Sartain Family Papers

Collection 1650

( Bulk, 1830-1897 ) 1771-1929
(15.0 Linear feet 24 boxes)

Summary Information

The Historical Society of Pennsylvania
Sartain, Emily, 1841-1927.
Sartain, Samuel, 1830-1906.
Sartain, William, 1843-1924.
Swaine, John, 1775-1860.
Sartain Family Papers
Date [bulk]
Bulk, 1830-1897
Date [inclusive]
15.0 Linear feet 24 boxes
EAD encoding funded by the Delmas Foundation.
The patriarch of the Sartain Family, John Sartain, was born in London and came to the United States in 1830. He established himself as an engraver and publisher in Philadelphia. He edited Campbell's Foreign Semi Monthly Magazine from 1843 until his 1848 purchase of an interest in a New York publication, which became  Sartain's Union Magazine of Literature and Art. He served as director of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts for 23 years, and also worked in the art departments for both the 1876 Centennial Exhibition at Philadelphia and the 1887 American Exhibitions in London. This collection of papers from John Sartain and other family members includes personal and business correspondence, letterpress books, administrative records from outside organizations in which the family was involved, biographical sketches, articles from  Sartain’s Magazine, and ephemera. There are also Rembrandt Peale’s unpublished “Notes of the Painting Room,” as well as a sizable compilation of prints, portraits, and other artwork.

Preferred Citation note

Cite as: [Indicate cited item or series here], Sartain Family Papers (Collection 1650), The Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

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Biographical/Historical note

Born in London, John Sartain studied the art of engraving and mezzotinting under John Swaine, married Swaine's daughter, and brought his new knowledge to the United States. Known as the father of American mezzotint engraving, Sartain found great success in his new home. He became Philadelphia's most established and accomplished portrait engraver, and was sought after by the preeminent artists of the day to do engravings of their work. John Neagle, Thomas Sully, and Christian Schussele are only a few of the artists that entrusted their work to Sartain's hand. Sartain also did work for various publications of the day, such as Godey's Lady Book, Gentleman's Magazine, and  Grabam's Magazine. In 1848, Sartain purchased the  Union Magazine with his partner, William Sloanaker. In January of 1849, the first issue of  Sartain's Union Magazine of Literature and Art was circulated. Unfortunately, the magazine folded only three years later, after publishing the work of such well-known authors as Edgar Allen Poe, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Frederika Bremer. Among his many other accomplishments, Sartain also served as a director of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, and art director of the Centennial Exhibition of 1876, while remaining a very active Mason.

Sartain and his wife, Susannah Swaine Sartain, raised eight children, four of whom entered the art world in the father's footsteps. Samuel Sartain (1830-1906) studied under his father and became a preeminent printmaker in his own right. Henry Sartain (1833-1895) became a printer, rather than a printmaker, and established himself as a master printer of engravings in Philadelphia. Emily Sartain (1841-1927) is considered to be the first female mezzotint engraver and one of only fifteen or twenty female engravers working before 1900. Emily also served as principal of the Philadelphia School of Design for Women (now the Moore College of Art and Design) for 33 years. Emily also served as the Chairman of the Committee of Women Artists at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. While in Chicago, the Bureau of Awards named her a Judge in the Fine Arts Department, the 1st woman to receive such an honor at an international exposition. William Sartain (1843-1924) also took up the art of engraving and mezzotint engraving, but chose to leave Philadelphia for New York and Paris. The Sartain legacy did not stop with John's children. His son Henry's daughter, Harriet Sartain (1873-1957) became a painter, and also served as dean of the Philadelphia School of Design for Women for 26 years.

Also represented in the collection are John Swaine, Sartain's father-in-law with whom Sartain apprenticed in London and John Barak Swaine, another English artist. The Swaine family papers include drawings by John Swaine and John Barak Swaine, a letterpress book of John Barak Swaine's letters to his father, 1834-1837, and genealogical data on the Swaine and allied families.

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Scope and Contents note

The Sartain Family Papers consists of manuscripts and graphics. The manuscript collection consists of correspondence, manuscripts, by-laws and minutes of various organizations, biographical notes and sketches, and volumes. The collection also covers John Sartain's work with the Centennial Exhibition of 1876, along with several other events Sartain helped to plan. The graphic collection contains approximately 3,000 images engraved, etched, or drawn by one of the Sartain artists: John, Henry, Samuel, Emily or William. The graphic collection also includes some family photographs. An inventory of the collection is available on paper in the library.

