Philadelphia can claim many “firsts.” The birth of American lithography is one first that is not well known. Following years of experimentation by others, Philadelphia artist Bass Otis produced the first American lithograph in 1819. A flat-surface printing process on porous limestone invented in Germany circa 1798, lithography was the first new printmaking method to be discovered in 300 years. It was the first cost-effective method for printing in color, allowed long print runs and larger sizes, and facilitated more versatile and innovative design styles than engraving. Intrepid American artists and printers explored lithography as a new commercial printing process during the 1820s. Lithographic establishments emerged in New York, Washington, D.C., and Boston, and finally in 1828 in Philadelphia. Nineteenth-century Philadelphia lithographers produced prints of all genres, in all sizes, for the domestic and business consumer, including parlor prints, sheet music, advertisements, book illustrations, billheads, and certificates that often contained images depicting the city. Philadelphia on Stone examines the history of the first fifty years of commercial lithography in Philadelphia. This exhibition explores the history and technology of the printmaking process, the professional and personal lives of premier and journeymen lithographers, and the impact of their work on 19th-century and contemporary visual culture.


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