$14,000 Pair of Silhouettes

From the Maine Antiques Digest comes the following: "The pair of hollow-cut silhouettes was one of 11 lots attributed to an unknown silhouette cutter known as the Puffy Sleeve Artist, for that obvious characteristic, and done between 1830 and 1831. This lot was the only pair among the 11 lots. A phone bidder won these for $15,080. The entire 11-lot group (12 silhouettes in all) brought a total of $141,520." Twelve silhouettes for $141K? That is about $12,000 per silhouette.

This reminds me of an antiquity collector in Israel I saw on TV (no relation with the silhouettes and none implied) who appeared on the History Channel. He made countless forgeries to sell to well-to-do collectors and museums throughout the world. His items were very well made, and even the real prophets of the antiquities were fooled for years. One day a geologist-archaeologist performed a number of tests on the stone engravings. He was able to scrape the patina from within the engraved channel of the charcters with a matchstick. The patina was found not to be naturally formed, being of higher temperature than the climate allows for the region in the last 3000 years (40-50C). Further tests revealed the stone came from coastal sites because of minute traces of marine fossils and not from the site originally intended. The crystaline patina was measured using isotope analysis with scientific equipment worth big bucks. All of these exciting TV moments I was saying to myself, "look at them things, it is so obvious they are not genuine." Could I prove my subjective thoughts? No, but as I mentioned earlier, somewhere on this HP, once you know good things, you always know what good things look like.

Some twenty years ago, if I remember correctly, a forger from Utah made thousands of fake documents, all well-done and believable. Most of that was Mormon stuff and early American documents. He was able to fool every buyer. He made millions! He used period paper and period handwriting. He also used a quill with artificially toned brown ink. Science is useful and sometimes not so useful. Trying to carbondate these stuff is almost always useless. The main giveaway was the ink. It contained materials that did not exist back then.

A forger of 1907 High Relief St. Gaudens Double Eagle is of another interest. He perfected the art and sold a handful to seasoned numismatists. They were all fooled. Until, too many of these excellent coins surfaced. Even then, the art of science, subjective science, or objective science is unsure of these counterfeits. The main doubt is that there are just too many around, and all of these coins display a very minute, similar characteristic between the details. This is thought to be a signature of the forger. According to this one expert, the forger placed his mark so that this forger can differentiate between genuine and forged coins. What a lousy explanation I thought.
These few examples of forging stories is only the tip of an iceberg. Formation of glacial tills is something we all have to consider. Are they tills or drifts? Till we dig (no pun intended) we never know. Seems as though I am drifting (again, no pun intended) from the main subject (just to clarify: till or until as in glacial till, and drifting as in mechanical or weathering drift).

A silhouette for $12,000 each is something we need to know why. This illustrated pair, one with a trumpet or a bugle, is out of the ordinary. If this is "kosher," it is the only known silhouette with a musical instrument. The frames are period-like, and the subjects seem to be "hollow" without displaying any genuine physiognomy. Of course, my thoughts are subjective. Any other subjective offers out there?


Silhouette by T.P.Jones

Jones was a competent silhouettist. I like his style. Not many of his works are found. But then, he worked with duplicate cuttings, so many of his works are unattributed (see duplicate cuttings without embossment somewhere in this HP). He worked with the plain hollow-cuts and hollow-cuts with inked detailing. This embellished silhouette is from my collection, and I consider it one of the best by Jones. If you owned it, it will be the second best. You know how that works. Whatever Uncle Doddy owns is always the best.

Two more days left for this semester, and I will have some free time till the next racket begins. Hope to write and update my HP. Have some new silhouettes for sale coming up. Some are good stuff. Check them out if time permits.


Silhouette by Willaims?

I have listed a very similar silhouette to this somewhere on my HP. I had a feeling that it was by Williams, a bald-headed, undetailed head. This one here has a bit of detailing of the hair. Whether it is comtemporary to the silhouette or not I can not say. Does anyone have a clue to who the artist may be?


