1884 Schell / Harpers View of Philadelphia City Hall

The New Philadelphia City Hall. - Main View

1884 Schell / Harpers View of Philadelphia City Hall


The 'Mount of Marble'.


The New Philadelphia City Hall.
  1884 (dated)     20 x 13.5 in (50.8 x 34.29 cm)


A beautifully colored 1884 view of Philadelphia City Hall by the artist Frederic B. Schell that appeared in Harper's Weekly. When published, the building's central tower had not yet been completed and it would not be fully opened until 1901. Still, the images capture the massive ambitions of the building, which took thirty years to build and held multiple records when it was completed (and retains several today).
A Closer Look
The sheet includes six illustrations: a central depiction of the City Hall structure as it would appear when completed and five additional views. The main view demonstrates how the structure absolutely dominated over other buildings of the Philadelphia skyline.

The inset at top-left depicts the building's Western Dome, with human figures to highlight the size of the dome. Moving clockwise, illustrations include the building's courtyard, a statue of John Fulton Reynolds, a Pennsylvania native and Union general killed at Gettysburg, at the building's entrance, a view of city hall and the Pennsylvania Railroad from West Philadelphia, and a view of the building looking down Broad St.

The verso includes a description of the building, praise for its design and ambitions, but also a critique of the plans for the central tower, which the Harper's writers saw as gaudy.
A Structure for the Ages
When constructed, Philadelphia's City Hall was the tallest habitable building and the tallest secular structure in the world, included the world's tallest clocktower, and was the largest public building in the U.S. It remains the largest free-standing masonry building in the world and the largest municipal building in the U.S. today. The thirty-seven-foot-tall statue of William Penn that crowns the building's tower is still the largest statue atop a building in the world. Needless to say, such grand ambitions were not easily realized, and it took tens of millions of dollars and thirty years to fully construct and furnish the building and its hundreds of rooms.
Publication History and Census
This sheet was drawn by Frederic B. Schell and appeared in Harper's Weekly on July 5, 1884. It is not known to be independently cataloged among the holdings of any institution, while Harper's Weekly is generally available at major research institutions. Hand-colored Harper's prints are scarce to the market.


Harper and Brothers (1817 – Present) is New York based American printing publishing firm founded in 1817 by James Harper and his brother John Harper as J. and J. Harper (1817-1833). Their younger brothers Joseph Wesley Harper and Fletcher Harper joined the company around 1926 prompting the 1833 imprint change to Harper and Brothers (1833 – 1962). The firm published countless books, magazines, prints, maps, and more. They began publishing a monthly magazine, Harper's Monthly in 1850. The success of Harper's Monthly led to the introduction of a popular weekly illustrated journal, Harper's Weekly published from 1857 - 1916. They later introduced Harper's Bazar (1867) and Harper's Young People (1879). From about 1899 the business went through a series of permutations selling off some assets and developing others. The company merged with Row, Peters and Company inn 1962, rebranding itself as Harper and Row (1962 – 1990), which was acquired by Marshall Pickering in 1988. It was acquired by Rupert Mordoch (News Corp) and merged with William Collins and Sons in 1990 to form HaprerCollins (1990 – Present), the imprint under which it still publishes. Their original offices were at 331 Franklin Street, roughly below today's Manhattan Bridge. Today they have many offices and are one of the world's largest publishing companies and one of the 'Big Five' English-language publishers. More by this mapmaker...

Frederic B. Schell (? –1905) was an artist based in Philadelphia, his native city. After studying at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, he began working for Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper in 1862 and immediately set to work drawing scenes of battles in the U.S. Civil War. He was assigned to cover the siege and eventual surrender of Vicksburg. Eventually, 43 of his sketches were published in Frank Leslie’s. After the war, he drew illustrations for a range of publications, including Harper's Weekly. Learn More...


Harper's Weekly, July 5, 1884 (Vol. XXVIII, No. 1437), p. 431-434.    


Very good. Repairs along the centerfold and edge on verso.