Christopher P. Stephens, Bookman

Chris Stephens has been a book dealer since 1965 - earlier if you count childhood buying and selling.

Stephens has sold major collections to university libraries all over the world. He has operated appealing bookstores in Mt. Carroll, Illinois, Hastings on Hudson, NY and several in NYC, NY. He is a wholesale dealer to other bookstores all over the world.

Chris loves books.

Stephens now maintains a lively internet operation out of his new home in Scranton, PA.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Time Machine NYC

    A small group of men, book and print-loving members of the Grolier Club, launched a far reaching project.  They undertook to publish engravings of key monuments and people in New York City.  It was a graphical time machine that preserved the city as it was at the turn of the century.  Not that recent turn, but the one before that.  The images give us glimpses of New York City around 1900.
    The men commissioned the best engravers of the time.  They selected subjects that were part of the NYC scene at the time or part of the legendary history of New York City.  Those buildings and people were iconic to the city.  The men called themselves Iconophiles.
    The Society of Iconophiles was limited to 10 members.  Pretty exclusive.  The first formal meeting was in January 1895 and they continued meeting and publishing prints of NYC for 24 years.  Exactly 101 engravings were made before each copper plate was cancelled.
    It’s fascinating to look at old New York from the turn of that century.

    On my way to and from work, I can see 5 buildings that are considered iconic today.  They aren’t included in any of the series because they were built too late for the Iconophiles to recognize their future icon status:
1.) main building of the NY Public Library with those calm and stately lions guarding the entrance – opened in 1911
2.)  the entirely magnificent Grand Central Terminal – 1913
3.)  Chrysler Building with the falcon-like gargoyle faces thrust outward, looking in all directions – 1928
4.) Empire State Building – construction started in 1929
5.) the United Nations Headquarters Building – green glass on the East River and undergoing extensive remodeling at this very moment – first completed in 1952

    What was iconic at the turn of the century?
    The Academy of Design was one of the architectural treasures then.  The building was constructed in the 1860s.  The architect, W.B. Wright, was inspired by the design of Italian palaces.  That building on 23rd Street and 4th Avenue was palatial.  It was a sumptuous home for the academy.
     The National Academy of Design predated the Venetian palace building.  It was organized by rebel group of artists who had withdrawn from the American Academy of Fine Arts in 1816, and formed their own New York Drawing Association.  They wanted an organization free of the domination of “business men” and political figures.  Their idea was to have a place to study art and exchange ideas and social pleasantries with other artists. The New York Drawing Association became the National Academy of Design.  Guess who the first president was.  Samuel Morse, inventor of the telegraph and one of the rebel artist leaders!
The building housing National Academy of Design was a landmark in New York.  At the end of the 19th century it was sold to the Metropolitan Insurance Co., but it is captured forever as the National Academy of Design in the Society of Iconophiles’ graphic time machine.

relevant links:
The New York Historical Society has an almost complete collection of prints published during the period 1895 – 1929.  Information about the society, about the collection, as well as a list of engraving titles is available:

An excerpt from The Line of Beauty: The Society of the Iconophiles and New York City 1894 – 1939 written by Douglas Tallack and published by Oak Knoll Press:

Scanned journals from 1889 describing National Academy of Design, its antecedents, and the building:

Current website for today’s National Academy of Design:

Jstor scans old stuff that we still want to see, and more:

Blog Art Now and Then has a post that includes some info about the National Academy of Design:

Modern architectural look at renovating the academy:

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