April 1775 Historic Print “Mr. SAMUEL ADAMS” Printed by and for Charles Reak & Saml. Okey Newport, Rhode Island.
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April 1775-Dated, Mezzotint Portrait Print titled, “Mr. SAMUEL ADAMS”, Newport, Rhode Island. Printed by and for Charles Reak & Saml. Okey, April 1775, Extremely Fine.
Exceedingly rare. Only two other examples of this historic American Mezzotint Print of “Mr. Samuel Adams” have appeared at auction in recent decades, one in somewhat lesser quality (trimmed to platemark) sold at Bloomsbury, March 5, 2009 lot 4, for $16,000. This impressive print also enjoys a wonderful provenance. It measures about 10” x 14.25” Sheet size (370 x 265mm) (by sight), has its full deep black printed text fully on the plate with ample margins. Professionally “period style” framed, protected under special UV Plexiglas measuring to fully 14.5” x 18.5”. A truly remarkable example of this exceedingly rare important American mezzotint of Samuel Adams, the great Massachusetts Revolutionary Period Patriot leader.
The original oil painting by J. Mitchell, after which this mezzotint was engraved, was itself based upon John Singleton Copley's famous Portrait of Samuel Adams, now housed in the collection of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Samuel Adams is shown standing at a table, against a background of Roman columns (suggestive of “classical republican virtue”), gesturing towards a group of documents arranged on a table before him. One is document is captioned: "Charter Wm & Mary to Massachusetts Bay" while in his right hand he holds another rolled document reading: "Instructions from ye Town of Boston" -- likely referring to his infamous 1768 “Circular Letter”. Below, are engraved eight lines of verse displayed in two columns, celebrating American resistance and denouncing Prime Minister Lord North for the Intolerable Acts and the Quartering Act of the British Army in Boston. The verse text reads, in full:
"When haughty North impress'd with proud Disdain, Spurn'd at the Virtue, which rejects his Chain; Heard with a Tyrant Scorn our Rights implor'd, And when we su'd for Justice sent the Sword: / Lo! ADAMS rose, in Warfare nobly try'd, His Country's Saviour, Father, Shield & Guide, Urg'd by her Wrongs he wag'd ye glorious Strife Nor paus'd to waste a Coward-Thought on Life."
Samuel Okey spent only a brief portion of his artistic career in America, spending 1773-1775 in Newport, Rhode Island, but by 1778 he returned to Britain. This handsome example has excellent print quality and contrast on clean laid period paper, with all details sharp and clear. Of museum quality, it is certainly among the finest known. See: Grolier Club, Early American Engraving upon Copper, 1727-1850 (1908), 181; Shadwell 46; Stauffer 2370.
Provenance: Ambassador William J. Middendorf II Collection. Ex: Christie’s, New York. Fine Books Including Americana, June 11, 2008, lot 19. Samuel Adams in Mezzotint:
In May, Boston 1775 reader Judy Cataldo sent me this tidbit from the Boston Gazette, dated 3 Apr 1775-two weeks before the shooting in Lexington:
In a few days to be Published, (Price Half a Dollar)
A fine Mezzotinto Print of that truly worthy Patriot S.A. the size of the Print 14 inches by 10 and half, Executed and Published by and for Charles Reek and Samuel Okey, in Newport, Rhode Island, to whom Letters sent will be duly answered; and to be sold by Edes and Gill, and James Foster Condy, in Boston.
Just two months before, Bloomsbury Auctions in New York had resold one of those mezzotints, as recorded (and pictured) on Live Auctioneers. Its description reads:
In this portrait [Samuel] Adams is standing in front of a table with a paper in his hand, engraved with the words “Instructions from ye Town of Boston”-probably referring to his famous Circular Letter. [Actually, I bet that showed the town meeting’s instructions to its representatives to the Massachusetts General Court. Adams often had a hand in writing those instructions as well as in carrying them out.]
Below the title are eight lines of verse in two columns celebrating Adams’s opposition to the Intolerable Acts [sic]:
When haughty North impress’d wth proud Disdain,
Spurn’d at the Virtue, which rejects his Chain;
Heard with a Tyrant Soon our Rights implor’d,
And when we su’d for Justice sent the Sword:
Lo! Adams rose, in Warfare nobly try’d,
His Country’s Saviour, Father, Shield & Guide,
Urg’d by her Wrongs he wag’d ye glorious Strife
Nor paus’d to waste a Coward-Thought on Life.
The painting by J. Mitchell after which the mezzotint was designed was based on J. S. Copley’s portrait of Adams now in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts [and originally painted for John Hancock]. Samuel Okey had only a very short working life in the Americas: he engraved and published in Newport from 1773-1775, and had returned to London by 1778.
Quite likely Okey was simply giving the New England market what he and Reak thought it wanted rather than expressing his own politics.
On the other hand, the men who sold this print in army-occupied Boston were big Adams fans. Benjamin Edes and John Gill were the printers of the Gazette, and two of the busiest radicals in town. James Foster Condy was a bookseller and Tea Party veteran. He was, friends of the royal government noted, “Cashiered [as a] Cadet for Abusing one of the Honourable Commissioners of his Majesties Customs” while in uniform. Being forced out of that prestigious militia company only made him popular, and Boston’s town meeting appointed Condy to the large committee promoting the Continental Congress’s boycott of British imports.