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Nancy Finlay, ed. Picturing Victorian America: Prints by the Kellogg Brothers of Hartford, Connecticut, 1830-1880.

NANCY FINLAY, ed. Picturing Victorian America: Prints by the Kellogg Brothers of Hartford, Connecticut, 1830-1880. Hartford: Connecticut Historical Society, 2009. 233 pp. ISBN 978-881264-09-5 (cloth); 978-1-881264-10-1 (paperback). $65 (cloth); $30 (paperback). Distributed by Wesleyan University Press. [Reviewed by Paul S. Koda]

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"In addition to preserving genealogical information useful to researchers today, these blank forms [produced by the Kelloggs] are intriguing documents of social history, recording images of family life and mourning customs, and these images contain some of the richest and subtlest iconography of any Kellogg prints.... These documents fascinate us for multiple reasons and provide a unique lens through which to view nineteenth-century family life" (GEORGIA B. BARNHILL, "Written on Stone: Family Registers, Family Trees, and Memorial Prints," p. 61).

If Americans have a pictorial image of the nineteenth century, it is likely based on one or another lithograph printed and published by the firm of Currier & Ives. Yet other lithographic businesses were active--and even flourished--during Victorian America. (For extensive information on other lithographers, see Jay T. Last's The Color Explosion: Nineteenth-Century American Lithography, reviewed above.) Among the most successful firms was the Kellogg Brothers, which prospered for fifty years in the middle of the century. The eight essays in Picturing Victorian America written by the editor, Nancy Finlay, and six other contributors make a strong argument that the firm equalled and upon occasion surpassed the works of Currier & Ives. The the case for national prominence is made in Finlay's "From Hartford to Everywhere: The History of the Kellogg Firm and Its Associates" (pp. 11-25) and in Elisabeth Hodermarsky's "The Kellogg Brothers' Images of the Mexican War and the Birth of Modern-Day News" (pp. 73-83).

While these essays and the others provide new insights into the importance of the Kelloggs' productions, the heart of the book--and the one that deserves to be applauded and praised by collector and scholar alike--is the invaluable "Checklist of Kellogg Lithographs in the Connecticut Historical Society" (pp. 137-221), compiled by Candice C. Brashears and Michael Shortell. It comprises the bulk of the book, listing 1,158 lithographs as of 1 June 2007, recording the largest extant collection of Kellogg lithographs. The Checklist is essentially a catalogue raisonne: each entry includes title, exact wording of publisher's imprint, dimensions, notes on source of images (if known), colored or not colored, and related cross-references.

Best of all, each description is accompanied by a corresponding thumbnail image, leaving no doubt about which lithograph is identified and described. (The Connecticut Historical Society plans to make the images available online.) The compilers also match the Kellogg images against Currier & Ives images listed in Bernard Reilly's Currier & Ives: A Catalogue Raisonne (1984). Though the Kelloggs often copied Currier & Ives prints (such "borrowing" was common and not unexpected in the nineteenth century), it was just as likely that Currier & Ives copied Kellogg images for their own publications.

Because of the definitive nature of the book, it would have been useful to have more information and evaluations. These might include an introduction to the lithographic process itself; evaluating the Kelloggs' accomplishments against the productions of other lithographers of the period; and explaining why the Kelloggs did not employ chromolithography as this technology became available. But these are minor quibbles. Well-illustrated, handsomely designed, thoroughly researched, and meticulously edited, Picturing Victorian America is the standard work on the Kelloggs' contribution to nineteenth-century American lithography.
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Author:Koda, Paul S.
Publication:Printing History
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jan 1, 2010
Words:561
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