William Chamberlain Mystery Solved?

I always had a theory that William Chamberlain carted around a catalog of his images along with precut busts. The clients would thumb through the catalog and pick the design they wanted. It did not matter whether the sitters wore raggedy attire or their birthday suits. Chamberlain had a full stock of suits, pre-cut and ready to be finished. We all agree that his silhouettes are cut in two separate hollow-cuts: the face and the bust.

My theory is that Chamberlain had a number of precut bust designs. When a client chooses a certain bust design from the catalog marked “No. 12,” Chamberlain would reach into his drawer and pull out a packet marked “No.12.” The bust at this stage may even have been already delineated, penciled and inked, awaiting only the hollow-cut of the face with an addition of the hair details. Although this may sound too wild, is it possible that even the head detail was precut with hair details added on, awaiting only the cutting of the eye, nose, and the lips?

For more on Chamberlain, see my archives.

These photos may prove my theory, or at least some parts of it. The silhouette in black decorated glass belongs to me. The other is from one of the auctions. These cuttings are almost a perfect twin except for minute details. You have to look close.

UPDATE: I am still good with this hunch about carting around generic silhouettes; however, I must now attribute this particular bust termination to Samuel Banton, and not to Chamberlain. I came across two stamped Banton silhouettes since I wrote this several years ago.


Peale Museum Embossing Part One

(Rather than to default or place this paper into a stack of "unfinished" projects, I have decided to go ahead with it, as "Part One." If you find erurs, let me know.)

Embossing and Stamping of Silhouettes at Peale’s Museum

Almost nothing, except for bits and pieces for attribution purposes only, have been written on this subject; this matter requires a thorough research. When reliable information does not exist, one cannot possibly improve, add, or even formulate existing material on the subject and hope for a meaningful sum. Every query has a reason, but not every query develops into a pursuit for answers. Any article of item that existed had a reason for its existence. In this study of dies (stamping tools) used to impress upon paper for commercial and identifying purposes, generalized questions must first be asked in order to examine, in details, not of the results of the tools but as to their causes.

Who engraved the dies?
Were they a single male die for stamping or did they consist of both male and female dies for embossing?
Were they engraved on wood or metal?
Do varieties exist of any given die?

Some of the better-known silhouette cutters who made an impression on their finished artwork were King, Bache, and Peale. There are numerous others. Perhaps the most studied and scrutinized artists are Charles Willson Peale and his siblings. This is not due to their countenance as silhouette artists but as painters of excellence. Even then, information on their “stamps” goes unchallenged. From countless silhouettes that survived for the better part of the last two centuries, it is evident that there were three distinct embossing used for those silhouettes cut at the museum: Peale’s Museum, Peale, and Peale’s Museum with an eagle. The problem is that there is no supporting evidence for attributing any of the “stamps” to any particular period, place, or to any particular individual cutter. Theories are abundant; hypotheses are few. Theoretical dogmas are suspicious, and hypothetical analysis must be disproved when found to be inconsistent. Accuracy of facts needs verification.

The following sentence is from an article written by a curator-director of a “major” university museum. “Charles [Peale] taught the art of silhouette painting to Moses Williams, a Peale family slave, who used the proceeds from his art to purchase his freedom.”
The title of the article, the name of the University, or the Doctorate holder of this curator is not of importance here. It is mentioned here only as an example. For a college student or a researcher who relies on published accounts, especially from finely pedigreed individuals, the “words” are true to them. However, the truth lies only with the substance. Usually, the substance is not present in any single source. If a reader has not already noticed an inaccuracy in the statement, it is the word “painting.” This may be trivial to most readers. Yet, a simple err may change all that may be published in the future. This writer is not aware of any painted silhouette from the early years of “Peale’s Museum” nor does he know of any so-called “painted” silhouette by Moses Williams. Where did that writer find the evidence of Charles Peale teaching “the art of silhouette painting to Moses Williams”? It must have been written in haste or written without consulting the proper reference works on the subject. Whether some readers, based on that statement alone, will decide to make a firm judgment on the matter is unclear; nevertheless, it may influence them into believing that the statement is factual.

