BRADY, Mathew B. (c.1823-1896, photographer). - Charles Edwards LESTER (1815-1889, editor)
The Gallery of Illustrious Americans, containing the portraits and biographical sketches of twenty-four of the most eminent citizens of the American Republic, since the death of Washington. From daguerreotypes by Brady - engraved by d'Avignon
New York: M.B.Brady, F.d'Avignon, C.Edwards Lester, 1850. 1st series only (all published), folio. (21 x 15 inches). Letterpress title and salutation leaf. 12 lithographic portraits on india paper, mounted as issued, by d'Avignon after daguerreotypes by Brady (11) and a painting by S. Gambardella (1). Each plate with the publisher's blindstamp in the lower margin, as issued.
Expertly bound to style in half black morocco and period cloth covered boards, yellow endpapers
A famous but very rare work, including portraits of John James Audubon and President Zachary Taylor from daguerreotypes by Mathew Brady, the most famous American photographer of the mid-19th century.
The series is made up of twelve portraits, all but one from Brady's daguerreotypes, accompanied by biographical descriptions. It was intended as a celebration of the United States during the first half of the nineteenth century through the "noble deeds" of its most famous citizens. "In this Gallery, therefore, will be grouped together those American citizens, who have rendered the most signal [sic.] services to the Nation, since the death of the Father of the Republic. As there is nothing sectional in the scope of this work, it will be comprehensive in its spirit; and it is hoped that it may ... bind the Union still more firmly together" (Preface).
The work had its roots in 1845 when "Brady, the commercial photographer, became Brady the historian, who used a camera as Bancroft did his pen. It was in this year that Brady began work on the tremendous project of preserving for posterity the pictures of all distinguished Americans, which he planned to publish in a massive volume with the title of The Gallery of Illustrious Americans ... The year 1850 was ... a milestone in Brady's life; his dream of having his Gallery ... published became a reality" (J.D.Horan Mathew Brady Historian with a camera. 1955 pp.10-14).
With Brady as the senior partner, the work was a joint publishing venture between the journalist and author Charles Edwards Lester (who undertook to write the biographical sketches), the lithographer F. d'Avignon and Brady. The "book was issued by D'Avignon's Press ... It received fine notices from the Herald and other New York newspapers, but the public was apathetic and sales were disappointing. Brady had paid D'Avignon a hundred dollars apiece for each of the lithographic stones and Brady soon recognized the book as a critical success but a financial failure" (op.cit. p.14).
From the title it is clear that Brady originally planned to issue a second series of 12 portraits, but, according to Horan, Brady "reluctantly abandoned the project." Horan goes on to note that Sabin claims that the work was completed in 1856 but there are no extant copies of this second part, and it appears that Sabin was mistaken in this case.
The subjects of the work are as follows:
1. General Zachary Taylor, twelfth President of the United States
2. John Caldwell Calhoun
3. Daniel Webster
4. Silas Wright
5. Henry Clay
6. John Charles Fremont
7. John James Audubon
8. William Hickling Prescott
9. General Winfield Scott
10. President Fillmore
11. William Ellery Channing
12. Lewis Cass
J.D. Horan Mathew Brady historian with a camera pp.10-14; Dorothy Meserve Kunhardt, et. al. Mathew Brady and his world pp.47-48; Harold Francis Pfister Facing the light: Historic American portrait daguerreotypes p.22; Sabin 40221 (calls for a second series in error); Robert Taft Photography and the American scene pp.59-60.