Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture

Uncommon Sense—the blog

From the OI Archives: Our Copper and Wood Printing Blocks, Part II

· February 14th, 2018 · No Comments

This is the second piece in a series of posts by Laurel Daen on the history of the copper and wood printing block process used to produce the William and Mary Quarterly until the mid-twentieth century. Laurel wrote the pieces in preparation for the OI’s 75th anniversary while she was Lapidus Initiative Communications Coordinator in 2016.

A Look at Printing Illustrations in the WMQ in the Mid-Twentieth Century

Part II

by Laurel Daen

Nicholas Collin, from WMQ, Vol. 13, No. 4 (Oct., 1956), plate 4

Judging from surviving correspondence between curators, gallery owners, and WMQ authors and editors, locating and obtaining an image for publication was often an arduous endeavor in the mid-20th century. In 1956, Whitfield J. Bell Jr.—then Associate Editor of the Papers of Benjamin Franklin and former Visiting Editor of the WMQ—called upon or communicated with at least five organizations to find an illustration of Reverend Nicholas Collin, which Bell hoped to include in his edited reproduction of Collin’s “An Essay on those Inquires in Natural Philosophy,” originally published in 1793. Upon learning that the caricature of Collin that Bell had in mind no longer existed, he settled on a miniature portrait held at the Gloria Dei Church in Philadelphia. With the help of Assistant WMQ Editor Eleanor Pearre, Bell tracked down the rector (following his lengthy summer vacation) and requested that he send a glossy photograph of the portrait to the WMQ.

WMQ author Jacob Price had a similarly difficult time locating illustrations for his article, “The French Farmers-General in the Chesapeake: The MacKercher-Huber Mission of 1737-1738,” published in April 1957. After visiting and communicating with museums in Dublin, London, and Geneva, Price eventually selected two images: a mezzotint of Daniel MacKercher by John Brooks held at the National Gallery of Ireland and a pastel of Jean-Jacques Huber by Maurice-Quentin de La Tour held at the Musee d’Art et d’Histoire in Geneva.

Image of Jean-Jacques Huber from WMQ, Vol. 14, No. 2 (Apr., 1957)

Following four months of correspondence and multiple international money orders (during which time Price sailed from London to Montreal because he had “too much luggage…to fly”), the two glossy photographs arrived at the WMQ office in Williamsburg. Pearre then sent the pictures, as she did the portrait of Collin, to the Royal Engraving Company in Richmond, Virginia, which began the process of transferring the images to copper plates for printing.


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