Engraved copper printing plate, probably executed for Mathew Carey

[On recto: J[oseph] Y[eager?] JOHN BAPTIZING CHRIST. Matthew. Chap.6.Ver.15. [On verso:] [Engraver’s name struck out and illegible,] And the hail smote throughout the land of Egypt… Exodus Ch .9. V. 25. [Philadelphia?: Matthew Carey? ca. 1815.]
Copper plate, engraved and etched on both faces, 9 ¾”h x 7 ¼”w at edges. Offered with three recent impressions of each image on different papers.

An early American copper printing plate, probably made for publisher Mathew Carey ca. 1815. Images are rendered in engraving and etching on both sides, the recto probably by Joseph Yeager and the verso by an unidentified engraver. NB: The plate itself is difficult to photograph, and the images accompanying this listing are recent impressions taken of the recto and verso.

The recto depicts John the Baptist baptizing Christ in the Jordan River, attended by angels and a descending dove. The plate is signed “JY,” probably the initials of Joseph Yeager (1792-1859), whom Stauffer describes as a “general engraver in line and etcher of portraits… working in Philadelphia from 1816 until 1845.” Perhaps his best known work is the Battle of New Orleans and the Death of Major General Packenham (ca. 1815), though he also engraved a number of atlas maps. According to the American Antiquarian Society’s Catalog of American Engravings, Young engraved a number of other illustrations, signed “JY,” for a Bible published in 1815 by Matthew Carey (Shaw-Shoemaker #34072). Nowhere else have I found a use of these initials by Yeager, who typically signed his work “J. Yeager.”

The verso depicts a devastating hailstorm, the seventh plague visited upon the Egyptians prior to the Exodus. Sadly, the name of the engraver has been struck out and is now illegible. For what it’s worth, the Catalog of American Engravings records an engraving of similar title, identical in the wording and line breaks but with a couple of added commas, signed by “W. Harrison Junr. Sculp.,” in a Bible published by Carey in 1802 (Shaw #1878). At any rate the struck-out engraver’s name on our plate is too short to be that of Harrison, but the Carey connection is suggestive.

An early copper printing plate is a rare survival, as the copper was sufficiently valuable that the images were often burnished out and the plates reused, or the plates melted down entirely repurposed. For example, a quick check of RareBookHub for plates engraved between 1775 and 1850 yields only five lots offered at auction since 2000. Of these, one was a group of 11 unsigned plates of various subjects, dated “18th-20th c.” and probably European in origin; three were individual plates by British engravers; and one was executed by American satirist David Claypoole Johnston. I later had the pleasure of handling the Johnston, which may be viewed here.


Minor scratching, soiling and discoloration.