Penn Library

The Illustrated Book, 1780-1830: selected from the collection of Harris N. Hollin

Curated by Kenneth R. Holston

Department of Special Collections
University of Pennsylvania Library

Table of Contents

Architecture | Comic and Caricature | Costume and Portraits | Military | Natural History | Travel | Views

"Black-Winged Parakeet"
Pierre Brown, Nouvelles illustrations de zoologie
(London 1776)
Plate VIII



Today, when we look at a photograph, we hardly ever think of what it was like before photography. Then, artists would travel far and wide to capture views of distant places, strange plants, animals, peoples, and structures. Engraved onto plates, these could be reproduced by printing for a wider audience. With the introduction of hand coloring of these plates before they were bound into books, a wonderful new sense of realism was added.

Collecting books with hand-colored plates is something I have been doing for only the last eight years. It is an engaging pursuit for many reasons. Depending upon other demands on my time, I can work on it daily or leave it alone for weeks. It is different from anything else I do or have done. The books are works of art from many points of view, not the least of which is the fine artwork they contain, the bindings, the texts, the paper and the printing. Besides being beautiful, they are nice to hold and touch and are also very interesting. The books provide a glimpse of the brief period of the hand-colored plate book.

They cover a wide range of subjects, from the comic, to travel, views, birds, flowers and architecture. They brought faraway places and previously unseen animals and other creatures from distant lands, into the homes of the viewers. Color plate books, as they are often called, educated, entertained and satisfied the ego of the owner.

As I became more familiar with the books I noticed that the same "participants" were often involved. "Participants" include artists, engravers, authors, publishers, printers, colorists, bookbinders, papermakers and, often, subscribers. As I learn more about them from my reference books and their often cordial relationships with one another, I feel I've entered their company. Names such as Ackermann, Rowlandson, Combe, Pyne, Daniell, Havell, Alken, Pugin and many others keep repeating. In many ways it is a static hobby because all of the participants are long gone. The period which was the heyday of this art form was relatively short, with most of the work being done between 1780 and 1830. This brief period of fifty years saw many changes in the world, especially Europe. Empires were gained or lost. The first beginning of an industrial society were taking place and the development of a middle class was starting.

It is thought-provoking to consider the many people who have held, read, and looked at these books in the two hundred years or so, before they came to me. What were the fortunes or misfortunes that caused the collecting and dispersal of these books?

Of course, the people who are still here are other collectors, dealers, auctioneers, and, thankfully, librarians. Most of these books were made in England and France. The text of many English books is in both English and French, though this market was lost to the French Revolution and devastated the English publishers.

In my travels, I enjoy visiting antiquarian book dealers. There are not many experts in this segment of book collecting, but the dealers are always generous with their time and, occasionally, will have something of interest to me. Since I prefer to collect first editions in very good condition, the available choices are often very limited. Auctions represent the best single source of new acquisitions. It is pleasant to preview the books going on sale and to bid on them. I'm surprised at the self control I've developed. After determining what an offering is worth to me, I will go to that maximum. But if the bidding passes me I'm almost nonchalant about it.

People often ask how I came to collecting. While it was almost by accident, through the interest of a late longtime English friend, I can't think of anything that would be more suitable for me. Joss Smith, born in South Africa, emigrated to England more than fifty years ago. We became friends more than forty years ago. After he retired he traveled to the shows in which his wife, Pauline Peretz, a well-known dealer in antique Sterling silver, was exhibiting. He began taking "plates" from books and framing them beautifully. These he would show alongside the silver and sell. Seeing these at her shows was my first exposure to the world of color plates. It was as a result of this exposure that I decided to begin collecting them but only as complete books. Often, when enjoying my books, I think of Joss and Pauline, also now deceased, and this gives my collecting a special meaning.

This exhibit, from my collection, will give others an opportunity to share these wonderful treasures. It is arranged by subject. In "Travel and Views" you will see Mayer's Views of Palestine, Daniell's A Voyage to India by way of China and a fascinating plate depicting a Russian bath from Charles Comte de Rechberg's Les Peuples de la Russie. You will also see an unusual fold-out color plate of Dublin in 1805 in Carr's A Stranger in Ireland. In "Architecture" you will see a selection from Pyne's A History of the Royal Residences and Combe's A History of Westminster Abbey.

"Natural History" combines birds, botany and insects, showing exquisite colored copper plate engravings by Donovan over 200 years ago. Also displayed are bird drawings by Lewin and Lesson. Altogether, more than forty plates are shown. You will also be able to read excerpts from the texts which are courtly, gracious, often funny, and descriptive of the people and the times.

I am certain that you will come away from the exhibit impressed by the art of the illustrators and thankful to the collectors who have preserved these books. I hope you will also wish that space would have allowed more to be displayed. Lastly, I hope you get the same sense of pleasure that I do from this glimpse of a period not really so long ago, but so vastly different from today.

Harris Hollin
June 29, 1996


The Library is grateful to be able to exhibit some of the highlights from the collection of Harris N. Hollin, member of the Library's Board of Overseers and of the Council of the Friends of the Library. Mr. Hollin's fine collection brings to the Penn community a marvelous gathering of illustrated books that we would not otherwise be able to glimpse. It is a privilege to have the opportunity to see these treasures, and we thank Mr. Hollin for his generosity in providing the books and for the enthusiasm with which he has approached the project as a whole.

Dr. Kenneth Holston, a recent graduate of the Department of History and member of the Special Collections staff, worked closely with Mr. Hollin in selecting and organizing the materials for exhibit and in writing the text. Greg Bear, the Library's Exhibits Designer, laid out and installed the show with his usual skill and care. To both we are appreciative of their good efforts and work.

Michael Ryan
Director of Special Collections


Architecture | Comic and Caricature | Costume and Portraits | Military | Natural History | Travel | Views

Last update: Tuesday, 31-Aug-2010 14:30:40 EDT
Send mail concerning this page to: