First Things First

First American Woodcut, ca. 1670

John Foster (1648-1681), Portrait of Richard Mather. Woodcut, first issued ca. 1670. Given in memory of Frank Jewett Mather Jr. by his wife, his son, Frank Jewett Mather III, and his daughter, Mrs. Louis A. Turner. Graphic Arts division, GA 2006.00728

At the age of twenty-two, John Foster had completed his education at Harvard and was teaching English grammar in Dorchester, Massachusetts. When his friend and minister, the influential Richard Mather, passed away, members of the congregation planned a publication in his honor. Foster offered to design and print a woodcut portrait of Mather for a frontispiece to The Life and Death of That Reverend Man of God, Mr. Richard Mather. Only six copies of the print are known. It is considered the first woodcut printed in the United States.

First American metamorphosis book, ca.1775

[Metamorphosis] ([Philadelphia, ca.1775])

Graphic Arts holds three different editions of this ealy American juvenile. This one contains eight woodcuts by James Poupard. The prints are arranged into sections with four of the plates cut through the center so that the top and bottom can be raised. The lion turns into a griffin, the girl into a mermaid, etc. According to Sinclair Hamilton’s Early American Book Illustrators and Wood Engravers, some later 19th-century editions carry the title Metamorphosis; or, a Transformation of Pictures with Poetical Explanations for the Amusement of Young Persons.

First American picture of a baseball game, 1838

The Boy’s Book of Sports: or, Exercises and Pastimes of Youth. New Haven: S. Babcock, 1838. Wood engraving by Alexander Anderson (1775-1870). Graphic Arts Collection. Gift of Sinclair Hamilton, Class of 1906.

In the 1820s, a group of men from Philadelphia, prevented by an obscure ordinance from enjoying their favorite pastime in their own city, began playing an early version of baseball in Camden, New Jersey. By the 1830s, other teams had formed along the East Coast, and rules to the game were published in Robin Carver’s Book of Sports (1834). Carver’s book included this wood engraving depicting a baseball game played on Boston Common. The same block was used to illustrate several publications over the next few years, including the first and second editions of The Boy’s Book of Sports (1835 and 1838).