BIRCH, William (1755-1834)
The Country Seats of the United States of North America, with some Scenes connected with them
Springland, near Bristol, Pennsylvania: William Birch, 1809. Oblong 4to. (7 3/8 x 9 1/2 inches). 20 hand-coloured copper plate engravings (engraved title, engraved section title, 18 engraved views). Introduction leaf preceding the plates and 3 leaves of explanatory text at rear.
Half red morocco over marble paper boards
A fine copy of one of the rarest collections of American views and together with Birch's 'Philadelphia' are the earliest books of their kind published in America.
Country Seats principally depicts views near Philadelphia, but also shows estates in Virginia (most notably Mount Vernon), New York, New Jersey, Maryland and Louisiana. Birch and his sons, Thomas and George, collaborated on the work, combining line and stipple engraving with delicate coloring to rich effect. The conception of Country Seats was primarily a handsome series of views aimed at an audience such as those who might possess country estates themselves. Snyder argues that while Birch's Philadelphia Views was inspired by a burst of civic pride and enthusiasm, the Country Seats was much more a work born of Birch's individual background and ambitions. It was, in fact, the product of a desire to raise the prevailing levels of taste in homes and of a desire to identify himself with the leisurely and wealthy life portrayed in his pictures. First issued in four parts for a limited number of subscribers, the work met with little commercial success. Birch nonetheless proceeded to put his work into book form. After the issue to subscribers was complete, he reissued the plates as one volume in 1809 in a trade edition [as the present copy]. Very few copies now exist. The make-up of the plates and letterpress was identical with the first issue except in three respects: notation of the copyright on the reverse of the title plate; substitution of the revised version of the view of Mount Sidney; and correction of the spelling on one of the plates from Mendenghall to Mendenhall Ferry.
Howes B460 c; Reese, Stamped with a National Character 2; Sabin 5531; Snyder, William Birch: His Country Seats of the United States in PMHB, vol. 81, no. 3.