Cornelius Tiebout Engravings

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Part 10. Botany (Barton and Barton)

It is only natural that a book that features American plants was first published in America, but it is nevertheless noteworthy that a book published in America as early as 1803 was published the next year in London. It was far more common, during the lifetime of Cornelius Tiebout, for books published in England to be adapted by American publishers for American readers. The specific 1803 book referred to is Elements of Botany, by Benjamin Smith Barton (1766-1815). Most of the 30 illustrations were drawn from nature by William Bartram (1739-1823). Three of the 30 were engraved by Cornelius Tiebout:

In vol. 1: Purple side-saddle flower and American cranberry
In vol. 2: Philadelphus inodorus and May apple
In vol. 2: Passifora incarnata or May apple

Both volumes of Elements can be downloaded from Hathitrust. At the death of Benjamin Smith Barton in 1815, his nephew, William P. C. Barton (1781-1856) took the former Barton's place as professor of botany at the University of Pennsylvania. In Philadelphia, Mathew Carey—whose "flood of Bibles" is represented in Part 4— published W. P. C. Barton's Flora of North America: vol. 1 in 1821; Carey's successor, the firm of H. C. Carey and I. Lea, published vol. 2 in 1822 and vol. 3 in 1823. These volumes, too, can be downloaded from Hathitrust. The original drawings for Barton's Flora were by Barton himself. In addition to the 29 plates (called Tables in Flora) engraved by Cornelius Tiebout, other plates were engraved by John Boyd (7 plates), Joseph Drayton (6), George B. Ellis (32), John L. Frederick (1), Charles Goodman (6), Francis Kearny (23), and Jacob J. Plocher (2).

Barton red flowers
Aquilegia canadensis (American columbine)

At the beginning of volume 1 of Flora, W. C. P. Barton's Advertisement (an archaic usage of this word meaning "information for the reader") is of special interest in the history of copperplate engraving:

THE author begs leave to call the attention of the subscribers of the Flora, to the new style of engraving adopted in the work, with a view to enhance its value. It consists of that kind of graphic execution in which so high a degree of perfection has been attained in France, and which has been so justly admired in the plates of Michaux's splendid work on the Forest Trees of North America.

In the present work, the Table representing the Cranberry, Table XX., and the Table exhibiting a picture of the famous Scull-Cap, all in Nos. VI. and VII., afford specimens of this kind of engraving, executed by the masterly graver of Mr. Cornelius Tiebout, of this city [Philadelphia], an artist who has long been eminent for his line and dotted [stipple] engraving. These plates are printed in colour, and are afterwards coloured by hand. It is confidently believed by the author, that they will be found the most successful attempts at imitation by sound engraving, of the French style, yet made in this country. It may not be here improper to state, and the author does it without any fear of contradiction from those acquainted with the subject, that it is the next thing to impossible to present true imitations of plants, by mere coloured copper-plates—that is to say, by impressions from engraved copper, in printing which, one, two, three, or even more colours, are put on the copper. Nothing comes near to nature, and consequently nothing is faithful, but colours laid on the coloured impressions, by the pencil, under the direction of persons well acquainted with the real hues of plants. To verify this assertion, it may be mentioned, that the superbly executed plates of Michaux's forest trees, are all coloured by hand, a fact not generally known, but one of which any person may satisfy himself by rapidly sponging with clean water any one of those plates. All the colouring can be washed away, and the engraving will be found printed in green, brown, red, and yellow—sometimes in only one, occasionally in two, or all of these colours. And it is to imitate this acccurate and expressive style that the author has made the attempts alluded to.

[After citing several examples, Barton's Advertisement continues…] As far as the engraving is concerned, the author feels himself capable of giving an impartial opinion; and it is but justice to the enterprize and talents of Mr. Tiebout to state this much. Whether the colouring of the plates alluded to in No. VIII. will be found equal to Michaux's is not for the author to state. [He has, after repeated experiments] now the satisfaction of presenting a close imitation of the French method.

