Thursday, February 07, 2008

Facsimile Signatures in Subscriber Lists

For a class visit recently, we pulled our copy of Thomas McKenney and James Hall's History of the Indian Tribes of North America (Philadelphia: E.C. Biddle, 1838-1844), a three-volume folio collection of 121 lithographic and chromolithographic portraits of American Indian leaders. McKenney, who served as Superintendant of Indian Affairs from 1824-1830 (under Presidents John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson) commissioned and collected the portraits for a gallery in the War Department, and eventually arranged for their publication in this form (with accompanying text by Hall). Since most of the original portraits were lost in the Smithsonian fire of 1865, the lithographs are the only record of them.

The portraits themselves (by Charles Bird King and George Cooke) are quite lovely, but I was particularly taken with an interesting feature of the book that I don't recall having seen before. At the end of the third volume, several pages were devoted to a list of subscribers (not uncommon at all), with each subscriber's name printed there in facsimile. The names include many if not most of the well-known politicians - national and state - of the day, as well as more than a few crowned heads of Europe.

Pretty nifty practice, even if it doesn't seem to have been very common at all. [If you know of other examples, I'd be very interested in them. I'm also looking forward to getting a chance to dig a bit more deeply into the names on the list in McKenney and Hall.]

University of Cincinnati digital edition of McKenney & Hall. Accompanying exhibit.
University of Washington Libraries ditto (good background).
Smithsonian Exhibition, 1996: "The McKenney & Hall Lithographs of Charles Bird King's Portraits of American Indians."
Garcia Street Books description of the collection, with more good background. This copy was for sale with a tag of $150,000.

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