A few writers mention the die, “Peale’s Museum” with a spread eagle, belonged to Rubens Peale while he was responsible for the “Peale’s Museum” in New York City. The years are post-1825. This is unsubstantiated. Originally, someone made such a claim, and a few writers in progression, thereafter, repeated the words. The words are now “wedged” into the minds of imprudent individuals.

Some years ago, an album containing twenty-three hollow-cuts with impressions of “Museum” and “Peale’s Museum” with spread eagle was purchased. The attire of the subjects were all ca.1800-1810. From this singular evidence alone, one can summarize that the “stamp” with the spread eagle did not solely belong, if at all, to Peale’s Museum of New York. Moreover, post-1825 silhouette by “any” Peale’s Museum is yet to be observed, at least by this writer. Perhaps, a few readers will disagree and be able to disprove the statement. Such, if possible, is everyone’s wish; evidence will and can have an effect towards much needed further inquiries. A few writers even suggested that those reproduction silhouettes of the 1920s with this particular embossment were from reproduction dies. Several comparison of the embossing from the 1920s and the early nineteenth-century were made, but the dies did not differ in type or variety.

Others have suggested that an embossed “Peale” belonged to Raphaelle Peale during his itinerancy who established the “Peale’s Museum” in Baltimore during the late 1790s and, again, in 1814. With an arrival of the new pantograph invention by Hawkins in 1802 to the main “Museum” in Philadelphia, Rembrandt and his older brother Raphaelle traveled throughout the south and parts of New England for a profile cutting tour. This was a short-lived tour lasting less than two years. The craze of a “machine-assisted” contrivance was also quite short-lived. This was due to infringement of its patent. Every profile cutter during this period possessed one, making minor adjustments to the original patent and attaching fancy scientific labels, thus avoiding patent infringement.

It is quite plausible that “Peale” stamp belonged to one or both of the brothers, and its use was limited only during their period of itinerancy. The rarity of those silhouettes embossed with this stamp is an enigma. Whether the brothers enjoyed a brisk or a sluggish business is difficult to determine. If a survival rate is any indication, the latter speculation may be in order, or perhaps, some or even most of the cuttings were never embossed. Is it possible that the stamping device was misplaced or even stolen during their travels?

In order to establish the usage of any of the three stamps, to any cutter, associated with the “Museum,” one must rely on those “shades” with unquestionable provenance. However, this is not possible due to lack of multi-examples. By studying the bust contours, it is quite simple to divide the works into several types. Although one cutter could have used all of the “types,” as seen from numerous other artists of the period who utilized varieties in their cuttings, one must assume that those “shades” executed at the “Museum” bear telltale individualism due to their brief period of execution, ca.1803-1810.
A well-written article by a competent author, writing about Peale’s Museum, had this to say:

"The established method for attributing these images, according to Alice Van Leer Carrick, author of American Silhouettes, A Collector’s Guide, is that those made at Peale’s Museum generally bear the embossment “Museum,” while those made by Raphaelle in his independent practice are marked “Peale.” Further, there are certain stylistic details that link these profiles, such as ink-drawn curls on the head of a female sitter, or the way a lock of hair falls over the forehead of the man.

The statement about Raphaelle’s “Peale” stamp does not do justice to Carrick, as she never attributed a “Peale” stamp to him. Furthermore, other profilists also delineated hair details. The statement about the “inked” details is quite peculiar as the readers are influenced to believe that such a trait is an attributing factor for those profiles made at the Museum. This is far from the truth, as profiles made at the Museum are hardly ever ‘inked.” In addition, “a lock of hair” falling “over the forehead” is not a decisive factor. Other artists practiced similar methods.

A “stamp” benefited the cutters, as it was free advertisement but most silhouettes that survived are plain without embossment. This is not to say that artists never stamped most silhouettes. In fact, if they owned the dies, they did. Contemporary newspaper advertisements by artists offer us a glimpse of their products along with their prices. Typical advertisements will mention such prices as 8 cents, 25 cents, or even 6½ cents. The reality was that an artist would not cut a single, hollow-cut profile for a few pennies. A pair and a double pair were the norm. For a quarter, sitters took home more than a single profile, while an 8-cent profile advertisement was a “come-on.” Upon entering the “hall,” an artist likely explained, to the sitters, that there was a minimum of two profiles at 8 cents each or four profiles cut at a bargain price of 25 cents.

The scarcity of embossed silhouettes lies because of multiple cutting. When a pair or a double pair was cut, only the topmost image received the full pressure of the die. The second image received nothing but a weak shadow of its pressure. For this simple reason, there are more silhouettes without stamps than there are those with stamps. For every embossed hollow-cut, there exist one, two or even three comparable hollow-cuts without the embossing. Agreed, that some artists never signed or embossed their works, especially, if amateurs. Although a few artists, who cut for a living, never did sign their works, a signature, in one form or another, was the norm.


Todd's Patent Silhouette ca.1805

Who was Todd of "Todd's Patent"?

Carrick’s detective work begins. After considering several Todds, she decides that George was the most favorable of the Todds. Her reasoning has merit, and her decision to choose George appears on pages 41-42 of her book. Once a mystery, it is now a fact. For the last seventy-seven years, collectors and researchers, alike, respected her conclusion. No new information was forthcoming, and a desire to explore further was not an option. The information, provided to us in 1928, was plausible and it satisfied our curiosity.

When a hollow-cut silhouette with embossed “Todd’s Patent” appears on the market, its attribution is usually to George Todd. After all, why would anyone question such an attribution? Carrick etched his name in stone. However, a detective’s work never ends. If Carrick were alive today, she would be pursuing her endless quest for the truth, and she would uncover numerous mysteries once thought unsolvable.

Carrick mentions that Todd was in South Carolina so a quick look in the index of Artists in the Life of Charleston by Rutledge was in order, but there is no Todd. This went nowhere, and it seemed like a dead-end until NYHS Dictionary of Artists by Groce was consulted. Groce mentions Rutledge as a reference for George Todd but does not cite a page number. Since Todd was not in Rutledge, Groce made an error in his citation — obviously, another dead-end. Thumbing through Rutledge, out of boredom, a shadowy name appears in small print, “Todd.” A very scarce double error had occurred. Groce, inadvertently, forgets to insert a page number while Rutledge forgets to index Todd.

Rutledge cites an advertisement in the January 22, 1807 of the Times, “All the profiles will be stamped, ‘Todd’s Patent.’” In the July 23, 1807 of the same newspaper, appears what seems to be the final advertisement by Todd while in Charleston, “Profiles…has taken down his Physiognotrace, and will leave the city in a very short time.” The timing is very harmonious and everything seems to fall in its place. This Todd cannot be George Todd, but another Todd, Isaac Todd.

Words, sometimes, seem to possess a unique habit of their own and “bury” themselves into oblivion within the text. Such was the case with the paper published as "1803-The Year of the Physiognotrace" by Ellen G. Miles in Painting and Portrait Making in the American Northeast, published by Boston University. Resilient echoes of her verses, almost daily, resonate as numerous, enjoyable hours were spent reading it, at redundant levels. Yet, the last paragraph of her paper “deluded” any personal recollection of the printed text. The name, Isaac Todd, is clearly mentioned, “Other enterprising artists…including William Bache, Augustus Day, and Isaac Todd, who jointly, patented a physiognotrace on 14 June 1803.”

What was the reason for Todd’s abrupt departure from Charleston in 1807? Todd had a sweetheart waiting in New York. The Mormon genealogical site mentions of one Isaac Todd who married Pamela Higgins in “8 September 1807 at First and Second Presbyterian Church” in New York City.

Carrick mentions of a folio containing 2000 silhouettes by Todd, owned by the Boston Athenaeum. Searching through their homepage, the existence of the collection was confirmed. An inquiry was made about the folio and any information pertaining to the massive collection of silhouettes, but unfortunately, their response was not in order. Perhaps they cater only to “paid” members. This is very unfortunate. The collection seems to be uncataloged and unpublished. Perhaps someday, if a three-digit membership fee seems reasonable to belong to a “faction,” of sort, then, more can be published on Todd. Lavater or Franklin might have said, “Whether public or private, institutions have the responsibilities to, further, benefit “mankind.” However, Lavater nor Franklin am I, and the weight it carries is only measured in decimals.

*The illustrated silhouette by Todd is from the author’s collection. It was reframed in slightly later period frame (Todd is ca. 1805 but the frame is perhaps ca.1820 (?) with an addition of an acid-free, black, paper mat (uncouthly executed). Nevertheless, it is one of only a handful of known survivors (excluding Boston Athenaeum’s holdings).


William? William Who? Williams?

Something just crossed my mind so here I sit, writing. I should be watching the "American Idol" but....

If your name was "William" you could have been cutting profiles in the early 19th century:
William Bache, William Doyle, William King, William Chamberlain, William Henry Brown, Henry William(s), Moses William(s). Did I miss some? Probably, but that is a lot of Williams!

I did not sleep well last night as many unanswered questions kept popping in my mind.

1. If sitters paid a shilling for a pair of hollow-cuts, did they take home the "inside" cuttings that Carrick called "hole in the doughnut" as well? Or were they the property of the cutters? I understand that Moses Williams kept two full barrels of those "hole in the doughnuts."

2. Where did artists get an idea of making hollow-cuts? It seems more appropriate to present the sitters with the "insides."

3. Artists never used black paper for hollow-cuts and then back them with white paper? Why?

4. Why couldn't cut-and-paste artists use white paper cut-outs and then mount them on black paper?

I "think(ed)" myself to sleep yesterday! It looks like it is back to square one again tonight.

Did Moses Williams walk around with an embossing device in his pocket? Or was the device mounted on to a wall for anyone to use? What is this silhouette that is being attributed to Moses William with the inscription, "Moses Williams, cutter of profiles"? Some writers have "etched" its attribution in stone. The penmanship, at least to me, does not even resemble that of early 19th century, and there is no provenance attributing the profile to Williams either. A simple inscription can always be added by anyone, anytime.


Silhouette Collectors Club

There is a very interesting, and a very informative, as well, "club" across the Atlantic. The writer/publisher is one knowledgeable researcher on the subject of British silhouettes. Each quarter, she sends a club bulletin packed with new information on silhouettes. I understand that she does not make a use of the internet nor does she have an access to a computer. Everything is done the "old-fashioned-way."She would take photos of silhouettes; make enough duplicates for each member of the club, and cut-and-paste the same onto each article contained in the bulletin! So each issue is filled with clear, actual photos on the subject. She also covers the auction routes (no internet auctions), providing readers with "prices realized," comments on rarity, condition and the like.

The cost of a year's subscription, four issues of the bulletin, is a nominal twelve pounds or about twenty us dollars within UK. Since airmail postage overseas is quite costly, as common courtesy, it is a good idea to remit double the required amount.....$40 US.


