The Old Print Shop

Edward W. Clay


Edward W. Clay, (1799-1857), was one of the most prolific issuers of satirical illustrations of the Jacksonian era. He was born in Philadelphia and trained as a lawyer and was admitted to the bar in 1825. He quickly decided that he would rather be an artist. Clay traveled to Europe and studied art (ca. 1825-ca. 1828) and created book and periodical illustrations, sheet music covers, portraits, and character vignettes. Upon his return from Europe he resettled in Philadelphia and quickly started to issue satirical images. His known work issued 1828-1830 was series titled "Life in Philadelphia." This series satirized middle-class African American Philadelphians, Clay also began to work in lithography at that time and drew complementary lithographs to the "Life" series, including "Back to Back" (ca. 1829) and "A Dead Cut," (1829); the latter published by Pendleton, Kearny & Childs. Clay would continue to work with Childs' noted lithographic establishments from 1830 to 1833 and delineated advertisements, and satiric genre and news event prints, including "Skating. Scene on the River Delaware..." and "Ropers Gymnasium," both published by Childs & Inman in 1831. By 1831, Clay focused his skills on political cartoons. He started to publish this work from the southeast corner of Fourth and Walnut Streets, including the popular anti-Jackson lithograph "The Rats Leaving a Falling House" (1831). He later moved to New York and worked for the lithography firm of H. R. Robinson. The Life in Philadelphia series consisted of fourteen plates. The first eleven plates were published by William Simpson. The firm of Sarah Hart and Son, stationers, published plates 12 and 13 in 1829. The last plate was issued by Sarah Hart alone in 1830. Sarah Hart then reissued the entire series c.1830. Clay then published three additional caricatures "The Dead Cut," "Back to Back," and "Philadelphia Fashions" published between 1829 and 1837, which have generally been accepted as a part of the series. There are two English re-engravings of the series. The first were published Tregear, at his humerous Print Shop, Cheapside, London. The second published by W. H. Isaacs, Charles St. Soho, London. The exact dating of the English editions is not known but it is highly likely they were published in the 1830’s. This author has seen two English prints that were of 1833 and 1829 Whatman watermarked paper. This author also has also seen a group of twelve lithographs titled “Life in Philadelphia, 2nd. Edition.” No artist or publisher is noted.