BIRCH, William (1755-1834). The City of Philadelphia, in the State of Pennsylvania North America; as it appeared in the Year 1800. Consisting of Twenty Eight Copper-Plates. Published by W. Birch, Springland Cot, near Neshaminy Bridge on the Bristol Road, Pennsylvania. Dec.r 31st, 1800 [but probably later].
Oblong folio (14 4/8 x 18 inches). Engraved title-page with an elaborate vignette of the arms of the City of Philadelphia, letterpress introduction and plate list at beginning, with both the broadside prospectus for the 2-part series "Philadelphia and New York," and the priced subscribers' list bound in at the end. Engraved plan of Philadelphia by W. Barker, and 31 fine engraved views of the city of Philadelphia by William and Thomas Birch and William Barker after drawings by the Birches including 21 in first state, 8 in the second state, one possibly in a third state and one extra view of "Schuylkill Bridge High St." (discreet marginal repairs to "High Street",... Church", "High Street market", "Second Street,... Christ Church", some browning, spotting and a few pale marginal stains). Fine American binding of contemporary mottled calf, each cover decorated with a border of fine gilt floral roll-tool, the smooth spine gilt decorated in six compartments, red morocco lettering-piece in one, the others decorated with small gilt tools (extremities a little scuffed, inner hinges strengthened with cloth); housed in 20th-century red morocco gilt clamshell case.
Provenance: Mrs. William Millar, a direct descendant of William Birch, with her letter outlining the provenance dated February 20th, 1962; purchased from her by Harry Shaw Newman of The Old Print Shop, in 1962, with his letter to; Robert McNeil of Wyndmoor, Pennsylvania (1916-2010), entrepreneur, innovator, philanthropist, patron of the arts and a founding father of the modern pharmaceutical industry, founder of the Barra Foundation; his sale Sotheby's 5th December 2013, lot 3
THE EXCEEDINGLY RARE FIRST EDITION OF THE EARLIEST PUBLISHED VIEWS OF AN AMERICAN CITY, AND A FINE ASSOCIATION COPY, HAVING DESCENDED THROUGH THE BIRCH FAMILY.
Birch had made a very successful career for himself as an enamellist and engraver in England, having learnt the latter from the celebrated Thomas Jefferys, before "uneasiness over the French Revolution, as well as the deaths of important friends and patrons, including Reynolds, left him bored and uncertain. Judge Samuel Chase of Maryland, whose stepmother was Birch's sister, encouraged him to relocate to America. When Birch moved to Philadelphia in 1794, he was thirty-nine and accompanied by his wife and four children. His fourteen-year-old son, Thomas Birch, would become a well-known American landscape and marine painter. A letter from Benjamin West to the influential William Bingham, served as an introduction into an affluent and sophisticated segment of Philadelphia society, where he soon found patrons... Birch is best known for his unique early record of an American city, 'The City of Philadelphia in the State of Pennsylvania as It Appeared in 1800'. The series manifests both a high degree of technical skill and a number of original and dynamic compositions. Intended to be colored by hand, the publication was prepared between 1797 and 1798 with some assistance from Birch's son, Thomas, and his student, Samuel Seymour. Philadelphia was then America's largest city and its artistic, political, and cultural center. The views provided in 'The City of Philadelphia 'handsomely transcribed its impressive architecture while documenting a variety of occupations, industries, and amusements and providing a glimpse of the social differences between artisans, laborers, and the elite. Birch's nationalistic aim, according to his autobiography, was to "show early improvements of the country and convey [them] to Europe, to promote and encourage settlers to the establishment of trade and commerce." Among the many influential subscribers to the first edition was Thomas Jefferson, whose copy remained prominently displayed in his office throughout his presidency" (Carol Eaton Soltis for ANB).
From the distinguished library of Robert McNeil, who expanded the McNeil family pharmaceutical company McNeil Laboratories, where he spearheaded the development of the Butisol family of drugs and, anticipating the world-wide demand for non-aspirin pain relievers, led the team that created Tylenol, including conceiving of the name Acetaminophen, the generic term for the drug. In 2005, Mr. McNeil received the prestigious American Institute of Chemists Gold Medal as part of Heritage Day at the Chemical Heritage Foundation. "Retirement from McNeil Laboratories marked the start of a whole new adventure," said his son, Rory McNeil. "He was able to devote more time to our family, to the arts and to various philanthropies. He was always into something." A long-time supporter of the Philadelphia Zoo, Mr. McNeil recently provided funding for the renovation of the McNeil Avian Center. Vikram H. Dewan, President and CEO of the Zoo commented on Mr. McNeil's longstanding support, "Bob McNeil's philanthropy was both abundant and visionary the McNeil Avian Center exists as a result of his generosity and farsightedness, changing the way visitors think about the Zoo. His commitment to preservation helped maintain the architectural integrity of the existing building while creating a state-of-the-art exhibit and implementing leading-edge energy conservation strategies. The McNeil Avian Center at the Philadelphia Zoo has served as an important catalyst for raising the Zoos attendance levels, positively impacting the Zoo's financial transformation and increasing the Zoo's visibility as a leading conservation and wildlife organization." An avid supporter and collector of American fine and decorative arts, Mr. McNeil served as a Commissioner of the National Portrait Gallery, a member of the White House Preservation Committee, and a Trustee of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. His commitment to American culture was underscored by his championing of The Center of American Art at the museum through endowing the chair of Dr. Kathleen A. Foster, the Robert L. McNeil, Jr. Senior Curator of American Art and Director of the Center. As founder of the Barra Foundation, his devotion to Philadelphia arts and culture was further demonstrated through the Foundation's publication of 39-books, including Philadelphia: A 300 Year History published in 1982 and the trilogy by Roger Moss with Tom Crane: Historic Houses of Philadelphia, Historic Sacred Places of Philadelphia and Landmarks of Philadelphia in 2008. Also through the Barra Foundation, Mr. McNeil contributed to promoting education throughout Southeastern Pennsylvania, and provided funding for programs serving the homeless and disadvantaged" (Obituary, New York Times, 23rd May 2010).