Together the Sartain Family Papers provide an interesting and unique insight into the lives of a family of Philadelphia artists, who were also some of the most preeminent American engravers of their time. The correspondence between family members often refers to the writer's or recipient's work and technique, and it is clear from their other activities that the lives of the Sartain family revolved around the art world. It appears that the Sartains, along with a few other prominent artists in the city, had the ability to influence and impact the directions and advancements of the community as a whole. For instance, John, Emily, and Harriet Sartain's involvement in the Philadelphia School of Design for Women (now known as Moore College of Art and Design) serve to demonstrate how instrumental the Sartain's were in the opening up of the art community to women. Before Emily Sartain, there were no female mezzotint engravers in the world. Moreover, there were only a handful of female engravers at all. Emily had to do much of her studying with her father, because many art schools did not accept women. However, by the time Emily resigned her post as principal of the Philadelphia School of Design for Women in 1919, the art community had truly begun to embrace female artists. The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts had begun to expand their offerings for women and the presence of female engravers, both here and in Europe, had significantly increased.

The other pursuits highlighted in this collection of the Sartains, particularly John Sartain, serve to further illuminate the way in which art and life intertwined for them. Everything from their professional careers to their correspondence between friends and family members completely revolved around their art. The rich visual archive available in the graphic collection is not only valuable in its own right for including some of the earliest American mezzotint engravings, but also to further support information included in the manuscript collection. For instance, information John Sartain wrote about in one of the volumes in Series 1, Subseries a ( Sketch and letter books) pertains to technique and the various inks and tints he had at his disposal. That volume in conjunction with some of his engravings could prove instrumental in studying Sartain's development as an artist.

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Arrangement note

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Administrative Information

Publication Information

 The Historical Society of Pennsylvania 2001

1300 Locust Street
Philadelphia, PA, 19107

Conditions Governing Use note

The collection is open for research.

Immediate Source of Acquisition note

Gift of Harriet Sartain, 1950.

Processing Information note

Reprocessed by: Mindy Steinberg

Processing completed: January 2001

A box and folder level inventory is available on paper in HSP's library.

Existence and Location of Copies note

Sections of the collection here at HSP, along with portions of the collections at Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and the Moore College of Art and Design have been microfilmed on to six reels and can be found at the Archives of American Art in Washington D. C. Some of the reels can also be located at the participating institutions.

Rembrandt Peale, "Notes of the Painting Room," is available on microfiche, Papers of Charles Willson Peale, 1978.

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Related Materials

Related Archival Materials note

HSP has a full run of Sartain's Magazine.

Accession 86:37 is a collection of 105 Sartain engravings.

Collections related to the Sartain family can be found at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, the Moore College of Art and Design, and the Archives of America Art.

Separated Materials note

122 drawings by Thomas Birch removed to the Society Print collection. Swaine oil paintings, and a set of engraving tools transferred to the Museum department.

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Controlled Access Headings

Corporate Name(s)

  • Artist Fund Society.
  • Graphic Association of Philadelphia.
  • National Art Association.
  • Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.
  • Philadelphia Union of Associationists.

Personal Name(s)

  • Sartain, John, 1808-1897.
  • Swaine, John Barak, 1815-1838.


  • Art and Artists--Philadelphia--19th century.
  • Centennial Exhibition (1876)--Philadelphia.
  • Freemasons--Philadelphia--19th century.
  • Women's History.

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Peet, Phyllis. "Emily Sartain: America's First Woman Mezzotint Engraver." Imprint: Journal of the American Historical Print Collectors Society. Volume 9, Number 2 (Autumn 1984). Pp. 19-26.

"About John Sartain (1808-1897)." (

"The Sartain Family of Philadelphia." (

"John Sartain." The Columbia Encyclopedia: Sixth Edition. 2000. (

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Collection Inventory

Series 1. John Sartain, 1823-1904 

Scope and Contents note

The Sketch and Letter Books subseries consists primarily of four letterpress books. One of the books is comprised mostly of letters written by Sartain during his time as Corresponding Secretary of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, and primarily deals with the launching of exhibits and other routine business matters. Another letterbook documents Sartain's work as the Chief of the Art Department for the Centennial Exposition of 1876.

The Correspondence subseries consists primarily of correspondence pertaining to various commissions from artists and institutions. Many of the letters were written in thanks for work that Sartain had done or committed to doing. There are also some agreements for commissions included in this subseries. This subseries also includes Sartain's indenture papers to John Swaine, notification from the Franklin Institute that Sartain had won the silver medal at the 10th Exhibition of Domestic Manufactures in 1838, Sartain's naturalization papers from 1840, and some material on Sartain's various responsibilities including the Artist's Fund Society, the Great Central Fair of the U.S. Sanitary Commission, the Centennial Exhibition, and the American Exhibition in London in 1887.

