Birch is one of a number of artists who made various images of Philadelphia in the decade of 1790-1800. Did you know that Philadelphia, not Washington D.C., was the capital of the United States during that time? Because it was the capital of the new nation, many people came to visit Philadelphia. One of the most important places to see in Philadelphia was the State House, also known as Independence Hall. The picture above shows the back of the State House and the gardens that surrounded it. Later in your tour through Philadelphia keep your eyes open for a picture by another artist of the front of the State House. Images such as these could be taken home by the visitors to help them remember everything that they saw and to show people who could not make the trip, sort of like a post card or picture album today. Since they couldn't take photographs yet, such pictures are also important to us today, because they provide information about what the city looked like then and how people lived and worked.
This particular kind of image is called an engraving. To make them, engravers, like Birch, use a metal tool with a pointed end called a stylus. The artist carves lines into a metal plate with the stylus to make the image. Then, ink is poured into the plate and fills the lines made by the stylus. After that, the artist can make as many prints as he or she wants, by pressing a piece of paper onto the plate so that it gathers up the ink. The picture you see above is one of these prints. Because you can make many copies from one plate, engravings were a good way to provide images to a lot of people at a low cost in the age before photography. This engraving is one of a series of twenty-eight done by William Birch and his son Thomas from 1798-1800, called The City of Philadelphia, in the State of Pennsylvania North America: as it appeared in the Year 1800 consisting of Twenty Eight Plates. To see more of the images from this series click here.
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