Cornelius Tiebout (1773?-1832), copperplate engraver

One of America's foremost copperplate engravers, Cornelius Tiebout lived and worked in New Harmony during 1826-1832.

The year of Tiebout's birth is of special interest because of the early age at which Tiebout became a professional engraver. According to The New York Historical Society's Dictionary of Artists in America 1564-1860 and many followers, he was born about 1773.

Cornelius Tiebout was probably born in New York City, as his brother Alexander and other family members are documented to have been born there. He was apprenticed to silversmith John Burger. Tiebout's first known published engraving appeared in 1788, followed the next year by a map entitled "Plan for the City of New York" in the New York City Directory for 1789.

In 1800, Tiebout moved from New York to Philadelphia. With daughter Caroline, 20, and son Henry, 5, Tiebout arrived in New Harmony on 24 October 1826, where he continued engraving illustrations for Thomas Say's American Entomology. While in New Harmony, Tiebout also taught printing in William Maclure's School of Industry and engraved illustrations for Say's American Conchology.

Hundreds of engravings by Tiebout are presented at Cornelius Tiebout Engravings, which consists of an introduction and 18 parts. Part 10 includes all Tiebout engravings in Say's American Entomology, along with a table of modern scientific and common names for the insects. Part 11 includes all Tiebout engravings in Say's American Conchology, colored by Say's wife, Lucy (Sistaire) Say. Part 18 includes Tiebout engravings of drawings by Charles Alexandre Lesueur from the years that both Tiebout and Lesueur resided in New Harmony. Part 18 also includes Appendix 18.C, entitled "Cornelius Tiebout: His Life and Engravings", which discusses Tiebout's year of birth, his family and engravings, other engravers, and his life and death in New Harmony.

Shown below is a surviving (!) copper plate engraved by Cornelius Tiebout, by permission of the American Antiquarian Society. It was used to print an illustration in an 1804 bible published by Mathew Carey in Philadelpha. (Can you read the reversed inscription at the bottom?)

Copper plate from AAS: Joseph and brethren
Among Tiebout's best-known engravings are portraits, some of which are listed below. Annotated images are available: Cornelius Tiebout Engravings, Part 3.

John Adams, after William Joseph Williams
J. Ankarstrom, 1793
Hugh Blair, 1792
Ann Eliza Bleecker, 1793
Robert Burns, 1804
George Clinton, after Joseph Wright
John Philpot Curran, 1805
Olaudah Equiano, after W. Denton, 1791
Alexander Erskine (Erskein), 1796
Horatio Gates, after Gilbert Stuart
Thomas Gray, 1804
John Hodgkinson, after William Dunlap, 1800
Mrs. John Hodgkinson, after William Dunlap, 1800
John Jay, after Gilbert (Gabriel) Stuart, 1795
Thomas Jefferson, after Rembrandt Peale, 1801?
Alexander Lesley, after C. Jansen, 1795
David Leslie, 1795
William Fordyce Mavor, 1802
Thomas McKean
Charlotte Melmoth, after William Dunlap, 1800
Michelangelo, 1812
Charles Cotesworth Pinkney, after Jeremiah Paul
Alexander Pope, 1804
Archiblad Hamilton Rowan, 1794
Simor Snyder
John Stanford, after William Franks, 1796
Charlotte Temple (fictional), after C. Tiebout(?) 1809
Thomas Truxton
George Washington, after Charles Buxton, 1798
George Washington, after Gilbert Stuart, 1800
John Wesley, after Henry Edridge, 1807
William White

Early in Tieout's career, The New York Magazine; or, Literary Repository published 47 Tiebout engravings during 1790-1793. This monthly magazine was "one of the four most important magazines of its time". In every issue, the title page carries a notice typified by this one: "Illustrated with a costly copperplate engraving". The contextual articles and images can be downloaded from Cornelius Tiebout Engravings, Part 2.

From late 1793 to 1796, Cornelius Tiebout resided in London. Although it is commonly stated that his purpose there was to study stipple engraving under James Heath, it has been noted that Tiebout was, before the move, already an accomplished engraver and that some of his stipple-and-line engravings had already been published. A search in 2022 for London-based documentation of Tiebout's connections with Heath found none. On the other hand, Tiebout may have been influenced by the Pennsylvania-born artist Benjamin West, in whose large house Tiebout resided. West had been elected President of the Royal Academy of Arts in 1792.

Tiebout's daughter mentioned West in a manuscript preserved in the Working Men's Institute in New Harmony. Following is a transcription:

These 5 pictures I give to dear little Simon hoping that he will be more careful of them than I have been. When my Father was a young Man, he went to London to learn his profession (Engraving) boarded four years in the house of Benjamin West the Painter— The Children playing with the dog are the two sons of B. West, and engraved under his teaching by My Father—tho' West was not an Engraver him self. My Father always retained a pleasant recollection of the happy days he passed in London. They are valuable for their merit as well as age. The style is obsolete now.
Beneath the typescript are these words: "The note about was written by Caroline (Tiebout) Kellogg in 1879. She gave five prints of Cornelius Tiebout's engravings to her grandson, Simon Julian Kellogg. He was less than three years old at the time. She died October 27, 1879."

