) in Richmond, VA before being moved to the prison at Belle Isle for another two months. He was then paroled and moved to Annapolis, MD and again to Alexandria, VA before being exchanged back to the Union Army.


Photograph of Srgt. Edgar A. Alvord, ca. 1863, Private Collection

In December of 1863 Alvord re-enlisted in the Union Army as a veteran and was promoted to Corporal and then to Sergeant. In 1864 when he traveled home to Connecticut on furlough Sergeant Alvord brought his overcoat with him and left it in the care of his family in Morris for the remainder of his service in the Union Army. On July 19, 1865 after four years of active service where he served in several battles and was with General Sherman’s March to the Sea, Sergeant Edgar Alvord was mustered out from the Army and returned home to Morris.

Don Alvord’s trip to the Historical Society this year was a real family affair. Not only did Don and his wife make the trip from Missouri, but they brought cousins and grandchildren along with them to the museum to see Sergeant Alvord’s coat. Being a veteran and son of a veteran himself, viewing an item used in wartime by his great-grandfather solidified for him the importance of service to your country and family tradition. One of the highlights of the visit came when the family and Historical Society staff were able to share information with each other about the coat and the Alvord family. Working together the group was able to uncover many bits of family and local history. As the family placed a treasured photograph of Sergeant Alvord next to the coat for a photo op it became obvious that both the family and the Litchfield Historical Society are working to preserve the history and memory of one of Litchfield County’s Civil War hero’s for future generations.


Srgt. Alvord and His Overcoat Reunited After 98 Years

December 19, 2012

George Catlin’s Tapping Reeve

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jessica Jenkins @ 10:53 am

Engraving of Tapping Reeve from the portrait by George Catlin. Litchfield Historical Society.


Have you seen our very own Tapping Reeve popping up on Facebook a lot lately? I’m sure you’ve noticed him donning holiday outfits, dressing for the weather, and enjoying events around town. You may have even noticed that Mr. Reeve has started taking more frequent trips out of the state, which he has been kind enough to share with his friends through his travel photos.

One thing you may have also noticed through it all is that no matter what Tapping is up to he always has some very recognizable characteristics. It could be his iconic seated pose, with crossed legs and glasses in hand. Or it could be his shoulder length locks and high collar shirt.

But who is responsible for this recognizable image of Reeve? It is the only known image in existence of this noted American jurist and founder of the nation’s first law school. Without it we would not know today what this pioneering legal mind looked like. To the artist responsible for creating Reeve’s likeness we owe a debt of gratitude.

George Catlin is a name recognized by art historians, Native American scholars, and 19th-century history buffs alike. Remembered as the creator of a vast portfolio of artwork and writings documenting the lives, customs, and traditions of numerous Native American tribes, Catlin will go down in history as one of the great American artists who saw the importance of immortalizing the American frontier before it disappeared in the wake of industrialization and westward expansion.

"Ball-Play Dance." by George Catlin. Litchfield Historical Society.

Before beginning work on his life’s masterpiece however, George Catlin was a young law school student at the Litchfield Law School in 1817. While attending lectures Catlin was known for having more of an interest in sketching his fellow students and local scenery than working on his studies. He eventually passed his bar examination in Pennsylvania two years later and began a legal career. It was a short-lived stint however, as his love for art, nature, and natural history won out.

In 1821 Catlin moved to Philadelphia to pursue a career in art. He exhibited as a portrait miniaturist from 1821 to 1823 at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, who accepted him as a member the following year. Following that honor he continued to work as a portrait artist in Pennsylvania before relocating his work to New York. Through the 1820s he produced numerous portrait miniatures as well as full-size portraits.

Watercolor on Ivory portrait miniature of Sarah Pierce. Attributed to George Catlin. Litchfield Historical Society.

Although Catlin left Litchfield after completing his legal studies, documentation exists in the Archives of American Art showing that Catlin was back in town in 1825—two years after Tapping Reeve’s death. In his subscription and expense notebook for 1825, Catlin writes:

“Having ascertained that my portrait of the Hon. Tapping Reeve is the only resemblance left of that memorable man, I have deemed it a duty to his friends and the public – and particularly to Gentleman of the Bar to propose the publication of it by Subscription

If published the plate will be executed in the most superb manner, and I hope that sufficient encouragement will be given in the way to authorize the execution of it.

The price of the prints will be one dollar each, to subscribers, payable on delivery. All other sale will be invariably at one dol. & fifty cents each.

Geo. Catlin

Litchfield 25th March 1825”

Following this entry is his subscription list containing twelve names, all but four from Litchfield. Among the subscribers were such notable legal and political names as Oliver Wolcott, Seth P. Beers, and Truman Smith, as well as Rev. Lyman Beecher.  While the subscription list is not dated, it can be inferred from its placement in the notebook that it was compiled in 1825 during Catlin’s time in Litchfield.

Was the portrait of Reeve that Catlin mentions completed during his time in law school, or was it a piece that Catlin returned to Litchfield to complete for his former teacher? No one knows. And the location of the original is not known either. These are mysteries that have yet to be uncovered. What is known is that this portrait was turned into an engraving as Catlin proposed. The publishing of the picture did not happen until four years later in 1829. Why there was such a long delay is not noted by Catlin in his papers.

Portrait prints such as the one of Reeve were very popular in the United States prior to the Civil War. A market existed for the likenesses of politicians, businessmen, writers, and entertainers in the American home. Capitalizing on this demand, Catlin had already published two portrait engravings in Philadelphia prior to the publication of his portrait of Reeve in 1829. Utilizing his previous experience in marketing such prints, Catlin sought to transform another of his portraits into a print for buyers who may want to memorialize the Honorable Tapping Reeve. Working with Peter Maverick, an engraver in New York, Catlin was able to accomplish this goal.

As far as we know, neither Catlin nor Maverick recorded how many prints of the engraving Maverick produced. Was it a small handful—just enough to fill the subscription order taken in 1825? Or was it a much larger amount? Either way, Catlin and Maverick’s partnership to produce the print has left history with the only known image of Tapping Reeve. Without their work we would have to rely solely on the written record to piece together what this pioneering legal mind looked like. And Mr. Reeve would have a much harder time getting dressed for the upcoming holidays!

Older Posts »

Powered by WordPress