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Bookseller’s label of William A. Colman, engraved by Joseph Perkins

November 11, 2011

This elaborately engraved label is signed: “Engd. by Jos. Perkins, N.Y.” (immediately below the inverted “LATIN” in the border; click on the image for an enlargement).

Perkins was born in Unity, N.H., on August 19, 1788 and died in New York city on April 27, 1842. He graduated from Williams College in 1814, and is documented in Philadelphia as a script engraver from 1818, some of the time in business with Benjamin H. Rand as Rand and Perkins. In 1826, he moved to New York, where in 1828 he joined Asher Brown Durand in New York in the bank-note engraving firm of Durand, Perkins & Co.  After Durand abandoned the business to devote more time to painting (1831), Perkins continued in business at 4 John Street.  (See David McNeely Stauffer, American Engravers upon Copper and Steel, New York, 1907, p. 210; and Wayne Craven, “Asher B. Durand’s Career as an Engraver,” American Art Journal 3:1 [1971], pp. 39-57.)

William A. Colman (sometimes erroneously recorded as “Coleman”) was a book- and print-seller at various locations in New York from at least 1821 until his death in 1850, though recorded at 237 Broadway only in 1829 (see Sidney F. Huttner and Elizabeth Stege Huttner, A Register of Artists, Engravers, Booksellers, Bookbinders, Printers & Publishers in New York City, 1821-42, New York, 1993, p. 58).  He exhibited art as well as selling books; perhaps the most notable instance was his display of Thomas Cole’s earliest Hudson River paintings in late 1825, which led to Cole’s discovery by John Trumbull, William Dunlap, and Asher Durand (see Elise Effmann, “Thomas Cole’s View of Fort Putnam,” The Magazine Antiques [Nov. 2004], pp. [155]-159, citing Dunlap’s account in the New-York Evening Post of November 22, 1825).

Colman’s place among his contemporaries was charmingly set forth in a passage from Thomas Picton’s Fun and Fancy in Old New York:

If the taste of the general community for art works remained ungratified through inspection of old masters, Broadway presented habitual loungers with ample opportunities for viewing a constant succession of choice engravings.  The arrival of each London packet replenished the windows of our leading print dealers and publishers with specimens from the burins of trans-Atlantic artists.  The most popular place of resort with sight seekers was in front of the book store of William A. Colman, in Broadway near Fulton, where behind plate glass windows, duly protected against over pressure by a treble row of iron guards, were displayed the most elaborate products of European skill, so captivating to the sight that not a blooming belle nor courteous beau could pass the establishment without pausing to criticize the art works temptingly exposed.

This label is found on the front pastedown of volume 1 of a copy of Letters on the Study and Use of History (London, 1752), by Henry St. John, Viscount Bolingbroke, in the Mortimer Rare Book Collection at Smith College.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Allen Miller, Historical Consultant permalink
    May 15, 2014 05:47

    saw this on the web. am preparing manuscript for Historic House whose builder dealt extensively with Wm Colman. Who owns the rights to this image?

    • May 15, 2014 21:48

      Dear Mr. Miller,

      As noted in the post, the label is in a book owned by Smith College, and should be so credited, though they don’t own copyright. I took the photo and am happy to have you use it in conjunction with your manuscript. I don’t know what if any copyright may still exist in the original image, or who would own it if it did exist.

  2. Allen Miller permalink
    December 25, 2020 17:48

    If you’re interested in Colman, I have scans of 7 letters written by colman to George Clarke in the late 1820s. Clarke built Hyde Hall and had a large library, including dozens of books bought from Colman, some of which bear the same elegant bookseller’s plate.

    • Kathie Manthorne permalink
      May 29, 2021 11:24

      Dear Mr. Miller, I only just found this post and your offer to share scans of Colman’s letters to Clarke. I am an art historian working on Wm. Colman’s nephew Samuel Colman (Jr.) and this information would be very helpful. Thank you

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