Caroline's note does not mention James Heath. Of the five pictures, one of them was probably made from a print after West's painting of his sons, Benjamin, Jr., and Raphael. The print was published by Cornelius and [brother] Alexander Tiebout in New York in 1796. Efforts to locate the painting or print have been unsuccessful. This appears to be one of many instances in which paintings or Tiebout's engravings thereof are lost or privately owned.

Before Tiebout returned to New York in 1796, at least six of his engravings were completed and published in London. Five are portraits and the other, entitled "Anthophile", is lost or privately owned. His portrait of John Jay has received much-cited recognition by D. M Stauffer: "This is probably the first really good portrait engraved by an American-born professional engraver."

American publishers during Tiebout's lifetime hired engravers to copy illustrations in books previously published in London or Edinburgh—the heavy and worn copper plates in London were not shipped to America. As early as 1790, Tiebout engraved biblical illustrations, most of which were published in several bibles by the Philadelphia firm of Mathew Carey. While the texts of these bibles are essentially the same as those in various British bibles, research by British and American special collections librarians has not yet determined a British bible having the illustrations that Tiebout engraved. This result suggests the possibility that Tiebout was the artist for these illustrations, as well as the engraver. This interesting possiblity warrants some details about the methed of searching. British bibles published during 1770-1810 are online-catalogued in university libraries in London, Cambridge, Oxford, Edinburgh, and Dublin. Relatively few of those bibles include illustrations. For those that do, a librarian at the owning library checked those illlustrations with the Tiebout illustrations. No match was found. There remains the possibility, however, that Mathew Carey, an Irishman, had brought to America a now very rare bible and that he hired several engravers to make copies of the illustrations, and, following common practice among American publishers of the time, omitted British artists' names.

In Philadelphia, Tiebout engraved frontispieces for books published by Carey and others. One of them was W. P. C. Barton's Flora of North America (vol 1, 1821; vol. 2, 1822; vol. 3, 1823). In an introductory section of vol. 1, Barton describes the "French method" of engraving and printing colored plates, "executed by the masterly graver of Mr. Cornelius Tiebout". Barton states that this method had not been previously used in America. In New Harmony, the "French method" was applied by Tiebout to the meticulous and time-consuming reconditioning of 156 plates for Michaux's North American Sylva. These were plates Maclure had purchased in Paris in 1819. Regarding Tiebout's work as a teacher in New Harmony, Josephine Elliott wrote this:

He cleaned the plates, then he undertook to teach the children of [Maclure's] School of Industry how to color for print before taking on the more difficult and important coloring of the Michaux prints. Tiebout, noted engraver and artist that he was, must also have been an excellent teacher, definitive proof being the beautiful and unique imprints that issued from this press long after his death in 1832. (From Partnership for Posterity: The Correspondence of William Maclure and Marie Duclos Fretageot, 1820-1822, Indiana Historical Society, 1994, p. 493.)
Shown next is a New Harmony Thespian Society ticket, preserved in The Working Men's Institute, drawn by Charles Alexandre Lesueur and engraved by Tiebout. The rattlesnake and Niagara Falls represent two wonders of the New World.
Thespian Society Ticket
The next picture shows a plaque indicating that the Tiebouts (Cornelius and Caroline, if not also Henry) and Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Say resided in the same house (later named the Fauntleroy Home) in New Harmony. (The words "an English engraver" are mistaken. Tiebout was of Dutch ancestry.)
It is likely that Maclure, Say, Lesueur, and Madame Fretageot were less aware of Tiebout’s former productivity and stature among American engravers than was Mathew Carey, who paid so handsomely for Tiebout’s engravings. Tiebout can now be recognized as one of America’s most productive engravers. For example, the Catalog of American Engravings (up to 1820) of the American Antiquarian Society shows Amos Doolittle with 238 items, Benjamin Tanner with 533, Peter Maverick with 260, David Edwin with 294, and Cornelius Tiebout with 531. At the Library of Congress, the “Study collection of 18th and 19th-century American book illustrations and portrait prints”, consisting of 4,416 prints, lists only five engravers who are individually represented by more than 100 prints: George B. Ellis with 106 prints, Peter Maverick with 109, Benjamin Tanner with 100, James B. Longacre with 149, and Cornelius Tiebout with 162.

“Hand-engraving upon copper…as an art is dead, never to be revived;” wrote Stauffer, “but it must always be honored for its intrinsic merits…and for its loving traditions.” Stauffer provided notes for about 700 American engravers and singled out Tiebout as a particularly significant representative of the art. (D. M. Stauffer, American Engravers upon Copper and Steel, Part 1: Biographical Sketches and Part II: Check-List of the Works of the Earlier Engravers, New York, 1907. Online: Stauffer.)

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