Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A broadside from Waterloo

About six weeks after the end of the famous Battle of Waterloo in 1815, prominent London publisher Rudolph Ackermann published a handcolored broadside detailing the battle in which the French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte was defeated.

It was presented to Prince Frederick, Duke of York and Albany, who was commander-in-chief of the British Army at the time and credited with organizing the nation’s forces that enabled the British to defeat the French. A matted and framed copy of the broadside is in the collection of rare and unusual items at Lighthouse Books, ABAA.

The sheet shows the positions of British, Prussian, Belgian and French troops near the Belgian town of Waterloo. The French Army was under the command of Napoleon, who had returned to power in France earlier that year, causing unrest throughout other countries in Europe. The Duke of Wellington commanded the armies of the Seventh Coalition, an allied group of like-minded countries that knew Napoleon’s return to power was not good news.

The broadside details the troop movements for a four-day period leading up to the key battle on Sunday, June 18, 1815. It is the handiwork of a Lt. Tyler, who was a member of 2nd Guards Brigade under the command of Major-General Sir John Byng. Evidently, Lt. Tyler had sufficient time to take copious notes after the decisive battle.

Rudolph Ackermann, the publisher, had a reputation for producing fine color plate books. He was proprietor of an establishment called The Repository of the Arts, which in addition to his publishing business, housed the only public library for the arts in London.

Ackermann was a stickler for detail. He trained his workers to delicately hand color the plates in his books. He contracted with prominent printing firm of L. Harrison & J.C. Leigh to print the broadside.

During the French Revolution, Ackermann hired French émigrés to work in his shop. It is not known whether any of them handcolored the Battle of Waterloo sheet but it is certainly possible.

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