J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Saturday, April 24, 2010

Local and Material History at the Concord Museum

The Concord Museum is celebrating the 375th anniversary of the town with an exhibit called “into your hands…,” featuring objects passed down in Concord families and entrusted to the museum. Among the items:

  • The Bloody Massacre, the famed Revere engraving that was a milestone in America’s road to independence, owned by Emerson Cogswell, a hatmaker, in 1775 Concord. A gift to the Museum in 2002 by Cogswell’s great, great, great-granddaughter.
  • Pvt. Abner Hosmer’s powderhorn, worn at the fight at the North Bridge, April 19, 1775, where the 21-year-old Acton native was killed. A gift to the Museum in 1936.
  • An 18th-century high chest made in Concord and descended in the Wheeler Family of Concord. A gift to the Museum from the family of Wilfrid and Emily Wheeler in 1996.
This exhibit will be up through 19 Sept 2010.

My notes indicate that the Concord Museum’s copy of Paul Revere’s Boston Massacre print shows the same wounds as on the copy once owned by the New England Merchants National Bank and made into a poster for my office. (Okay, that might not have been the poster’s original purpose.) A man lying at the lower center bleeds from the head, and a man in the crowd at the left bleeds from two wounds in the chest.

The Massacre print now at the National Heritage Museum in Lexington is similar as well. In both that print and the poster, the figure bleeding from his chest looks slightly darker-skinned than the rest. Back here I wondered if he was supposed to represent Crispus Attucks.

The wounds and flesh tones are significant because they weren’t part of the underlying engraving. Revere and helpers (artistic partner Christian Remick, apprentices, kids?) painted the blood and skin by hand. So if the same wounds were painted onto most of the original prints, and that one face was usually given a light brown wash, then the team was trying to depict the figures in a very particular way. My poster says there are nine prints surviving from the first run. Someone test this hypothesis for me!


Charles Bahne said...

Some years ago the Bostonian Society had an exhibit at the Old State House, which featured reproductions of about 5 or 6 different copies of Revere's Massacre print. The accompanying text pointed out the differences in coloring. Perhaps they still have some records of that exhibition.

Anonymous said...

J.L. The plate for the revere engraving is at the mass. archives. How many runs were possible/done on this plate? what makes for an original engraving? Tod

J. L. Bell said...

I’ve read that there were “restrikes” made off Revere’s plate in 1785, 1832, and more recently. The 1785 copies are those most likely to be confused with the earliest to come off the press.

It’s still possible to strike prints from the engraved plate in the Massachusetts archives. A few years ago, I recall, a downtown gallery made a deal with the state to sell a few new prints for large prices. Some months later, the gallery went bankrupt and its owner left town.