The First Lithograph Printed in the United States

The museum's research library has in its holdings a copy of the first lithograph printed in the United States. Printed in 1819 by Bass Otis, an artist famous as a portrait painter, the lithograph appears in the July 1819 issue of The Analectic Magazine. This print is on display in the library's reading room for a short time.

bassotislithograph.jpg

The lithographic process—a technique of drawing on stone and applying water and ink that permits multiple copies of an image to be printed—originated in Europe in the early nineteenth century. The article accompanying Otis’s lithograph gives detailed instructions for the preparation of the printing stone (the stone used to print Otis's image was from Munich), crayon, and ink, reflecting the relative novelty of the technique in this country. It also pronounces the advantages of the technique, especially referencing its superiority over engraving:

  • It is a perfect fac simile: there can be no mistake or mis-copy.
  • It supersedes all kinds of engraving: when the drawings is finished, it is now sent to the engravers, and no impression can be taken till the engraving is finished: in lithography, impressions can be taken the instant the drawing is dry, more perfect than any engraving can possibly produce.
  • It can imitate not only drawings in crayon and Indian ink, but etching, mezzotinto, and aqua tinta.
  • The plate is never worn out as in copper-plate engraving …
  • All works of science, may now be freed from the prodigious expense attending numerous engravings.
  • Any man who can draw, can take off any number of impressions of his own design, without trusting to any other artist.

Comments

Jason, you're right that the print doesn't read very clearly as a lithograph. It would be interesting to find out how those fine lines were created. I always get hung up thinking about drawing with a lithographic crayon--something quite different than the crayons of my youth!

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