Very rare 18th-century view of Yale College, with “irresistible appeal” and superlative provenance

[Anonymous], A Front VIEW of YALE-COLLEGE, and the COLLEGE CHAPEL, NEW HAVEN. [:] A compendious History of Yale-College, and a general Account of the Course of Studies pursued by the Students. New Haven: Daniel Bowen, [1786].
Broadside, 536 x 469mm. Large, hand-colored woodcut surmounting two lines of headline type and seven columns of letterpress. Colors oxidized and a bit faded. Some restoration at folds and edges, with a few tiny losses along central vertical fold, somewhat unevenly trimmed at edges, and lined on verso. Housed in a contemporary frame with Old Print Shop label on reverse.

An appealing, informative and extremely rare woodcut view of Yale, one of the earliest extant views of the institution. With provenance to one of America’s greatest collectors and one of its greatest dealers of the 20th century.

The woodcut is a low-level architectural profile taken from a vantage point on New Haven Green and looks past the outer wall towards South Middle College (now Connecticut Hall). South Middle College, some 100 feet long, was constructed in 1750 to replace a large wooden building that had been built in 1717 when Yale first moved from Saybrook to New Haven. It was named a National Historic Landmark in 1965, and today is the only survivor of “Old Brick Row” which faced the Green along College Street. To the left of South Middle College is Yale’s First Chapel, which was knocked down in the late nineteenth century.

Below the view seven columns of letterpress, dated June 16, 1786, provide an overview of Yale’s history, architecture, library and other collections, and course of study. The text ends with the letterpress imprint of New Haven printer/publisher Daniel Bowen. Bowen advertised his intention of establishing a printing office in February 1786, hoping to commence business in April. From 1786 to 1787 he published the weekly New-Haven Chronicle, in which he advertised this view of Yale,[1] and in those years published a few other imprints of a religious or academic nature. It is not clear whether he is one and the same as the Daniel Bowen (1760-1856) active slightly later in Boston.

Wendy Shadwell describes the broadside and praises it lavishly:

“This charming colored woodcut is a precursor of the modern-day college catalogue, complete with a history of the institution, lists of its courses of study, and illustrations of the buildings and students. The bewigged figure in cap and gown seen from the rear proceeding toward the chapel steps, to whom several students on the right doff their caps, probably represents the Rev. Dr. Ezra Stiles, renowned lawyer, linguist, and scholar, who was President of Yale College from 1778 until 1795. The primitive elements of this composition—the quaint little figures dotted about the foreground and the curved steps looped like garlands from the buildings’ foundations—combine with the more classic American traits of straightforward realism and open landscape to endow this print with an irresistible appeal.” (p. 43)

I quite agree.  It’s worth for example comparing this view with Paul Revere’s 1767 view of Harvard, which for all its merits lacks the rough charm, intimacy and “in-the-moment” immediacy of Bowen’s view of Yale.

This very example was offered by Parke-Bernet, in their sale of March 19, 1963 (lot 219). Although catalog for that sale makes no reference to ownership, the sale included property from the collection of Anson Phelps Stokes, Jr. (1874-1958), author of the bibliography Historical Prints of New Haven, with special reference to Yale College and this broadside is presumed to have belonged to him.

The broadside was re-then re-offered by Sotheby Parke Bernet in the May 18, 1973 sale of the collection of William Middendorf II (lot 109), where it was acquired by the late William S. Reese of New Haven, a Yale alumnus, for his private collection. Following his death it was offered by Christie’s as part of The private collection of William S. Reese (Jan. 27, 2023, lot 156).

There is no public record of another example having appeared on the antiquarian market. However, in 2009 The Old Print Shop sold an example for $95,000 to a private collector, in whose collection it still resides.

Rarity and references
I have located institutional examples at Yale Manuscript & Archives, Yale University Art Gallery, the Newberry Library, the Connecticut Historical Society, and the Massachusetts Historical Society.

Evans, American bibliography, #20165. Stokes, Historical Prints of New Haven, Connecticut, #10. Sabin, Dictionary of Books Relating to America, #105931 (Newberry and Yale); Shadwell, American Printmaking: The First 150 Years, #78 (illustrating this example, then in the Middendorf Collection). OCLC #949279916 (Newberry only, but OCLC has a host of entries under “Compendious History of Yale-College”, all of which appear to be digital editions.) Not in Stokes, American Historical Prints.

Owned in partnership with The Old Print Shop, New York City.

[1] “JUST PRINTED, and to be sold (very Cheap) at this Office. A front View of Yale-College, and the College-Chapel, in this City. To which is added, A compendious History of Yale-College, and a general Account of the Course of Studies pursued by the Students.” (Vol. I, issue 12, page 3, with repeats into 1787).