Friday, November 8, 2013

Koerner & Hayes Prints of USS Boston and Amphitrite

These two lithographs of the cruiser USS Boston and monitor USS Amphitrite are on display in the museum’s Steel Navy gallery. They date from 1898, when the Navy was very popular with the public during and after the Spanish-American War. Due to the high profile of naval exploits, many people were aware of the names of ships and even certain types. This created a demand for pictures and printing companies stepped in to give the public what they wanted.

They are only just two of this type that the museum has in its collection. These prints are of a high quality and show some of the advances that had been made in the heyday of popular lithography. Both prints were created by the Buffalo, NY-based Koerner and Hayes. Like many print shops of the day, one partner oversaw production of the prints and the other handled the marketing. In this case, Charles Hayes marketed the prints, the German-born H. Koerner handled the art work. Koerner was a passionate advocate of lithography as an art form and not just mass produced trash (as some critics view it). He frequently clashed with various Exposition committees that refused to display lithography in open competitions. Many of the Koerner and Hayes prints were sold to companies for advertising anything from biscuits to sewing machines. The images were often quite dramatic because of this use in advertising.

Boston was one of the first steel ships in the Navy, informally the “B” in the “ABCD ships”. During the 1890’s, she saw several cruises abroad, and was stationed as part of the Asiatic squadron during the latter half of the decade. Due to its location, Boston fought at the Battle of Manila as part of Admiral Dewey’s fleet in the Spanish-American War. The print is quite striking in that the ship seems to be charging through the waves at full speed with sails billowing. Sails on warships were pretty much obsolete at this point, but it made for a grand image to catch the viewer’s eye in the center of the piece. To add to the effect, the ship takes up the entire frame, thrusting itself in the foreground. 

 Amphitrite was a monitor type ship, based on her famous predecessors in the Civil War. Ostensibly an upgrade of an existing Civil War era monitor of the same name, she was actually a brand new ship. Calling her by the same name as a previous monitor was simply a way to bypass restrictions on naval spending set by Congress. These same budgetary constraints as well as technological advances led to many delays in the Amphitrite’s construction, and it was over two decades before she was commissioned. Many of the same problems from the earlier monitors plagued her as well, but she participated in fleet operations during the Spanish-American War. Like the print of the Boston, Amphitrite is shown charging forward, with the addition of colorful flags fluttering in the wind. While there are no sails on the monitor, the scene still is dramatic with smoke curling out of one of the guns in the forward turret, giving the viewer an impression of action.

Editor's note: Museum educator Elijah Palmer wrote this entry.

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