- Alexander Anderson (1775–1870), Wood Engraver and Illustrator: An Annotated Bibliography
There have been several earlier accounts of the extraordinary life and output of Alexander Anderson — long acknowledged as the father of American wood engraving — but none made full use of the material available. When W. J. Linton published his History of Wood Engraving in America in 1882, the first chapter was devoted to the work of Anderson. This was entirely fitting, for he had first engraved on wood in the 1790s and continued working until 1865, thus being a major influence on the revolution in American printed illustration during the nineteenth century. Linton relied on his predecessor B. J. Lossing’s Memorial of 1870 for biographical detail; the illustrations were few, but as a practical engraver himself, and as author of The Masters of Wood Engraving 1889, his observations on Anderson as engraver are interesting, and admiring of industry before artistry. But it was the publication of Jane Pomeroy’s Alexander Anderson’s Life and Engravings, with a Checklist of Publications Drawn from his Diary 1990 that was to hint at the scholarship and thorough research of what was to come.
Now we have in three large quarto volumes, running to a total of 2,604 pages, 2,332 bibliographical entries, and more than a thousand illustrations reproducing Anderson’s engravings, the result of Mrs Pomeroy’s twenty years of unstinting labour. It has clearly been a labour of love, and although a few additions may yet come to light, the work will not be superseded. After her Acknowledgments and Plan of Research, which give a most interesting summary of her remarkable journey of discovery, her Introduction’s biographical account is followed by seven further sections: ‘The Development of Anderson’s Style’ and a review of his work divided into eight periods from 1791 to 1872; ‘The Reuse and Sharing of Illustrations between Publishers’; ‘Anderson’s Income from Engraving’; ‘Publishers’ Control over Illustration’; ‘Printing, Copying and Stereotyping Techniques’; ‘Anderson’s Legacy’; and finally a ‘Note on Engraving Terms and Technique’. There is much original material here that makes a most valuable contribution to our understanding of the American nineteenth-century engraving and bookselling trade. The bibliographical entries, which have been informed by research in more than eighty libraries, are followed in Volume 3 by three appendices dealing specifically with the output of the New York Religious Tract Society and the American Tract Society, and a fourth that catalogues the original woodblocks known to survive — nearly 800 of them, with others yet to be authenticated or otherwise attributed. The Bibliography provides listings of Manuscript Sources and Research Sources; Bookseller and Auction Catalogues; Type Foundry Specimen Books; and a Selected Bibliography of 232 entries including newspapers, periodicals, dissertations, MA theses, and exhibition catalogues. There are separate indexes of Artists and Engravers; Publishers, Printers, and Booksellers; and of Authors and Titles — after which it seems churlish to wish for a general index, but there is much in the introductory matter and within the bibliographical entries one would like to be able to refer back to with ease.
Alexander was born in New York in 1775, the second son of John Anderson, an Aberdeenshire immigrant who since about 1770 had worked in the city as a printer [End Page 485] for James Parker. In the following year, as he fled New York, the father lost all his printing equipment and household goods to both the incoming British and the Americans, for whom ironically he had printed much in favour of their cause.
As with so many blessed with the gift, the boy was early in expressing his talent for drawing, and his father’s trade and the fact that New York, to which the family returned in 1783, had become the heart of American publishing, exposed him to many influences. The Newbery toy books imported from London...