Old Philadelphia:
Prints and watercolors by Frank H. Taylor (1846-1927)



Fig. 1.1. Frank H. Taylor, "The Little Home Street called Cuthbert," photolithograph, 1915, of Cuthbert Street, looking eastward from Second Street toward the Delaware riverfront on this narrow street just above Market Street. Print No. 24 in his "Old Philadelphia" series, 1915-27, after watercolor by Taylor.

One of the most prolific viewmakers in the Philadelphia area over several decades before and after 1900 was Frank Hamilton Taylor, an artist and author who found a wide range of means to put his work before the public. He served as a "special artist" providing drawings and accompanying stories for many newspapers and serials, he acted as editor for a variety of illustrated books as likely to address the commercial present as the historical past, and most pertinently here, he issued a series of over 400 large photo-lithographed prints during the 1910s and 1920s under the title Old Philadelphia, Artistic Reproductions from Drawings by Frank H. Taylor, . . . Depicting Old Structures and Scenes of Historic Interest.

The primary purpose of this website is to gather the Taylor prints to make them more widely accessible digitally, as well as to explore the history of the publication and its relation to other sets of images of Philadelphia-area places.


For immediate gratification, though, linked here is a long list of about 400 (and counting) of the 413 prints in Taylor's "Old Philadelphia" series that have been located to date, simply placed in sequence by his print numbers. The plan is eventually to fill the remaining gaps and enhance the list with more titles, locations and other information as that becomes available, and to make it searchable. For more about the Taylor's series and related connections, read on.


The Publication: Taylor's series of prints was actually titled Ever-Changing Philadelphia when the first portfolio of twenty-four views was published in 1915. The photolithographs (e.g. fig. 1.1) were generally on sheets that measured 12 by 15 inches [ck original set's dimensions]. The images were accompanied by Taylor's own written accounts (fig. 1.2), often in a few typeset paragraphs based on detailed research about each site. While much probably came from secondary sources, these frequently reflect what had to have been hard-won knowledge that might often not be easily rediscovered today.


Fig. 1.2. Frank H. Taylor, commentary on print no. 24. "The Little Home Street called Cuthbert," assembled from sequential text pages in Ever-Changing Philadelphia (Philadelphia, 1915).

As his first title suggests, initially the series tended to celebrate the new and old alike. But by the 1920s, Taylor, like many of his generation, more often looked back affectionately and somewhat wistfully toward an "Old Philadelphia" of the colonial era reimagined from survivals and from older images from which he redrew scenes. From the perch of an industrial age he sought out glimpses of the 18th-century city and its peripheries, offering views strongly tinged with his own sense of attraction to these places and their histories, an attraction to a pre-industrial past that must have been shared by audiences that consumed his prints. His images also appeared widely in books of the period and since, and Taylor usually enhanced their romantic appeal -- underscoring some elements while editing out others. He eliminated some intrusive contemporary presences, devised picturesque compositions, and sought out views of an earlier city that were growing increasingly rare in the early 20th-century city of rowhouses, factories, and cars.

: In a preliminary tally, the particular subject of all but about eight of the 413 prints enumerated in Taylor's lists is known from the print itself, its label, or a recorded title -- where that was detailed enough to identify the subject beyond a thematic allusion. The great majority, some 380, treat specific, known locations or areas, while others treat topics primarily concerned with marine (13) or ground transportation (7) less attached to a specific sites, show objects (3), a general map (1), or one as-yet-unlabeled and unrecognized house (no. 412).

The general distribution of the 380 identified locations is indicated in fig. 1.3. Of these, a remarkable 352 (93%) depict places within Philadelphia, and most of those, some 243 (64% of the 380), were sites in the the city's present downtown, between South and Vine streets and between the two rivers (in yellow in fig. 1.3). The eastern portion of this district, east of Broad Street, was the oldest part of the city, and clearly Taylor's predominant focus.

He also took a special interest in surviving buildings, often old farmhouses, among the districts of the city (in green here) beyond the old core, many of these buildings that by the 1910s and 20s were surrounded or displaced by newer developments. Well under 10% (28) of his subjects were places beyond the present city edge, mostly in the surrounding Pennsylvania and New Jersey counties, but also reaching out more distantly, to Delaware and in one case (print no. 93) to Franklin's home in London.

Perhaps most striking, beyond the concentration of so many views in eastern Center City, was the surprisingly strong representation of West Philadelphia compared to that of the districts to the north, northwest, northeast and south of Center City; Taylor's interest in West Philadelphia was probably partly due to his having lived there since the early 1890s, and he found much to explore in its changing landscapes.

Topically, old clearly outweighed new as a primary subject, with only occasional exceptions. Taylor did show some interest in the towering new business buildings and in the disaplacements demanded by the construction of Benjamin Franklin Parkway and the Delaware River (Benjamin Franklin) Bridge. But the old was usually more lovingly detailed than the new, and relatively few 20th-century buildings are rendered with the same interest.



