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Historical Materials

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Artists' Materials Trade Catalogues

Mid-nineteenth-century artists’ trade catalogues issued by stationers and artists’ materials shops in Boston provide ample evidence of a healthy commerce in drawing supplies and it is highly likely that Lane procured his tools and materials for outdoor sketching from this nearby city where starting in 1832, at the age of 28, Lane worked as a lithographer for sixteen years. Featuring names like “Whatman,” “Harding,” “Winsor and Newton,” and “Cumberland,” and the claim “imported from London,” these early catalogues indicate that superior materials were still being imported, and imply a bias for the English brands.

M.J. Wipple’s Catalogue of Artists’ Materials (1851), touts on the front cover “Imported from London Direct” and features: 

Whatman’s Extra Fine Imperial Turkey Mill Drawing papers, all of the different surfaces and sizes, for Pen, Pencil, and Color Drawing, constantly on hand, for sale wholesale and retail. Also the Double Thickness, or Board Surface, of the same manufacturers. The superior quality of these celebrated English Papers is well known. (1)

Whipple’s also carried, “HARDINGS FINE TWILL DRAWING PAPERS of the same sizes, double and single thickness. …and “German, French, and American Drawing Papers, good quality for elementary drawing.”

The 1851 Whipple catalogue lists many brands of drawing pencils made to different “degrees,” featuring:

Cumberland Lead Drawing Pencils Manufactured by Winsor Newton. These Pencils are warranted to be perfectly free from grit, unrivalled for depth, uniformity and richness of color, firmness and delicacy of tint; they are remarkable for the variety of hardness and evenness of texture, and the truth and certainty to which they are made to answer to the degree or letter they represent, from HHHH. Pencil for Architect or Wood Engraver’s outline to the BBBB. for the broadest and deepest tones required for Pencil-Drawing.

The Whipple catalogue index includes “drawing boards” made of “Mahogany and Deal” (pine) and “drawing pins.”

Wheeler and Whitney’s of Boston, 1860, carried: 

Winsor and Newton’s Lead Pencils in polished cedar ranging from H to BBBBB and 10B. These pencils are particularly recommended for their richness of color, variety of tint, firmness of texture, and strength of lead. They may be cut to the finest point without fear of breaking – a desideration long sought for. Also available, Harding’s Drawing Pencils made with Brockedon’s Patent Pure Cumberland Lead and A.W. Faber’s lead pencils. (2)

The Wheeler and Whitney catalogue lists “Drawing Pins or Thumb Tacks, both single and double head” and “Drawing Boards, with pine wood or cherry wood frames in a variety of standard sizes as well as all sizes made to order.”

N.D.Cotton’s Artists’ Trade Catalogue from 1832 advertises an extensive stock of drawing and watercolor materials and drafting instruments. Like the aforementioned catalogues, Cotton’s featured:

Winsor and Newton Improved Patent Lead Pencils in Polished Cedar. Highly approved by Artists and Professors of Eminence. …and Whatman’s Original Turkey Mills Drawing Paper. This paper is Handmade from Linen Stock, and is universally acknowledged to be the best that is manufactured. We keep the first and second quality of this article, and in answer to orders send the best, unless the order particularly states retrieve, which is generally sold instead of the best, and which we sell at much less price, being the imperfect selected from the first quality. (3)

While Lane was spending his summers drawing in and around the shores of Gloucester and Maine, nearby in Concord, Massachusetts, Henry David Thoreau (1817–62), the famous author, naturalist, poet, philosopher, and keen observer of the Maine and Massachusetts woods, was continuing in the family trade and making fine quality graphite pencils. (4) Thoreau and Co. Drawing Pencils do not appear in any of the artists’ trade catalogues consulted for this research, but it would be remiss to overlook the possibility that Lane used them as it provides a perfect nexus of mid-nineteenth-century lore.

– Moyna Stanton


1. Catalogue of Artists’ Materials: Imported From London Direct. And For Sale By M. J. Whipple, at 35 Cornhill, Boston: J.E. Farwell &Co., Printers, 32 Congress Street. 1851.

2. Catalogue Wheeler & Whitney Manufacturers and Importers of Paints and Painters Materials. Johnson Block, 61 + 63 Union Street, Corner of Hanover ST., Boston. J Parker Whitney Geo. C. Rand and Avery Printers, Cornhill, Boston.

3. N.D. Cottons, Artists’ Trade Catalogue, 13 Tremont Row Boston. In the 1852 Boston Almanac N.D. Cotton was still in business, listed as a stationer.

4. The Thoreau family’s pencil-making business gradually shifted to producing graphite powder, advertising “Plumbago, Prepared Expressly for Electrotyping,” and in 1853 ceased to manufacture pencils altogether. In H. Petroski, The Pencil: a History of Circumstance and Design (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1998), 122.

Citation: "Historical Materials." Fitz Henry Lane Online. Cape Ann Museum.§ion=Artists%27+Materials+Trade+Catalogues (accessed July 24, 2024).
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