Louis Prang papers, 1848-1932

A Finding Aid to the Louis Prang Papers, 1848-1932, in the Archives of American Art, by Jean Fitzgerald

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Table of Contents:



Biographical Information

Louis Prang (1824-1909) of Boston, Massachusetts, was a lithographer and wood engraver, famous for his chromolithographic reproductions of major works of art as well as for a series of publications used for art education in public schools. Because his company was first to make commercially printed greeting cards available to the public, Prang is often referred to as the "father of the American Christmas Card."

Louis Prang was born on March 12, 1824 in Breslau in what is now Poland. He was the only son among the seven children of a French Huguenot father Jonas Louis Prang and a German mother, Rosina Silverman. Louis Prang learned to dye and print calico as an apprentice in his father's shop. After traveling as a journeyman in Europe, he became involved in revolutionary activity against the Prussian government in 1848. Prang went to Switzerland, emigrated to the United States and settled in Boston in 1850, marrying Rosa Gerber in the following year.

Between 1848 and 1856, Prang supported himself by making wood engravings to illustrate various publications. In 1856, he joined with Julius Mayer and formed the partnership of Prang and Mayer, lithographic and copper plate manufacturers. The business continued until 1860 when Prang became sole owner, changing the name to L. Prang and Co. The firm printed business cards, announcements and other forms of ephemera and soon branched into the production of maps of Civil War sites and novelty items including albums and sets of picture cards decorated with a wide variety of images that became popular collectibles.

In 1864, Prang visited Europe to study the latest techniques in German lithography. He returned to Boston to create high quality reproductions of major works of art using a lithographic process he called "chromos." In 1874, he began producing greeting cards for the popular market in England and began selling the Christmas card in the United States the next year, resulting in his being called the "father of the American Christmas card." Also in 1874, Prang began publishing books for drawing and elementary art study for public schools. This latter activity proved so successful that he formed the Prang Educational Company in 1882. During this time, Prang shared his residence and his work with the family of his son-in-law, lithographer Karl K. Heinzen, who married Prang's daughter Rosa.

Through a merger in 1897, L. Prang and Co. became the Taber-Prang Company and moved from Boston to Springfield, Massachusetts. Two years following the death of his first wife in 1898, Prang married Mary Dana Hicks, an art teacher and author associated with the Prang Educational Company. Prang had retired from active business in 1899 and traveled extensively for the next decade. He became ill and died while en route to view an Exposition in Los Angeles in 1909.

Louis Prang died on June 14, 1909, in Los Angeles, California.

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Overview of the Collection

Scope and Contents

The papers of lithographer Louis Prang date from 1848 to 1932 and measure 1.2 linear feet. Found within the papers are biographical material, writings, art work, card samples, printed material, and photographs.

Biographical material includes a Prussian arrest warrant for Prang, a passport, a receipt for household purchases, patent and membership certificates, and a photocopy of a letter from John Greenleaf Whittier.

Writings are primarily typescripts of lectures by Prang and a typescript "Lithographic Process Used by Louis Prang" by the donor, E. Wrightson Christopher, and a hand-written page concerning a card design competition by Clarence Cook.

Art work consists of a pencil drawing executed by Prang, possibly as a school assignment. Printed material consists of a book of color separation proofs, a sales book of samples of Prang's products, and catalogs for Easter and Valentine cards. Photographs are of Prang, family members, his residence, events, and colleagues.

Arrangement and Series Description

The collection is arranged as 5 series:

Subjects and Names

This collection is indexed in the online catalog of the Archives of American Art under the following terms:

Subjects:

  • L. Prang & Co.
  • Prang & Meyer

Subjects-Topical:

  • Chromolithography
  • Greeting cards
  • Greeting cards industry
  • Lithographers
  • Lithography

Types of Materials:

  • Drawings
  • Lectures
  • Photographs
  • Typescripts

Names:

  • Christopher, E. Wrightson, 1894-
  • Whittier, John Greenleaf, 1807-1892

Provenance

The Louis Prang papers were donated in 1989 by Thomas West Christopher, M.D., son of E. Wrightson Christopher who compiled the papers while he was a publisher of greeting cards. A photocopied letter and a sales book of samples were donated separately and have unknown provenances.

Separated and Related Materials

Also found in the Archives of American Art is the Mary Margaret Sittig research material on Louis Prang.

How the Collection was Processed

Three collections previously cataloged separately were merged and processed by Jean Fitzgerald in January 2011.


