1850 Hill / Smith Bird's-Eye View of Philadelphia

Philadelphia. - Main View

1850 Hill / Smith Bird's-Eye View of Philadelphia


Philadelphia at the beginning of its industrialization.


  1850 (undated)     25.5 x 40 in (64.77 x 101.6 cm)


A stunning large-format 1850 panoramic view of Philadelphia from Camden, across the Delaware River. It was drawn by John William Hill and Benjamin Franklin Smith and lithographed by Smith.
A Closer Look
This view is oriented towards the west, looking over the Delaware River towards the city of Philadelphia, with the Schuylkill River and West Philadelphia in the background. In the foreground, figures walk along the Camden waterfront while steam and sailboats fill the river. The islands at left are Smith’s and Windmill Islands, originally one island segmented by a canal in 1838. Often floated as a potential site for a bridge over the Delaware, they instead were dredged in the late 19th century to facilitate deep water river traffic. Among the steeples visible across the river in Philadelphia are Independence Hall (Pennsylvania State House) and Christ Church. Also evident are several smokestacks, heralding the industrialization of the city that would come to fruition during and after the American Civil War (1861 - 1865). The imposing, Pantheon-like structure in the background at right is Girard College.
Publication History and Census
This view was drawn by John William Hill and Benjamin Franklin Smith, lithographed by the same Smith, and published by Smith Brothers. It was one of three views of Philadelphia published by the Smiths in 1850, the other two from the perspective of Girard College and Belmont Plateau, respectively. In the present example, the bottom margin looks to have been trimmed closely (also the case with one of the other known examples), with the missing portion indicating Napoleon Sarony as printer. This view is held by the American Antiquarian Society, the Morgan Library and Museum, and the Library Company of Philadelphia, and is scarce to the market.


Benjamin Franklin Smith (1830 – 1927) was an artist, printer, and publisher of American city views active in the mid to late 19th century. Smith was born in South Freedom, Maine where he grew up on the family farm. His work is most commonly associated with his brothers, all of whom worked in the view-making industry, publishing both individually and separately as Smith Brothers. His brothers were Francis Smith, George Warren Smith, and David Clifford Smith. Among the brothers Benjamin, the youngest, was the most artistic, producing views as early as 1846, when he was 16. He drew his first city view, Albany as seen from the Hudson, at 17. Benjamin and his brothers initially worked as sales agents for viewmaker Edwin Whitefield. In 1849, the Smiths broke with Whitefield and began publishing under their own imprint, Smith Brothers. Benjamin Franklin drew at least four of the Smith Brother's views, and possibly significantly more. Reps suggests that the firm stopped publishing in 1855, but at least two important views, the 1857 Smith-Hill-Mottram view of Boston and the 1862 Smith view of Elmira, were issued later. Although both bear the Smith Brothers imprint, they were copyrighted by Benjamin Franklin Smith and are more likely than not, unassociated with the other brothers and their earlier views. In any case, the Smith firm was sold at an enormous profit in 1855, making the family extremely wealthy. They furthered their fortunes by investing in railroads. At the time of his death in 1927, Benjamin Franklin Smith was believed to be the richest man in Maine. More by this mapmaker...

John William Hill (January 13, 1812 – September 24, 1879) is a British-American landscape, still life, and view artist based primarily in New York City. Hill born in London, the son of aquatint engraver, John Hill. His family emigrated to the United States, settling in Philadelphian, in 1819. In 1822, they relocated to New York and opened an aquatint shop, at which J.W. Hill began an apprenticeship. In his early twenties, Hill began work for the New York State Geological Survey, producing topographic studies and overhead views of American cities and towns. There he developed a flair for rendering minute architectural detail and creating highly accurate perspectives. By the 1850s Hill embraced Pre-Raphaelite panting styles and represented that school in the United States. He was a founding member of the Society for the Advancement of Truth in Art. Learn More...

Napoleon Sarony (March 9, 1821 - November 9, 1896) was a dashingly handsome Canadian-American lithographer and publisher active in New York in the mid to late 19th century. Sarony was born in Quebec and emigrated to New York City in 1835. He apprenticed under Henry Robinson (fl. 1830/33 - 1850) before working as a lithograph artist for Nathaniel Currier (1813 - 1888). In 1846, he partnered with Currier's apprentice lithographer Henry B. Major to establish the firm of 'Sarony and Major.' From offices at 117 Futon Street, they published under this imprint until roughly 1853, when Sarony split off on his own under the imprint 'Sarony and Co.', still at 117 Fulton. At the time 'and Co.' probably meant Joseph Fairchild Knapp (1832 - 1891), Sarony's apprentice, and Richard C. Major, possibly Henry Major's son. In 1857, a new imprint was established as 'Sarony, Major and Knapp'. According to an advertisement in the New York Times (Feb 16, 1864), Sarony had invested in the business at founding, but was not an active partner, possibly because he was traveling in Europe. It is unclear why Sarony's name was maintained, possibly to capitalize on his fame, as a honorific, or possibly because he owned a major stake. They published under this imprint until 1863, becoming a major concern at 449 Broadway. Sarony's name was formally removed from the partnership in 1863. At the time he was traveling in Europe, mastering the most advanced color lithography and photographic techniques. He is known to have worked in France, Germany, and England. He returned to New York in the 1860s, establishing a photography company at 37 Union Square that became famous for its portraits of late-19th-century American theater icons. In 1891, Sarony, hoping to capitalize on Sarah Bernhardt's fame as 'Cleopatra', paid the stage actress 1,500 USD to sit for a photo session, the modern-day equivalent of 20,000 USD - suggesting a highly prosperous business. His son, Otto Sarony (1850–1903), continued the family business as a theater and film star photographer. As an aside, Sarony's second wife, Louie Sarony, was a known eccentric who would reportedly dress in elaborate rented costumes to walk around Washington Square each afternoon. Learn More...


Average. Backed on tissue. Area of infill in upper right corner. Piece of map measuring 4 5/8ths inches by 2 1/4 inches in lower right quadrant of map reinstated and professional color infill on seams. Closed tear extending 8 inches from left middle margin professionally repaired on verso. Closed tear extending 4 inches from right margin in lower fourth, repaired on verso.


OCLC 761167123, 1085350632 (misdated). Library Company of Philadelphia BW - Views [P.8970.31].