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).