How to Use the Collection

Restrictions on Use

Use of original papers requires an appointment.

Ownership & Literary Rights

The Louis Prang papers are owned by the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. Literary rights as possessed by the donor have been dedicated to public use for research, study, and scholarship. The collection is subject to all copyright laws.

How to Cite this Collection

Louis Prang, 1848-1932. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

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Detailed Description and Container Inventory

Series 1: Biographical Material, 1852-1906
(Box 1-2, OV 5; 8 folders)

Biographical materials include a copy of a Prussian arrest warrant for Prang when he was involved in revolutionary activities in Europe, a passport, a receipt for household purchases, patent certificates for improvements in printing silks and other fabrics and for improvements in envelopes for rolled prints, certificates of membership in various historical and educational organizations, acknowledgment certificates for gifts to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and to the Smithsonian Institution, and a photocopy of a typescript of an 1873 letter from John Greenleaf Whittier calling Prang's attention to an attempted imitation of his chromolithograph of Eastman Johnson's illustration of Whittier's poem The Barefoot Boy.

Box Folder
1 1 Photocopy of 1848 Prussian Arrest Warrant for Louis Prang, undated
1 2 Receipt for Household Purchases, 1852
1 3 Patent Certificates, 1871-1880
1 4 Membership Certificates, 1884-1906
1 5 Gift Acknowledgment Certificates, 1887-1889
1 6 Photocopy of Letter from John Greenleaf Whittier, 1873
Box Folder
2 1 Oversized Membership Certificate, 1884,
2 1 Oversized Passport, 1903
Box
OV 5 Oversized Membership Certificate, 1893,

Series 2: Writings, 1880-1898
(Box 1; 5 folders)

Writings are primarily typescripts of lectures by Prang, a typescript by the donor, E. Wrightson Christopher, and a page concerning a card design competition by Clarence Cook.

Box Folder
1 7 Typescript of Lecture at the Boston Women's Club by Louis Prang, 1897
1 8 Typescript of Lecture at the Grolier Club by Louis Prang, 1897
1 9 Typescript of Lecture "Women's Suffrage and Imperialism," Presented at the Roxbury Women's Suffrage Club by Louis Prang, 1898
1 10 Typescript "Lithographic Process Used by Louis Prang" by E. Wrightson Christopher, undated
11 Hand-written Page Concerning a Card Design Competition by Clarence Cook, 1880

Series 3: Art Work, circa 1848
(Box 2; 1 folder)

Art work consists of a pencil drawing by Prang of a female head wearing a French Revolution liberty cap.

Box Folder
2 2 Oversized Drawing by Louis Prang, circa 1848

Series 4: Printed Material, 1873-1889
(Box 1-4; 0.7 linear feet)

Printed material consists of catalogs for Easter and Valentine cards, a book of color separation proofs for an image of a ceramic vase, and a sales book containing loose pages displaying samples of chromolithographed greeting cards and reproductions of art work offered by L. Prang and Company.

Box Folder
1 12 Catalog of Easter Cards; Catalog of Valentine Cards, 1885-1889
Box Folder
2 3 Oversized Book of Color Separation Proofs for Image of a Ceramic Vase, undated
Box Folder
3 1-4 Oversized Sales Book of Samples, Part 1 of 2, 1873-1888
(4 folders)
Box Folder
4 1-4 Oversized Sales Book of Samples, Part 2 of 2, 1873-1888
(4 folders)

Series 5: Photographs, 1874-1932
(Box 1-2, OV 5: 8 folders)

Photographs are of Prang, family members, his residence, events, and colleagues. the Prang Mutual Aid Society Picnic, the L. Prang and Company building, Prang with his colleagues including son-in-law Karl F. Heinzen, and a portrait painting of Prang.

Box Folder
1 13 Photographs of Louis Prang and Family Members, undated
1 14 Photographs of Prang's Residence, 1874-1932, undated
1 15-16 Photographs of the Prang Mutual Aid Society Picnic, 1886-1896
(2 folders)
1 17 Photographs of the L. Prang and Company Building, undated
1 18 Photograph of Portrait Painting of Louis Prang, undated
Box Folder
2 4 Oversized Photograph of Louis Prang, undated,
2 4 Three Oversized Photographs of Prang and Family Members Outside Their Residence, 1874, undated,
Box
OV 5 Oversized Photograph of Louis Prang and Colleagues, 1897