C'mon Folks, Post a Comment

I am beginning to think that I am talking to myself in these pages. That is OK too as I am having lots of fun. But from time to time, I would like to see some comments. Comments are easy to post, and you can be anonymous as well. If you feel like writing something on silhouettes I will post them for you. You do not have to be a good writer or a good speller. Afterall, we are not handing out clock radios for first prize and no awards are given. This is all for fun. If you have a silhouette that we should be aware of, this is a good place to post. You can brag like me or be modest. This is also up to you.

John Wesley Jarvis Portrait Artist

This is an interesting ad of Jarvis from an 1820 New York newspaper. See Carick for a good write-up. She says she has never seen a silhouette by him. Have you?


Jarvis Hanks (Jervis Hanks) Silhouette Artist

Jarvis F. Hanks was born in upstate New York in 1799. He served in the War of 1812 as a drummer boy. His experience during the war can be found on the internet; it is good reading. In addition, his autobiography is also on the net. Although he is listed as having cut or painted silhouettes, I have never seen his work. Illustrated is a newspaper ad from 1834 "New York Transcript Daily" (author's collection).

Jarvis Hanks is not the same fellow as Master Hankes. Although Master Hankes is listed as a British silhouettist working here in America, I believe he was an American. He may have originally spelled his name "Hanks" but the promoter added an "e" to make the name appear as though he was British. There is no question that he worked in British style busts, almost an exact copy of that of Hubard's style. There is no question in my mind that Hankes was trained to work in that particular style.

Remember the British invasion of the 1960s? American bands imitated the sounds and the looks of the British bands. I believe this was what happpened to Master Hankes. The promoter did a fine job with him.


William Chamberlain (Chamberlin)

He is one of my favorites if not THE favorite but a tough artist to get any background information on. The only reference one finds on this artist is through a group of 89 cuttings donated by his granddaughter way back in 1916. Of those 89, only seven were of women! Why are so few women represented in this collection I do not know, as from what I have seen in the past, the ratio between men and women were just about equal, though I do admit I have seen more profiles of men than that of women. This granddaughter gives her name only as “Mrs. Frederick McClure.” She sounds so obedient! Was she Permelia Nichols? Genealogy is so fun to pursue as after spending many hours on it, it usually leads us back to square one. At any rate, this collection of silhouettes is still held intact at the American Antiquarian Society.

CHAMBERLAIN was born c1790 and although we know nothing of his early years, we know that he worked on profiles in the 1820s and the 30s. Harper, in Early Painters and Engravers in Canada does not mention CHAMBERLAIN ever working north of the border. He seems to have traveled only within New York and New England states. He must have had quite a long list of clientele, as his work is quite common, just as common as those of Peale’s Museum are. Although the cuttings made at the Museum were quite alike and somewhat boring, though I do admit that I like one particular bust shape, those cut by CHAMBERLAIN are challenging and almost all differ in one way or another.

CHAMBERLAIN had a unique way of cutting his sitters. He was probably the only cutter who had made hollow-cuts into a form of art using a technique of partial cuts, cutout head and bust, then improved upon his works by inking, applying a wash, or drawing the neck area, in which le left uncut! Although his granddaughter mentions that he used a “profile machine” this type of hollow-cuts are difficult to make and it took someone with real artistic vision.

Over the years, he seemed to have “browsed” through many different types of bust design. He made rounded busts, angular busts, pointed busts, busts with central notch and a combination of them. It is a shame that he did not “mark” his work. I have never seen or heard of a marked example. Have you? I believe those “Family Registers” with a pair of male/female figures are his work. These are usually dated in the early 1830s. Have you seen those fully painted silhouettes in color, black face of course that are seated? They are the works of this man, no doubt. Whether CHAMBERLAIN carted around an album full of precut figures, I do not know but his men and women seem to be all good looking and share some common traits. Could it be possible that the collection of 89 silhouettes presented to the American Antiquarian Society is not really duplicates of his work but remnants of his precut inventory? Almost all of his men look boyish and resemble Captain Kirk of the Enterprise!

There are plenty of Chamberlain’s works out there. So you need to be picky in adding an example to your collection. With this particular piece I think I’ve done it right. It is in its original frame with reverse painted decoration. I have never seen another decorated glass as this. It almost looks like a mourning piece but unlikely. The paper has an embossed “DOW SMITH.” Whether Chamberlain or its owner did this, I do not know. The embossing uses singular punches and not pre-made or customized. The original bubbled glass is cracked but this adds to its originality, and I will not attempt to repair it. This is a very good example of Chamberlain’s silhouette. I am sure this is his frame too. He probably made an additional dollar for his labor.

NOTE: This type of bustline is now 100% attributable to Samuel Banton. (Nov. 2009)

Ralph Letton RARE Silhouette Artist

Most information cited about LETTON, whether genealogical or as an artist, mention that he was born in 1778, at Rockville, Maryland and give the year 1825 for his death in Kentucky. If this is correct, then this LETTON married Sarah with marriage taking place in 1798 in Maryland. He moved to Kentucky in 1814, built a horse racetrack, and called it Latonia. In the Bourbon County Church records, it is mentioned that in “1822, RALPH LETTON and wife Sarah, dismissed by certificate” probably a contemporary way of saying “divorced.” At any rate, this RALPH LETTON may not be our traveling showman.