The "French method" is an example of color intaglio printing; specifically, à la poupée. "It requires very considerable skill and artistry on the part of the printer, who has to press the ink into the lines of the plate using stumps of rag (a 'dolly', or poupée), and then wipe the surface, taking extreme care not to smudge the colours. No two impressions printed in this way can be expected to be exactly similar, and such prints were usually retouched by hand." (Anthony Griffits, Prints and Printmaking: An introduction to the history and techniques, University of California Press, 1996, p. 117). Detail and examples, and the historical importance of Pierre-Joseph Redouté (Belgian, 1759-1840, whose illustrations are found in Sylva) are given in a book by Gavin D. R. Bridson and Donald E. Wendel: Printmaking in the Service of Botany, Catalogue of an Exhibition, Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation (Carnegie-Mellon University, 1986, pages 64-65 and 86-89). The patience required for à la poupée. may not have been understood by William Maclure, for whom Tiebout restored the Sylva plates in New Harmony, as there are several references to his 'slowness" in the Maclure-Fretageot correspondence preserved in the Workingmen's Institute Library.

The online Flora mentioned above includes the hand-colored images. Some less expensive copies of the book show the images in a color, green, that was, as Barton describes, actually applied to the copper. However, when digitized, the color may be changed to gray, as in Volume 1 in Internet Archive, and Volume 2, and Volume 3. In the carousel below, each plant is represented by two images, gray and colored. The colorist of the hand-colored images is said to be Barton's wife, Esther Rittenhouse Sergeant Barton (1789-1870), but cogent documentation for this claim is missing. In the following table, "dp" abbreviates "digital page number".

Volume   Table...dp   Scientific name Common name
1 29...205 Aeshynomene hispida Sensitive jointed vetch
1 30...210 Andromeda arborea Sorrel tree
1 36...255 Aquilegia canadensis American columbine
1 22...170 Cleoem dodecandra Three-leaved cleome (false mustard)
1 33...227 Erythronium americanum Dog's-tooth violet
1 26...189 Helenium autumnale American sneezewort
1 35...248 Hypoxis erecta...Neottia tortilis   Yellow Bethlehem star, ladies traces
1 31...216 Lindernia dilatata Dilated-leaved lindernia with details
1 34...236 Lobelia kalmii B gracilis Kalm's lobelia
1 34...236 Houstonia coerulca Bluett
1 17...135 Oxycoccus macrocarpus Cranberry
1 27...194 Rhexia mariana Maryland rhexia
1 28...200 Sesbania macrocarpa Coffeeweed
1 21...163 Scutellarea lateriflora Skullcap
1 23...167 Solanum carolinense Carolina nightshade
1 32...222 Uvularia perfoliata Perfoliate bellwort
2 37...20 Orontium aquaticum Golden club
2 38...25 Lupinus perennis Sundial lupine, also Wild lupine
2 39...30 Listera convullariodes Broad-leaved twayblade
2 39...30 Anemone quinquefolia Wood anemone
2 43...60 Ascleplas quadrifolia Four-leaved milkweed
2 44...64 Anemone thalictroides Rue anemone
2 45...68 Coreopsis tinctoria Plains coreopsis
2 48...80 Trientalis americana Northern starflower
2 49...84 Œnothera triloga Stemless evening-primrose
2 50...90-91 Centaurea americana American basketflower, also star thistle
3 78...62 Hamamelis virginica Witch hazel
3 79...67 Gentiana saponaria Harvestbells, also Soapwort gentian
3 100...174 Polygonum arifolium Halberdleaf tearthumb
3 101...178 Polygonum saggittatum Arrow-leaved tearthumb

In Philadelphia, the naturalist Thomas Say had engaged Tiebout to engrave nine illustrations for his first volume of American Entomology (the subject of Part 11), published in 1824, just three years after Barton had referred, in the first volume of Flora, to the excellent engravings in Michaux's Forest Trees of North America. (The actual title in the translation from French to English is North American Sylva.) In Paris in 1819, William Maclure had purchased the 156 copper plates used for Michaux's book. Maclure, as President of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, persuaded Say to move with him and others to New Harmony, Indiana, in the winter of 1825-1826, on the famous "Boatload of Knowledge". Maclure wrote in July 1826 that Say had followed Maclure's advice to arrange for Tiebout also to move to New Harmony. Tiebout, whose wife Esther had died in 1823, arrived in New Harmony in October 1826 with his daughter Caroline, 20, and son Henry, 5. Along with further engravings to make for Say, Tiebout was hired to restore the Sylva plates. It appears that Tiebout may have used the "French method" of applying color to the plates, as indicated by the historian Josephine Mirabella Elliott:

