From the Depths of our Rare Books: Victorian and Georgian Engravings!

It’s no secret that we love our Rare Books Collection here at the Southwest Collection. Ranging from pulp to more canonical works of literature, they’re a delight to browse. There are some oddities in there, though. Take our Engravings Collection, for example. Containing printings of engravings ranging from 1720 to 1895, they portray a diverse swath of Georgian and Victorian era United Kingdom life, with a smattering of India, Italy, and France thrown in. Just check these out!

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Many of the engravings in this collection graced the covers of periodicals. For just one penny, readers of Saturday Magazine throughout England had an opportunity to see the Duke of York Column. It memorializes George III’s eldest son and England’s legendary general, and is only slightly less effective in that regard than the nursery rhyme “The Grand Old Duke of York.” When this engraving was made in February 1833, the column had only been standing for a couple of months.

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In the church of St. Catherine Cree lies Sir Nicholas Throckmorton, once the Chief Butler of England (among a host of other notable positions.) This engraving of his sarcophagus shows the knight looking pretty relaxed for a man who moonlighted as ambassador to France and Scotland while raising–or at least siring–10 sons and 3 daughters.

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It’s important to keep in mind that not everyone in the UK was able to travel to London to view its many splendors despite the proliferation of railroads at that time (the first public railway had opened in 1825, four years before the above item was published.) Only through engravings that were later printed onto publications such as this one, The Mirror, could British citizens hope to see the Grand Entrance to Hyde Park.

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French history was a popular topic in these engravings; revolutions in France doubly so. The lower image is an imaginative depiction of the 1848, or “February,” Revolution, which forced the abdication of King Louis Philippe and began France’s Second Republic. The upper one is of the ousted Louis Philippe upon his arrival in Newhaven, England, in 1848. Having ruled France for the previous 18 years, he was reduced to enjoying the protection of Queen Victoria, spending his remaining days in Claremont, Surrey, where he died in 1850.

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France wasn’t the only nation falling under the shadow of revolution in 1848. The Sicilian revolution of independence began in January of that year, and gave the island nation a brief 16 months of self-governance until the Bourbons retook it. But they could not take away their fine mustaches, immortalized in this image.

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Not all Italian scenes in these works were of violent revolution, though. Some were simple images sprung from the imagination (and, possibly, the real-world observations) of the artist. This street scene in Naples is one such. Whether or not it reflects a particular national bias by the British artist, it’s certainly detailed and lively!

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We end with another Saturday Magazine cover, this one featuring the Pilchard fishery. That’s not the name of the fishery itself, however, but of the fish, which you might know now as a herring or sardine. Harvested from Ireland to Australia, pilchard’s were big business. Big enough, anyway, to merit a full cover spread for Saturday’s readers in 1833.

And there you have it – the briefest of samples of our fine engravings collection! If you want to see more, look no further than our kindly Reference Staff who can get others into your hands without delay.

The Merchant of Eagle Pass, Texas

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A couple of weeks ago we shared several of our small collections (link to that blog) with you, but we withheld a couple of them because we felt they merited a more detailed story. One such was the Leonard de Bona Papers, a small box full of 100-year-old correspondence. At first glance it seems a little dry—a pile of receipts and letters spanning just under 20 years. A closer look reveals much more: a story of the tiny border town of Eagle Pass, Texas and its economic connection to a much larger mercantile world.

Leonard de Bona was a businessman in Eagle Pass, Texas, who ran his company, Eagle Pass Hardware and Supply Store of Texas, for nearly 20 years. During that time he sold dry goods and sundries throughout the Rio Grande Valley and nearby Mexico. Look at these receipts above: milk might be a common enough import, but bananas? Several pounds of those ran $13.91 according to this bill, and that was in 1888. Although comparing dollar values across 126 years is difficult at best, that amount would be at the very least several hundred dollars today. Mr. de Bona was a man who could acquire the finer things (if you consider bananas a finer thing, of course.)

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Next up is a leaf of correspondence between de Bona and his long-time supplier, A. B. Frank and Co. of San Antonio, Texas. The item in question this time was sugar. Always in demand, particularly in remote areas of the United States, sugar even more valuable than bananas! It would be nice to discover to whom de Bona was selling train-car loads of the stuff. Perhaps just over the border in Piedras Negras, Mexico? To outlying farmers and ranchers in the Rio Grande valley? It’s also possible that he sold it to the soldiers at Fort Duncan, which had been founded forty years earlier to protect one of the first U.S. settlements on the U.S.-Mexico border. Either way, this is more evidence that de Bona was the man to see for relatively rare commodities.

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When we mentioned “a much larger mercantile world” earlier, we didn’t just mean San Antonio and south Texas. Take a look at this letter from importer Emilio de Stefano in Chicago, Illinois. Written entirely in Italian, it concerns the relationship, both business and personal, between de Stefano and de Bona. De Bona may himself have been an Italian immigrant, although that fact is not clear in these records. De Stefano refers to him here somewhat familiarly as ‘Leonardo,’ but gravesite records list de Bona—and his father’s—name as ‘Leonard.’ Chicago and Italy—de Bona was bringing it in from all over!

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Lastly, we have this letter from one Mr. Wadsworth, an American abroad in Mexico. Unable to acquire necessities such as corn starch, black pepper, and “No. 8 Brogan Shoes,” he was forced to turn to Eagle Pass Hardware and Supply Store of Texas to meet his needs. Whether or not the order was met is impossible to say as documentation is not present in the Papers. Nevertheless, it’s clear that de Bona did in fact coordinate trade across the nearby border.

The Leonard de Bona Papers offer a rare peek into the affairs of a borderlands merchant. Who knows how many such towns sported similar businessmen? It wouldn’t hurt a researcher to answer that question via a further look through our archive. After all, our courteous Reference Staff can always arrange for a look at this collection or any other materials with similar stories to tell.