Book Excerpt

(Doolittle, Amos).


New Castle: Oak Knoll Press and the American Historical Print Collectors Society, 2008. 8.5 x 11 inches. cloth with dustjacket. 192 pages. As a copperplate engraver, Amos Doolittle (1754-1832) played an important role during the American colonies' war for independence and the early years of the new nation. He completed his apprenticeship in New Haven, Connecticut, around 1770 and continued to work actively in that city for over sixty years. His first known attempts are..... READ MORE

Price: $65.00  other currencies  Order nr. 93957


A decade ago, Georgia B. Barnhill, the Andrew W. Mellon Curator of Graphic Arts at the American Antiquarian Society, suggested that I read Michael Kammen's "From Liberty to Prosperity: Reflections upon the Role of Revolutionary Iconography in National Tradition." His essay had been published in the Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society (October 1976), in tribute to the nation's bicentennial.

Kammen cited many references on American art in his scholarly work. He included Clarence S. Brigham's Paul Revere's Engravings, which initially appeared in 1954. Kammen praised this work as a significant contribution to the study of early American graphic art and then stated, "but we now need a companion volume on Revere's contemporaries, such as Amos Doolittle, Bernard Romans, and Cornelius Tiebout." At the same time that Kammen was writing his article, I was compiling information on the East Windsor, Connecticut, engraver, Abner Reed. While researching Reed, Amos Doolittle's name appeared so frequently that I decided to start a file on him as well.

By the time I read Kammen's plea for more research in early American iconography-more than ten years after his essay was published-I had amassed several hundred index cards relating to this New Haven, Connecticut, engraver. Hence, it was inevitable for me to accept Kammen's challenge. Before I started, however, I reread Brigham's comprehensive work, which took nearly forty years to complete. With the aid of Revere's two ledgers, or day books, in the collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Brigham was able to locate seventy-two copper plates. His research was so exhaustive, that only one Revere engraving, recorded but not seen, and one unrecorded, have surfaced since the book's initial publication.

Doolittle undoubtedly kept such records, but unfortunately none are known to have survived. Without such a guide to make sense of my research, I realized that a comprehensive catalogue was necessary to put Doolittle's life and work into perspective. Finally I had an opportunity to spend a month at the American Antiquarian Society, where I looked at over 100 books with Doolittle illustrations. From these I determined that he had engraved over 300 plates. Furthermore, I found that he had also engraved over 100 separately issued prints. Before returning home, I visited other institutions,including the Connecticut Historical Society, the New Haven Colony Historical Society, and Yale University.

Once home, I developed a checklist of Doolittle's separately published broadsides and maps that I sent to nearly 140 institutions. Happily, I received many replies, which included a few surprises. The most spectacular surprise came from the people at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. They responded that their collections contained correspondence between Doolittle and the great Philadelphia publisher Mathew Carey. From these letters, dating between 1793 and 1795 and 1803 and1815, I was able to piece together a great deal of Doolittle's business practices and routine, which enabled me to complete a monograph on this New Haven engraver.

In completing the catalog, I arbitrarily decided to list book illustrations generally in first editions only. This was especially true with maps, as it would have been virtually impossible to check subsequent issues for changes or new states. Sizes of these illustrations are also not necessarily precise, owing to the fragile condition of the bindings. I also decided to forego trying to find ephemera, with few exceptions. For example, many institutions responded that they had Masonic certificates in their collections. It became evident that trying to list all this Masonic material would be impractical, so I included only those which have appeared in publications or which I viewed personally.

I wish to extend my profound gratitude to Georgia Barnhill, whose counsel I have sought for over twenty years. She, as well as the rest of the staff at the American Antiquarian Society, was always available to answer my numerous inquiries. James Campbell, librarian and curator of manuscripts at the New Haven Colony Historical Society, is deserving of recognition for his numerous replies, sometimes almost daily. I also want to thank the curators and librarians, too numerous to mention, who took the time to fill out my checklist as well as respond to my many letters. This is especially true of the staffs at the Connecticut Historical Society, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, and Yale University.

My wife, Mary Catherine, was continually with me in my pursuit of Amos Doolittle and was always available to proofread and to do the inevitable checking. Our close friend and my former colleague Sandra M. Biagini was always available to assist in the checking and proofreading. Walter D. Allan, numismatic consultant, gave me valuable information pertaining to the chapter on bank notes. Finally, Barbara Bruckner, whose friendship developed through the American Historical Print Collectors Society, gave the manuscript a very critical reading, as well as did my boyhood friend and mentor, Robert W. Keeler, M.D. To everyone, I am eternally grateful.

Auburn Hills, Michigan
June 8, 1998