  Northeast Phila.
North Phila.
  Fairmount Park

West Phila.

Center City West
Center City East
    South Phila.

Fig. 1.3. Rough distribution of 380 place-specific Taylor prints.



Record vs. Romanticization
: Researchers have often regarded these prints with a slightly ambivalent eye, as many of the pictorial qualities that enhanced their contemporary appeal were also those that made them less than reliable as visual evidence of the actual state of places when they were drawn. Indeed, many of the images reproduced in Taylor's prints were his own redrawings of earlier sketches, prints, or photos by others, as he would frequently acknowledge alongside his signature.

Comparisons with likely photogarphic sources or simply period photographs of the same places (fig. 1.4) sometimes highlight his redactions and license: he took out telephone poles, street signs, and cars, supplying carriages and pedestrians in their stead; he dismissed the confounding profiles of nearby buildings to isolate his subject, and often restored buildings in his sketches to an earlier, purer state. Similarly, the content in his captions is generally chosen to serve themes related to the passing of venerated eras and places. His texts only rarely allude to his research sources, and where they offer new information, its documentary basis must be reestablished.



Fig. 1.4. Detail of print no. 328, dated 1924, titled in later lists as "Old Residences, West Philadelphia," compared with similarly framed photographs in the scrapbook collection of Samuel Castner, Jr. Print and Picture Collection, Free Library of Philadelphia, 36: 66 and 33: 68, the latter dated 1924 by Castner.

Although modern researchers frequently encounter Taylor's views, they may therefore greet the images and texts as less than authoritative sources of information, not quite fully reliable evidence of a distant past and its then-present vestiges. For evidence of factual appearances, many today might actually prefer the original he had employed to his "improved" version, and the existence of thousands more coeval photographs of Philadelphia-area locations -- when juxtaposed to these 400 edited and reimagined views -- might lead one to question their historical value. Compared to the even gaze of photographs, though, Taylor's drawings and prints more clearly delineate the forms of what engaged him, distilling its essence and underscoring such elements. His chosen views offer a more coherent picture of a whole, if a thematically selected one, than the enormous collective body of all surviving place-photographs from the same period. With his words, they provide glimpses into the history of these places and their contemporary meanings that rarely accompany photograph collections of such scope.


Ultimately, the stock of the Taylor's "Old Philadelphia" prints as a window on early history may have fallen, but it may be rising anew as articulate and rich evidence of the early 20th century's avid construction of a romanticized past. And much indeed holds other kinds of specific value for the rare topographical views they sometimes offer, and for commentaries on the evolution of places often scarcely recognizable today.

Fig. 1.5. Frank H. Taylor, print no. 340, "Pine Street Meeting," published as a print about 1923 or 1924, with overlapping caption slip at lower left.

Fig. 1.6. Frank H. Taylor, watercolor for print no. 340. "Pine Street Meeting," offered at Freeman's in November 2008. Courtesy of Freeman's Auctioneers, Philadelphia.

: Recently, on 22 November 2008, a collection of about 70 original ink wash and watercolor drawings by Taylor (figs. 1.5, 1.6), most apparently made for his "Old Philadelphia" print series, came up at Freeman's Auctioneers (http://www.freemansauction.com/) in Philadelphia, and this awakened an interest in these. Their momentary reappearance led to an anticipation of their imminent potential absence from public view; Freeman's was asked and kindly consented to having them quickly shot digitally, and then a SWAT-team of local researchers -- Pete Lamb, Adam Levine, and Jeff Cohen -- went on a little holiday binge between Thanksgiving and Christmas 2008, trying to rediscover and digitally rebuild the larger collection for which these were prepared.


We have been trying to locate and shoot as close to a full set of the 413 prints as we could, along with other original watercolors by Taylor. This brought us to several area repositories, most notably the Print and Picture collections at the Free Library of Philadelphia and the Library Company of Philadelphia, which held overlapping collections of hundreds of the prints and their labels, usually attached -- although several individual views and labels remain stubbornly elusive. The Free Library, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, and the Atwater Kent Museum also hold dozens more original watercolors, and other collections promise further holdings, including some private ones.

The interim result has been a long working list itemizing prints and originals, and the ingredients for a fully illustrated website, which we will post and link here as it develops. Although there are other things we should all be doing, we plan to develop yet richer iterations of this, as we fill in more gaps, supply locational information, transcribe captions, and make all this more searchable. But for now, here's a simple set of sequential links to more than 400 of the prints. And soon enough, drafts with more commentary will follow.

fht1.html; last rev.= 20 Jan. 09 jc; links to [print list w/ expl] [list of origs] [p. 2: Series and Lists], [p. 3: Originals and Versions] [p.4: Special Artist, Phila Publs, Newspapers], [p.5: Notations and networks, Castner, WPh] [return buttons: Places in Time] [corrections, additions, feedback?]