He [Tiebout] cleaned the plates, then he undertook to teach the children of [Maclure's] School of Industry [in New Harmony] how to color for print before taking on the more difficult and important coloring of the Michaux prints. Tiebout, noted engraver and artist that he was, must also have been an excellent teacher, definitive proof being the beautiful and unique imprints that issued from this press long after his death in 1832. (From Partnership for Posterity: The Correspondence of William Maclure and Marie Duclos Fretageot, 1820-1822, Indiana Historical Society, 1994, p. 493.)
The first American edition of Sylva was finally published, on the press in New Harmony, in 1841. Three years later, most of the copies were lost in a fire. "The unbound sheets, enough for 381 copes," write Ian MacPhail and Marjorie Sutton, "were stored in Alexander Maclure's house in New Harmony and there on the night of January 21, 1844, they were destroyed by fire. As a result, the New Harmony edition is a very rare work indeed…" (from "William Maclure as Publisher in the New Harmony Reform Tradition," Indiana Magazine of History XCIV (June 1998), 167-178).

In Ian MacPhail, Benjamin Smith Barton and Willima Paul Crillon Barton (The Morton Arboretum, 1986), the publications of the two Bartons are described in detail. Included are these notes:

Page 5: Elements of Botany 1803 "is the first textbook of botany to be published in the United States... The work ran to three more American editions, 1812-1814, 1827, and 1836." Tiebout's three engravings appear in all four editions.
Page 27: Flora has 106 engravings. The engravers' names and plates are as follows:
(1) F. Kearney: 1-3, 5, 7, 8, 11, 12, 15 16, 18, 19, 40, 41, 53-57, 59, 61-63
(2) J. Boyd: 4, 6, 9, 10, 24, 25, 64
(3) Jacob J Plocher: 13, 14
(4) C. Tiebout: 17, 20-23, 26-39, 43-45, 48-50, 78, 79, 100, 101
(5) I. L. Frederick: 42
(6) C. Goodman: 46, 47, 51, 52, 58, 60
(7) G. B. Ellis 65-77, 80-95, 104-106
(8) J. Drayton: 96-98, 102, 103.

During the two centuries since Barton book were first published, some of the scientific and common names have changed, as indicated in the table. Online resources for current names and classifications include The Plant List and the U. S. Department of Agriculture Plants Database.

Elements vol 1 Class XIII Elements vol 2 Plate XVIII Elements vol 2 Plate XXV Flora vol 1 Table 17 BW Flora vol 1 Table 17 Flora vol 1 Table 20 BW Flora vol 1 Table 20 Flora vol 1 Table 21 BW Flora vol 1 Table 21 Flora vol 1 Table 22 BW Flora vol 1 Table 22 Flora vol 1 Table 23 BW Flora vol 1 Table 23 Flora vol 1 Table 26 BW Flora vol 1 Table 26 Flora vol 1 Table 27 BW Flora vol 1 Table 27 Flora vol 1 Table 28 BW Flora vol 1 Table 28 Flora vol 1 Table 29 BW Flora vol 1 Table 29 Flora vol 1 Table 30 BW Flora vol 1 Table 30 Flora vol 1 Table 31 Flora vol 1 Table 31 Flora vol 1 Table 32 BW Flora vol 1 Table 32 Flora vol 1 Table 33 BW Flora vol 1 Table 33 Flora vol 1 Table 34 BW Flora vol 1 Table 34 Flora vol 1 Table 35 BW Flora vol 1 Table 35 Flora vol 1 Table 36 BW Flora vol 1 Table 36 Flora vol 2 Table 37 BW Flora vol 2 Table 37 Flora vol 2 Table 38 BW Flora vol 2 Table 38 Flora vol 2 Table 39 BW Flora vol 2 Table 39 Flora vol 2 Table 43 BW Flora vol 2 Table 43 Flora vol 2 Table 44 BW Flora vol 2 Table 44 Flora vol 2 Table 45 BW Flora vol 2 Table 45 Flora vol 2 Table 48 BW Flora vol 2 Table 48 Flora vol 2 Table 49 BW Flora vol 2 Table 49 Flora vol 3 Table 50 Flora vol 3 Table 50 BW Flora vol 3 Table 78 BW Flora vol 3 Table 78 Flora vol 3 Table 79 BW Flora vol 3 Table 79 Flora vol 3 Table 100 BW Flora vol 3 Table 100 Flora vol 3 Table 101 BW Flora vol 3 Table 101