The Biographical Sketches subseries consists mostly of autobiographical notes and drafts of Sartain's work  Reminiscences of a Very Old Man, a four volume set published in 1899. This subseries also includes several speeches written and delivered by Sartain, including one introducing Past Grand Master Peter Williamson to the Grand Lodge.

The Organizational Involvement subseries is primarily made up of Masonic items, including the "New England Anti-Masonic Almanac" of 1831, nine copies of the "American Tyler" (Volume V, No. 44) with a cover story on Sartain, and several certificates. Sartain's work with the Monument Cemetery is also documented in this subseries. Genealogical data on the Sartain and Swaine families along with a biographical sketch of John B. Swaine from  Gentleman's Magazine (May 1838) and various newspaper clippings round out this subseries.

The Sartain's Magazine subseries is primarily manuscripts of articles for the magazine. Some of the authors represented in this subseries are Frederika Bremer, Alice Cary, Phoebe Cary, Edward Everett Hale, and Charles Godfrey Leland. This subseries also includes an account book, several covers of the magazine, and one full copy of the magazine from January, 1850


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Series 2. Sartain Family, 1830-1922 

Scope and Contents note

The Organizational Involvement subseries of the Sartain Family series includes minutes of major organizations in which various Sartains were actively involved. The Graphic Association of Philadelphia, the National Art Association Conference of 1858-1859, and the Philadelphia Union of Associationists are all represented.

The Correspondence subseries consists primarily of family correspondence of Emily and Samuel Sartain. Emily Sartain's papers include letters to her father from Europe and other places in the United States and letters of sympathy and condolence upon the illness and death of John Sartain. Typescripts of letters between William H. Furness and Ralph Waldo Emerson regarding a portrait Emily engraved of Emerson are also included. Samuel's papers include information on his copyrights, and deeds and papers for his property on the 700 block of Sansom Street. Samuel owned the home right next to the two that John Sartain owned. There are also some certificates and papers of Harriett Judd Sartain, M. D. who was a graduate of Women's Medical College of Pennsylvania.

The William Sartain subseries consists primarily of letters from William to family members, mostly Emily, John, and Henry. In these letters, William discusses John's work and technique, current affairs, and family matters. The subseries also includes some printed material, clippings, and photographs that were originally mailed with the letters.


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Series 3. Books 

Scope and Contents note

The Books series consists of published books on the life of John Barak Swaine, the brother-in-law of John Sartain whose flourishing engraving career was cut short by his death at the age of 23. These volumes often contain prints done by John B. Swaine, and many have inscriptions to one of the Sartains from one of the Swaines, written in by hand. The series also includes two volumes of political material. One volume is the minutes of the 1st Republican Convention, held her in Philadelphia in 1856. The other volume is a book of election returns from the 8th Ward, 1st Precinct for that same election. Finally, this series includes several volumes of newspaper clippings and other notes on art, poetry, history, the classics, travel, and many other topics. Most of these scrapbooks seem to have been put together by John or his children.


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Series 4. Rembrandt Peale, "Notes of the Painting Room" 

Scope and Contents note

The Rembrandt Peale series consists solely of Peale's unpublished "Notes of the Painting Room" and an Introduction to that volume. Peale's manuscript has also been reproduced on microfiche.


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Series 5. Miscellaneous 

Scope and Contents note

The Miscellaneous series consists primarily of ephemeral printed material, including advertisements, theater programs, invitations, sermons, almanacs, and catalogues. Some correspondence is also included in this series, mostly single letters from prominent people. Some of the correspondents in this series include Henry Clay, Charles Willson Peale, Frederick III (the Duke of Saxe Gotha), and Henry Inman.


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Series 6. Graphic Material 

Scope and Contents note

The Graphic Material section of this collection (Collection V5) is composed of engravings made by John Sartain and his family as well as drawings and other works on paper. Family photographs and photographs of subjects for engravings are included. Subjects include portraits, figure studies, landscapes, and buildings. The series includes approximately 2,000 prints, 750 drawings, 130 photoprints, and 7 engraving plates.

The Portraits subseries includes five boxes worth of portraits primarily engraved by John Sartain after other artists. Some of the artists represented are John Neagle, Thomas Sully, Van Dyke, Titian, and others. The subjects of the portraits run the gamut from poets, artists, heads of states, monarchs, and others.

The Prints subseries includes a wide range of subjects from animals to figures to landscapes. Illustrations selected for Sartain's autobiography,  The Reminiscences of a Very Old Man are also included in this subseries.

The Miscellaneous subseries includes a sketchbook of William Sartain, family photographs, and prints of vignettes and classical subjects. Fifty-four engravings of William Young Ottley, a British engraver and artists affiliated with the Swaines, are also included in this subseries.


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