Engraved copper printing plate by Tanner, Vallance and Kearney

Tanner, Vallance, Kearney & Co, Sc., AMERICAN GENERALS [on plate with:] Tanner, Vallance, Kearney & Co, Sc., FRENCH MARSHALS. [Philadelphia, 1819.]
Copper plate engraved in stipple and line, 9 ¼”h x 12 1/8”w at edges. Stamped “I. SHAFE / LITTLE MOORFIELDS / LONDON” on verso. Minor scratching, soiling and discoloration. Accompanied by Edward Baines’ History of the Wars of the French Revolution (Philadelphia: McCarty & Davis, 1819) and an impression from each plate on very heavy stock mounted on a sheet of later wood-pulp paper.

A rare engraved copper printing plate by the important Philadelphia partnership of Tanner, Vallance and Kearney, featuring portraits of six American generals from the War of 1812 facing portraits of six of Napoleon’s marshals.

The plate bears two separate images engraved in line and stipple, each signed by Tanner, Vallance and Kearney and separated by a thin vertical rule. At right are portraits of Marshals Soult, Marmont, Murat, Berthier and Ney, each set in its own frame and backed by a plinth, with a draped imperial banner and, incongruously, a liberty cap on a pole. At left are portraits of American Generals Dearborn, Scott, Jackson, Harrison, Brown and Pike, similarly framed and backed by a plinth, with Jackson framed by laurels and surmounted by an eagle bearing a wreath, arrows and olive branch. Once printed, of course, the American generals would appear at left and the French marshals at right.

The plate was engraved in or around 1819, for use in illustrating the first American edition of Edward Baines’ History of the Wars of the French Revolution (Philadelphia: McCarty & Davis, 1819). Here the plate is accompanied by a later (1835) edition of the same work, complete in two volumes, with an impression from the plate bound as the frontis to the first volume. Also present is an impression from each plate printed on very heavy stock, mounted side-by-side on old wood-pulp paper and bearing a couple of indecipherable (but old) numeric markings, along with later markings corresponding to the number assigned each engraving by Stauffer. The previous owner, a collector of copper plates, insists this is the remnants of a very early storage folder, but I am skeptical.

The plate was produced by the distinguished partnership of Benjamin (1775-1848) and Henry Schenck Tanner (1786-1858), John Vallance (ca. 1770-1823), and Francis Kearney (1785-1837). Among other contributions, Vallance is best known as co-engraver, along with James Thackara, of Andrew Ellicott’s iconic Plan of the City of Washington in the Territory of Columbia (1792). Henry Tanner later achieved fame for publication of his New American Atlas (1822).

Of the partnership, Stauffer writes: “In 1811, with his brother Henry S. Tanner, [Benjamin] commenced business as a general engraver and map publisher; in 1816-24 he was a member of the engraving firm of Tanner, Vallance, Kearny & Co….” (Stauffer, American Engravers, p. 264). However, my colleague Ashley Baynton-Williams, whom I trust in such matters far more than Stauffer, insists that “Benjamin Tanner and Francis Kearny worked together 1810-1817, joined in 1817 by John Vallance to form Tanner, Vallance, Kearny & Co., subsequently joined by Henry Schenck Tanner. This partnership was dissolved in 1820” because of the difficult in funding what ultimately became Henry Tanner’s New American Atlas (1822). To support his claim, Ashley offered up the following advert:

“GRAPHIC NOTICE. BENJAMIN TANNER, Engraver, (of the late firm of Tanner, Vallance, Kearney & Co.) has removed his office from No. 10 Library-street, to his place of residence, No. 74 south Eighth street, Philadelphia, where he will continue to execute all orders for any subject on copper, as usual.” (Federal Gazette & Baltimore Daily Advertiser, 31 March 1820, p. 3)

Early engraved copper plates are rare survivals, as the copper was sufficiently valuable that the images were often burnished out and the plates reused, or the plates melted down entirely and repurposed. For example, a recent search 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.

In all, a very rare artifact produced by an important early American engraving partnership.

Stauffer, American Engravers, #3111 and 3113.