We were recently lucky enough to purchase an original, unbound set of Harper’s Pictorial History of the Civil War by Alfred H. Guernsey and Henry M. Alden published by Star Publishing Co. in Chicago in 1866.
The books are filled with engravings of wartime photography and drawings that were made, mostly, while the war still raged. Much like today’s news, the articles were written during the conflict, so information was sometimes incorrect and wrong results may have been reported by those who were too close to the war.
While this immediacy might lead a reporter to draw the wrong conclusions, it is the very thing to make the photographer or the artist draw the correct ones- the closer the graphic artist is to the conflict, the clearer he can depict it and we can see it. People dedicated to the graphic arts have left us a very good lens with which to look back in time, insulated as we are from the conflict by time and the well-meaning commentary of generations of historians.
The images we are left with allow us to see, for ourselves, into the eyes of our ancestors, more clearly than any previous process and certainly further back in time than any others have been able to see. With the invention of photography, we are the first in history to see the clear face of someone born 200 years before us.
Consider the skill, the care and the time invested in these images, that have lasted a century and a half and were amazingly close to the subjects depicted.
Mathew Brady’s photo of Winfield Scott was copied often by different artists. That the original is out of focus, probably accounts for minor differences in facial expression in each version. So, even among skilled artists, there are variations.
William Hennessy’s work for the Harper’s image, above, makes the General look a little more grizzled and rough than the photograph he worked from (below). Other artists depict a softer expression.
Even photography isn’t immune to the artist’s sympathies. Contrast, levels, curves, sharpening, cropping etc. are all adjustable and adjusted by everyone along the workflow from original to final printed piece or digital image, whatever the media.
Even if we ignore the idea of bias, two different shops can produce very different results. An internet search of any well known image will prove that even in the IT age, opinions, agendas, sympathies and levels of ability affect results.
These books are perfect for our use since they came to us as they were originally sold- as unbound signatures, so we can easily scan them. (Original customers could have the 32-page signatures casebound after they collected the entire set.) The quality of the printing is excellent and they are folio sized at approximately 11.375″ x 16.375″.
Want a better look at the engraving of “Old Fuss and Feathers”? We’ve uploaded a much larger version of our scan to our server, here. (81MB jpg)
We’re happy to share this scan with a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License – you can use it in any project for any purpose. Please include attribution of “Scan courtesy Imaging Specialists, Inc., Sparta, NC.”