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Guide to the James Hazen Hyde Collection of Allegorical Prints of the Four Continents
ca. 1500-ca.1900
 PR 27

New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
New York, NY 10024
Phone: (212) 873-3400

© 2011 New-York Historical Society

Collection processed by Louisa Wood Ruby; database migrated to Archivist Toolkit by Jennifer Gargiulo, 2016

This finding aid was produced using the Archivists' Toolkit on July 06, 2016
Finding aid written in English.

Scope and Contents Note

There are 766 prints in the collection, mostly depicting allegories of the Four continents. Artists used various devices to personify the various continents. American was often shown as a stylized Native American woman, surrounded by exotic animals and plants. Africa was shown with lions, elephants and camels. Asia was shown dressed in rich clothing and surrounded by the riches of the east, while Europe was shown as a queen or aristocrat surrounded with the accouterments of the what was perceived as the center of civilized and cultured life.

In addition to the 600 or so purely allegorical prints, there are roughly 23 prints with religious themes, 30 with historical themes, 8 with political themes, 25 or so caricatures, 8 prints depicting Benjamin Franklin as well as a large number of playing cards. Most of these, however, contain at least a small allegorical figure somewhere within the image. The theme of the Four Continents was made popular by the European explorations of the 16th and 17th centuries and continued to appear well into the 20th century, as Hyde's collection attests. He originally collected the prints, as well as objects donated to other museums, with the intent of publishing a book on the personification of the Four Continents in the major and minor arts.

Arrangement Note

The prints have been kept in the original order devised by Hyde. Hyde divided the allegorical prints roughly by nationality and date while making separate portfolios for religious, historical and political prints, as well as prints from Epinal. Frontispieces and playing cards also merited separate portfolios. While Hyde's order was far from consistent, its preservation was desirable for two reasons: for the historic record of one collector's organizational methods, and for ease of access. At some point prior to their entry into the Historical Society, each of the prints was assigned an "Enregistre" number that corresponded to its place in the original green portfolios. These numbers made it possible to determine Hyde's original order (even those whose original portfolios have been lost) and provide an easy method of identification for future researchers.

The prints are also labeled with "JHH" numbers. These numbers are most likely acquisition numbers for Hyde's entire collection since they run into the 7,000s, and are not sequential except for groups of prints that probably were bought together, such as a set of four prints of four continents.

Three prints had "JHH" numbers but no "Enregistre" numbers, so were arbitrarily assigned the "Enregistre" numbers 3001-3003 and placed loose in Box 1. Similarly, 13 prints had "Enregistre" numbers but no "JHH" numbers. These could be placed in their proper order (in Box 5) but for cataloguing purposes had to be assigned the arbitrary "JHH" numbers 10,001-10,013.