William Birch. The City of Philadelphia as it appeared in the Year 1800. First Edition 1800

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The City of Philadelphia, in the State of Pennsylvania North America; as it appeared in the Year 1800 Consisting of twenty eight Plates Drawn and Engraved by W. Birch and Son

Birch, William


Published by W. Birch, 1800
THE BIRCH FAMILY COPY OF THE FIRST EDITION OF BIRCH'S VIEWS OF PHILADELPHIA -- EXTRA-ILLUSTRATED, WITH THE PROSPECTUS AND SUSBSCRIBERS' LIST. Published by W. Birch, Springland Cot, near Neshaminy Bridge on the Bristol Road, Pennsylvania. Dec.r 31.st 1800[-1805]. Oblong folio (14 5/8"" x 17 7/8"", 370mm x 454mm): engraved title-page and 30 (of 29) engraved plates (a plan and 28 views, plus an additional view). With a letterpress introduction, broad-sheet prospectus and subscribers' list. Bound in contemporary mottled calf with a gilt roll border. On the spine, six panels, with the title gilt to red morocco in the second. Presented in a drop-front red morocco clam-shell box with two XXc letters concerning the volume. Some pitting to the mottling and some rubbing generally. Joints strengthened with cloth. Some marginal damp-staining. Tanning, offsetting and foxing throughout. Repaired marginal tears to five plates. Some plates supplied from other copies. William Russell Birch (1755-1834) was born and trained in England by no less than Thomas Jefferys, the jeweler and map-seller, and Sir Joshua Reynolds, founding President of the Royal Academy. He brought this expertise to the New World, settling in Philadelphia in 1794. Whereas engraved city views were long-established in Europe, no collection of them had ever been printed and published in America. His target audience was wide; the title points to a European market, aiming to encourage emigration to the new-born nation whose Athens -- its capital (until just before the publication of the work) and intellectual heart -- was Philadelphia. The views -- notionally painted by Birch's son Thomas, who would go on to be one of the great American landscape painters -- were exceptionally popular, resulting in several states and three later editions within Birch's lifetime. Subscribers included Thomas Jefferson as vice president (it is written that he displayed the volume at the entrance to his office once president), Gilbert Stuart and William Hamilton. Coloring was available at an additional cost; thus the work is slightly misleadingly termed a ""color-plate book."" In the present item, 21 of the plates are in the first state, 8 are in the second and 1 in neither state described by Snyder; the additional plate (Schuylkill Bridge High Street) corresponding to Snyder (1949) 43a, dated 1805, and not from any edition of the collection. This mix of states and the additional plate -- as well as the prospectus (which is found in few copies) and the list of subscribers (found in most copies) -- becomes clearer in view of the provenance of the volume: by descent through the author's family. To a work of the greatest rarity -- Howes gives it his highest rating of ""dd:"" ""superlatively rare books, almost unobtainable"" -- this unique provenance and make-up add a nonpareil scarcity and value. The provenance of the volume is established by two letters, dated 9 and 20 February 1962. The former (3 typed pages) is on the letterhead of The Old Print Shop, run by the Newman family then as now. Mr. Newman writes to Mr. Robert L. McNeil, Jr. of Philadelphia with a description of provenance and a thorough collation. The second letter (four manuscript pages signed) is written and signed by Helene Somers Millar (Newman's Mrs. William Millar). Mrs. Millar describes her discovery of the portfolio in a secretary that she inherited by way of William Birch's daughter Albina, her great great grand-mother. Robert Lincoln McNeil Jr. (1916-2010) was a pharmaceutical executive best known for developing and selling Tylenol. He was raised in the Germantown section of Philadelphia, and became a life-long philanthropist in the region, a collector as well as a patron of the arts -- a legacy that persists in the Barra Foundation, of which he was founder. The present item was purchased at his sale (Sotheby's New York, 5 December 2013, lot 3). Deák 228; Howes B 459 (dd); Sabin 5530; Stauffer 159 188.
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