This engraved wood block is signed in the block ‘Horton’. It was produced by the New England wood-engraver John S. Horton to head the chapter “The Natural History of the Lion” in publisher John J. Harrod’s 1830 The Introduction to the Academical Reader. A history of the lion is just one essay in this compilation of “pleasing and instructive pieces … intended to induce and promote the love of learning, virtue, and piety in the minds of juvenile classes of readers.”
The title page offers the inspirational text: “By reading we learn not only the actions and sentiments of different nations and ages, but we transfer to ourselves the knowledge and improvements of the wisest and best of mankind.” Credited to Watts on the Mind, the actual source is The Improvement of the Mind: Containing a Variety of Remarks and Rules for the Attainment and Communication of Useful Knowledge, in Religion, the Sciences, and in Common Life, by Isaac Watts (1674-1748)
Harrod’s book is one of several thousand American imprints illustrated with wood-engravings, identified in the Sinclair Hamilton collection within the graphic arts division. The collection is searchable online as well as in the published catalogue: Early American Book Illustrators and Wood Engravers, 1670-1870 (GA Z1023 .P9 1968).
The process of wood engraving involves the cutting of an image in relief on a hard, end-grain block of wood. The engraver cuts away the parts of the block that are to remain white in the finished image. The hardness of the wood allows the engraver to cut multiple thin lines, creating a more complex image than was possible with the soft matrix used for woodcuts. Wood engraving was the technique of choice for book illustration in the early nineteenth century.