About Philadelphia on Stone

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In 2007, the Library Company of Philadelphia embarked on Philadelphia on Stone, a three-year collaborative project that examines the first fifty years of commercial lithography in Philadelphia, 1828-1878. Lithography, a planographic (flat-surface) printing process in which large slabs of limestone were used as the printing surface, was the first new printing method to be introduced in more than three centuries when invented by Alois Senefelder (1771-1834) about 1798. Lithography transformed the printed landscape, giving rise to a popular visual culture that continues to influence American society today. It was the first cost-effective method for printing in color, allowed long print runs and larger sizes, and facilitated design innovation because text and images could be easily combined. In the 19th century, lithography was the primary method used to print images, music, and day-to-day items of business -- forms, tickets, letterhead, circular letters, and most importantly advertising. For a demonstration by staff at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts of the basics of the process, please visit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JHw5_1Hopsc.

Funded by a generous grant from the William Penn Foundation, with additional support from the Independence Foundation, the project examines the impact of this new method of printmaking on the iconography of the city in a period of tremendous growth and change. Philadelphia on Stone documents the lives of lithographic artists and printers, and the work they produced, and illuminates Philadelphia’s transformation from a seaport into a leading manufacturing center, and the impact these changes had on the built environment. An era earlier analyzed by Historical Society of Pennsylvania Director Nicholas Wainwright in his book Philadelphia in the Romantic Age of Lithography (1958), Philadelphia on Stone reexamines and expands on the research of this revolutionary print process. The project documents the impact of Philadelphia as a center for the trade through: