Jewels in Her Crown: Treasures of Columbia University Libraries Special Collections

Exhibition Themes > Printing History & Book Arts > 8. Alexander Anderson

8a.  Alexander Anderson (1775-1870).  Diarium commentarium vitae Alexander Anderson. Autograph manuscript, 3 vols., 1793-1799. RBML

8b.  John Plumbe (1809-1857).  Daguerreotype portrait of Alexander Anderson. New York, ca.1846. RBML, Woodblocks, Related Material

8c.  Alexander Anderson (1775-1870).  Wood engraving of garden-house scene, signed in the block "AA". (6.5 x 8 cm.) RBML, Woodblock No. 6

Alexander Anderson has long been considered the father of wood engraving in America, being the first in this country to adopt the technique developed in England by Thomas Bewick. Wood engraving produces a finer image than the standard woodcut by working on the denser end-grain section of the wood. Anderson acknowledged his debt to Bewick in 1804 by creating an American edition of Bewick's A General History of Quadrupeds (1790) with his own re-engraved blocks, adding "some American animals not hitherto described."

Anderson's connections to Columbia are many. He received an M.D. from Columbia's College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1796, engraved Columbia's commencement ticket in 1794, and a bookplate for the College Library. As noted in his diary, he began sketching the design for the bookplate on March 14, 1795, delivered the finished work to President Johnson on March 25th, and was, after some effort on his part, paid £2, 8s on May 7th.

Columbia's daguerreotype portrait of Anderson is one of two likenesses "taken in duplicate" in New York by photographer John Plumbe no later than 1847, when Plumbe went bankrupt. Anderson continued to produce wood engravings until at least 1868, two years before his death at the age of 94. Also on display is an early wood engraving by Anderson, depicting a summer, garden-house scene, and signed "AA" in the lower left of the block. It was published in A Memorial of Alexander Anderson, M.D., New York, 1872.

(Diary) vols.1-2, gift of Phillips Phoenix

(Diary) vol. 3, gift of Mrs. Castle, 1911

(Woodblock) Purchased with the American Type Founders Company Library & Museum, 1941

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