Title page of Analectic Magazine
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Detail map of London, England, United Kingdom,Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States,München, Bayern, Germany

A: London, England, United Kingdom, B: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States, C: München, Bayern, Germany

Bass Otis Creates the First Lithograph Printed in the United States

The image on the left is the first lithograph created and drawn on stone by an American artist and published in the United States.
Creative Commons LicenseJeremy Norman Collection of Images - Creative Commons

The image on the left is the first lithograph created and drawn on stone by an American artist and published in the United States.

In its issue for July 1819 The Analectic Magazine published in Philadelphia included on pp. 67-73 "Art. IX.- Lithography." The original lithograph illustrating this article, created and drawn on stone by the American artist, portrait painter and inventor, Bass Otis, was the first lithograph created and published in the United States. The illustration, signed "Bass Otis lithographie," represents a woodland scene—a flowing stream and a single house upon the bank of the river. The article, signed "C" for the lawyer, chemist, geologist, economist Thomas Cooper, proudly explained how the lithograph came about, using a stone imported from Bavaria and presented to the American Philosophical Society by master printer Thomas Dobson.

Notably Otis's pioneering lithograph appeared within months of the publication by Rudolf Ackermann in London of the English translation of Senefelder's A Complete Course of Lithography: ... Accompanied by Illustrative Specimens of Drawings. To Which is Prefixed a History of Lithography. It is believed that the English translation of Senefelder's work was highly instrumental in spreading the technique of lithography.

In America on Stone (1931) Harry T. Peters raised the issue of whether a frontispiece portrait of Abner Kneeland that Otis engraved for Kneeland's A Series of Lectures on the Doctrine of Universal Benevolence (Philadelphia, 1818) was a lithograph. In 1913 Joseph Jackson, in his article "Bass Otis, America' First Lithographer," Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography XXXVII (1913) 385-94, asserted that this image is a lithograph, based indirectly on a statement published by Senefelder in his Vollständiges Lehrbuch der Steindruckerey (Munich, 1818, p. 132) that lithography was being practiced in Philadelphia in 1818. In any case, Otis signed the image, "B. Otis sc.", an abbreviation for B. Otis sculpsit, meaning B. Otis engraver, rather than lithographer. Furthermore, Jackson acknowledged that Otis's portrait of Kneeland was a combination of printmaking techniques: 

"It displays so many different styles that one is forced to admit that the engraver was not confident of his skill. The background is pure lithotint, part of the face is in stipple, and the remainder of the portait is in line and lithotint. No amateur of engravings can look at it without being struck by its many peculiarities, which until it is shown to have been a lithographic product must have been baffling to every theory concerning the probable method employed.... Strictly speaking the work is not engraving, as that process is generally understood; it is not pure lithography, but an etching on stone in a most primitive manner."

Reading this description of the portrait 100 years after Jackson published, and viewing the reproduction of the portrait online, it seems highly unlikely that Bass's frontispiece portrait of Kneeland is actually a lithograph, as it contains too many different print-making styles that resemble engraving or aquatint. It seems more likely that Jackson was attempting to fit this print into the proverbial Procrustian bed, making a lithograph out of a print that was not a lithograph. In his extensively documented and researched paper, "The Beginnings of Lithography in America," Journal of the Printing Historical Society, No. 27 (1998) 49-67,  Philip J. Weimerskirch confirmed that Otis's 1819 image was the first lithograph published in America.

According to Smyth, The Philadelphia Magazines and their Contributors, 1741-1850 (1892) 180, The Analectic Magazine ceased publication in 1821.

(This entry was last revised on 03-19-2016).

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