J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Saturday, December 02, 2017

A Remick on the Wall

Last night I attended a function at the Club of Odd Volumes on Beacon Hill. Between the many bookshelves, the clubhouse has a very impressive collection of eighteenth-century prints on its walls.

I spotted the early view of Boston Common, a portrait of Gov. Francis Bernard, a couple of the political engravings issued in London in the last months before the Revolution, a fine map of the siege, and so on.

On one wall hung what looked from a distance like three copies of Christian Remick’s view of Royal Navy ships in Boston harbor in 1768. If the club has three, I thought, surely it wouldn’t miss just one.

But when I got closer, I realized that the top image wasn’t a print by Remick. It was the copperplate—the actual etched copper—that the club commissioned Sidney L. Smith to make from Remick’s original around 1904. The club printed 51 copies of the image, I read later. Underneath the copperplate was presumably one of those prints, hand-colored.

And the third picture was one of Remick’s original watercolors. I’d misremembered—he didn’t have that image engraved in pre-Revolutionary Boston, as Paul Revere prepared the related picture of royal troops disembarking on Long Wharf. Rather, Remick painted multiple copies of the ships in the harbor for upper-class patrons.

The Massachusetts Historical Society (which owns the copy shown above) explains:
Remick produced six known versions of this work, several dedicated to specific people. Though it bears no dedication, the provenance of this watercolor has been recorded by its previous owners and it is thus known that it was first owned by the royal governor in 1768, Thomas Hutchinson [actually not even acting governor until the following year]. The Massachusetts Historical Society owns a second, smaller version of this, and the Essex Institute [now the Peabody Essex Museum] also owns two versions. Another, dedicated to John Hancock, is owned by the Club of Odd Volumes, and one belongs to the New England Historic Genealogical Society.
And sure enough, the copy on the club’s wall has Hancock’s name incorporated into the label.

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