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Guide to the Irving S. Olds Collection of
Naval and Other Historical Prints and Related Papers
1587-1960
 PR 47

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


New-York Historical Society

Collection processed by Alison Barr and Larry Weimer

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on March 01, 2019
Finding aid is written in English using Describing Archives: A Content Standard

Scope and Contents

The collection consists of approximately 600 engravings, etchings, lithographs, aquatints, mezzotints, woodcuts, and other prints. There are also some documentary materials related to the collection from Olds's personal papers, including catalogues, labels from the original framed print backing, and his lecture notes.

The bulk of the prints portray naval actions, especially from the American Revolution and the War of 1812, with an emphasis on dramatic battles made famous in the slogans of heroic captains. Numerous American, British, and French prints show such American triumphs as John Paul Jones's "Bon Homme Richard" attacking the British "Serapis" in 1779 ("I have not yet begun to fight"), the victory of the "Constitution" over the British "Guerriere" in 1812, the frigate "United States" capture of the British "Macedonian" in 1812, and Oliver H. Perry's victory at the Battle of Lake Erie in 1813 ("We have met the enemy and they are ours"), among many other events. Views of American defeats include the death of Captain James Lawrence when the British "Shannon" captured his "Chesapeake" in 1813 ("Don't give up the ship"). The French and Indian War is represented; the earliest naval event depicted in the collection is the British capture of Louisbourg at Cape Breton, Canada, during that war. The Tripolitan War is also well-represented, notably with references to the loss of the frigate "Philadelphia" at Tripoli.

Portraits of naval commanders are found in the collection, including William Bainbridge, Stephen Decatur, Isaac Hull, John Paul Jones (often rendered as Iohn Paul Iones), Thomas Macdonough, Robert Hopkins, and others. Some military actions other than naval are represented in prints, including Revolutionary War battles at Bunker Hill, Brooklyn, Saratoga, Yorktown, and the siege of Charleston, South Carolina; and War of 1812 incidents such as Richard Johnson's defeat of Tecumseh at Moraviantown, Andrew Jackson's victory at New Orleans, the British invasion of Washington, D.C., and the massacre of American prisoners at Dartmoor. The latest war represented is the War with Mexico with one lithograph of Taylor's victory at Buena Vista in 1847.

Many prints are views of New York City/New Amsterdam and New York waterways, such as Harlem River, New York Harbor, Hudson River, and Catterskill Falls (i.e., Kaaterskills Falls). There are a few prints of other locales, such as New Haven and Boston. There are prints of notable Americans, including George Washington and Benjamin Franklin, among others; one print of Oliver Wendell Holmes is inscribed to Olds.

There are several maps, such as a map of North and South America by Abraham Ortelius (1587); of North America by William Berry (1680); of Wight Island, England (1676?); of Virginia (late 1600s?); and two maps by Johann Baptist Homann (1724?); among others. Unusual formats for this collection include one manuscript letter from Robert Fulton to David Cooke at Pittsburgh, dated October 15, 1814 and a group portrait photograph of the U.S. Supreme Court (circa 1921).

Arrangement Note

The collection is organized in two series, which are based on N-YHS's two sources of acquisition of the prints:

Series I. Prints & Related Papers from the Original Olds Donation

Series II. Prints from the Olds Collection Donated by White & Case

The subject content of the prints in both series is essentially identical, though Series I has many more prints. Series I also holds the documentary materials related to the Olds collection.