We know LETTON liked wax figures! From this single “link,” we may be able to pursue another R. LETTON, a LETTON of Ohio connection. In Henry Howe’s Historical Collections of Ohio, 1898, there is an account “Deluge of Ohio River 1832" in which Howe writes, “Mr. R. Letton, proprietor of the museum, appropriated the entire proceeds of their houses...for the relief of the sufferers.” The following account was taken from the writings of Cincinnati Art Museum, “Automated organ with moveable wax figures....This piece, commissioned by Ralph Letton, proprietor of a small private museum (Cincinnati, Ohio)....Letton and Joseph Dorfeuille, owner of the Western Museum, competed not only for local recognition as proprietors of the greatest museums in the city....” Furthermore, from the Cincinnati Enquirer dated March 9, 1998, “Ralph Letton, proprietor of Cincinnati’s Western Museum, found a spring south of Covington and called it Lettonia Springs. Either that evolved into Latonia, or the town was named for a Roman Water Goddess, Latona.” It is interesting to note that Latonia/Cincinnati area is just north of Kentucky border!

LETTON was an itinerant showman who exhibited his wax figures and as with other profilists of his time, he obtained a tracing device for making profiles to offset his business for a while. In the American Antiquarian Society, there is a trade card, “R. Letton taker of profile likeness.” This is undated. Carrick illustrates a fine broadside of LETTON, ca.1808. The silhouettes on this broadside were likely cut as an example only, for advertising, as to my knowledge, there are no identical bust form located anywhere. We know that he was in Albany, New York, with his museum of natural curiosities and wax figures, ca.1810. Price charged was a quarter for a pair of cuttings but the ones in color were $1.50. LETTON does not mention whether his colored profiles were wholly painted, like miniature portraits, or hollow-cut with some colors added. For $1.50 apiece, it was probably the latter. In either case, there must have been not very many takers for those colored profiles, as none seems to have survived. What is even odder is that even his hollow-cuts are not located. Since we know he used a machine to trace profiles, his works were predominantly that of hollow-cuts. There are no records of his blind stamp so he must not have embossed or marked any of his works.

Aside from the “shades” on his broadside, we do not know anything about his bust line, I thought. Then I found Letton or at least I think I did. These two silhouettes have uncanny resemblance to the broadside Carrick illustrates. It is almost by an accident that I found this pair. This pair sat in my unattributed lot for quite a spell. This may sound corny but I had a dream, and in that dream, someone told me that this pair is by Letton. I am quite confident of the attribution. Does anyone out there own a similar pointy bust? With Letton’s blindstamp?


Foster Bros. Decorative Silhouettes

In the 1920s and 30s, Foster Brothers of Boston made quite a few decorative silhouettes, reproductions. They charged pretty pennies for them too. We see a lot of profiles printed or transferred onto glass but they present no danger for collectors. The scary ones are the silhouettes on paper. I am not familiar with the techniques they used but it is likely they used photographic means. It captures not only the wove paper texture but embossed maker stamps as well.

Just the other day at an antiques show I saw a nice silhouette by William King. When framed, sometimes it is difficult to say whether an item is actually a hollow-cut or just a print. When the paper is pressed tightly against the glass this can spell trouble. I looked at it using a magnifying glass from different angles but was still unable to make a decision. Good thing that it was in a frame with Foster Bros. marking on the hanger and still sealed on the back after all of these years. But the silhouette looked so good and I asked the dealer if he would cut the back and remove it for inspection. I told him that it if was a hollow-cut I will pay his price. It was a print.


Timothy Gladding. Silhouette Artist

He was one of nine children born to Josiah Gladding and Mary Allen and was born in 1775, Newport, Rhode island. Timothy seemed to have traveled to Albany, New York in the late 1790s , married twice at Albany and died in 1845.

Not much is known of his profiles, except for a few surviving hollow-cut examples embossed with his mark, either simply "Gladding" or "T. Gladding." From a few contemporary advertisements in Albany newspapers, one finds that he worked with his brother as an ornamental painter. Rather than working as an itinerant profilist, Gladding worked as a “stationary” cutter from his brother's painting business at Albany.

From the profiles in the collection of New York State Library at Albany, one can see that his cuttings were obviously made with the assistance of a tracing device, physiognotrace. His bust shape is so typical of the period resembling that of William King, Moses Williams at Peale's museum and others of c1803-1810. Those profiles are plain with no ink detailing. Luckily for us collectors, his works are embossed with his name, but for those cuttings without the embossing one can still attribute his works by the unique sharp pointed bust tip.

His career as a portrait cutter fades around 1810. In the "Annual Register and Albany Directory of 1815,” he is listed as a "sign painter" at "180 state street."

The following images are from my collection. I believe this is the only known example with inked detailing of the hair and the only “Gladding” in private hands.

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