Friday

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).

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