Sunday, February 28, 2010

American Revolution Makes an Engraver from a Messenger

This country's most famous horse back rider, Paul Revere, was also an engraver.

Listen, my children, and you shall hear Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere, On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-Five; Hardly a man is now alive Who remembers that famous day and year — a portion of "Paul Revere's Ride", first published in The Atlantic Monthly, 1861 by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Its fairly common knowledge that Paul Revere, the subject of the now famous Wadsworth poem, was a silver smith who had followed in his father's footsteps in that trade. Even though he is most well known for that "midnight ride":

...the night of April 18/April 19, 1775, when he and William Dawes were instructed by Dr. Joseph Warren to ride from Boston to Lexington to warn John Hancock and Samuel Adams of the movements of the British Army, which was beginning a march from Boston to Lexington, ostensibly to arrest Hancock and Adams and seize the weapons stores in Concord., Revere was also a gold smith, and, come to find out, an engraver.

Engraved commentary, civic and fiscal communications, cultural iconography and satire have long been subjects, and purpose, for goldsmiths wielding the mighty burin, thus did Mr. Revere take up one of his engraving tools and, ummm, appropriate the scene of the historic Boston Massacre and sell an edition of engraved prints for his own personal profit.

Well, the craft in his prints is not beautiful, but I guess he may have made a few coins scooping the efforts of two fellow commercial engravers:

Documentation has come to light over the years indicating that Revere copied engraver Henry Pelham's drawings of the Massacre, produced his own engraving, and three weeks after the occurrence was advertising his prints for sale in Boston's newspapers. By the time Pelham's prints hit the street, Revere's print had flooded the market. A third engraving was executed by Jonathan Mulliken, who also issued prints depicting the event. Except for a number of minor differences, all three prints appear alike.

Its interesting to note that the specter of easy money is sometimes the motive for highfaluting goldsmiths taking a less lofty professional turn into selling popular editions of prints. (See "History" section in and "Cards" in