Update 1/23...Just rec'd the latest edition and she is now using a word processor. The newest edition has a "clean look" but I thought typewritten pages were nostalgic and charming.

c1805 Hollow Cut Silhouette

This is a very interesting piece for study. The frame seems to be original to the silhouette, made of wood over plaster, with the glass being an older replacement. Originally, the frame was quite chipped so I have taken the liberty to "fill-in" the plaster and touched up on the paint. Not the best job for sure but it is quite displayable.The wove paper has toned to a light coffee brown color and it is an even toning. To the observer's right, you will notice vertical stress marks of the paper along with a hairline stain. The actual cutting measures 85mm from the tip of her head to the tip of the bust, while the frame measures 4.5 inches in diameter.The image is a typical machine cut, c1803-1810, somewhat resembling the works from "Peale's Museum." It has no maker's mark. I believe I was able to attribute this work to a particular artist, with good confidence. Who do you think it may be? And why?

Gotta Have This Book

Don't let the word "British" have a negative affect here, please! I bet this author must have taken three lifetimes to complete this monumental work. This book weighs a ton, printed on quality stock with 800 pages! Talk about "illustrated." There is no other work on the subject that is more thoroughly illustrated! How can anyone write such a reference is totally mind-boggling. In order to understand American silhouettes, one must first understand its origin. Let's face it; British artists were "the cream of the crop." Mckechnie introduces the readers to different types of silhouette frames, which in most part were used here in this country as well. Then there are clearly defined illustrations of men, women and children, and what to look for in an attire to date the silhouettes. She goes even further with details of headgears etc. etc.and to top that of, there are very detailed biographies of artists, many American as well. And then, in-between those pages are ....You just gotta get the book!

Book You Must Have

This is the "bible" on the subject of American silhouettes. Although the original edition is long out of print, it is quite commonly available. The publisher must have printed plenty as it was the roaring twenties and the silhouette collecting was very popular. If one can not locate the original, which is unlikely, a collector can acquire a reprint edition under another title. Carrick (1875-1951) was born in Tennessee, married Prescott Skinner in 1901 and lived in New Hampshire. She was a contributing editor for The Magazine Antiques. After 77 years since its publication, collectors and dealers, alike, still thumb through the pages of this book, almost daily! It is just an amazing book with a wealth of information. This is not a catalog-like reference but a well-written book that is totally readable and quite charming and fun. I must have read each and every line well over one-hundred times! The book was published with its dust-jacket. Today, most copies are without it. This is a well-bound book and can take some real "kicking." if you can find a copy with "minty" jacket, price unclipped, with nice content and binding, you got yourself a real treasure. I have been looking for such a copy with no luck.


Silhouette Identification Guide

My Carrick's book is all torn apart. You may not believe this but I read it every night in bed. I fall asleep with it. I must have read about Saint Memin, Bache, Peale, Williams and the like over a thousand times. It is tough to remember what I read half asleep so I read them again and again. Still, I scarcely remember what I have read.

Why would anyone want a reprint of this book is beyond me. The original is quite common, priced right and "smells" good.

I have cut out most of the illustrations from the book and made identification guides, at a quick glance. They are pasted onto two panels of poster boards. I can see them from my bed. Perhaps that is why I dream about them. I am working overtime about silhouettes even in my dreams. A real nut case, you may say. I can not argue with you.

I think I found an unfinished Williams, quite similar to what Carrick illustrates. This, too, looks ugly and bald headed. Get the Carrick out and compare her silhouette with mine. Carrick does not mention whether that specimen has an embossed "WILLIAMS." Mine does not. Why would any artist put a signature on an unfinished work? But then, without the embossed mark how would Carrick know that it is by Williams? Strange! Many mysteries go unanswered.

With all due respect, and more, to Carrick, I believe she was shooting the breeze sometimes with her writing. I am not talking about Williams. Carrick sometimes got carried away with her words. Perhaps that is why the book is so enjoyable and readable. Nevill Jackson, a superb author on silhouettes, could not write like Carrick. Desmond Coke wrote with interest. But then, he was a novelist as well.

Carrick wrote about a hollow-cut silhouette by Martha A. Honeywell in the Magazine Antiques, in 1925 if I remember correctly. She does not mention it in her book. Did it turn out ot be misattributed or a bogus? Does anyone know?