Rare cartographic bird's-eye view of Central Park showing improvements up to mid-1865 “and a few of those in the course of construction” by the famous and prolific American lithographer Louis Prang. The wall, only partially finished when the print was issued, is shown as fully completed, and the avenues and streets leading to the several entrances are also shown. This is the folding black and white edition of the print with original covers dated May 12, 1865, which have now been attached to the back. As explained in the lower margin, it was available in a variety of formats serving both functional and decorative purposes:
This Plan will be published in different forms, plain and colored; thin paper to fold, heavy paper to frame. It will also be issued with the surrounding Building Lots, to serve as a Property Map to Owners and Real Estate Agents. Orders will be attended to promptly.
Picturesque Views in Central Park, printed in Oil Colors, cartes de visite style, have been published by us, and are for sale at most of the Book and Fancy stores, under the title of Prang's Album Cards, which, together with this plan, will form a souvenir of this beautiful Park.
Central Park came into being beginning with an act passed on July 21, 1853 by the New York City Common Council authorizing the construction of a public park bounded by 59th and 106th Streets, Fifth and Eighth Avenues. The park was conceived to provide recreational open space for citizens of the growing city, which then had few open squares. The site that was destined to become Central Park was then “a bleak, rubbish-strewn area littered with squatters' shacks.” (Deák) Central Park opened in 1857, and in 1858, the job of improving and expanding it, transforming the area into a pastoral oasis for the “toiling masses,” was awarded to Calvert Vaux, a young British architect, and Frederick Law Olmstead, an American farmer and magazine editor. Reconstruction began that same year and was completed in 1873.
Deák further describes their design and construction of the Park:
There was a staggering amount of work to be done to transform the area into a blend of pastoral and woodland scenery. This involved the design and construction of roadways, tunnels, bridges, arches, stairways, fountains, benches, lamp posts, gates, fences and innumerable other artifacts. It also involved the supervision of an army of about five thousand laborers…Olmsted, to whom most of the credit goes, insisted on seeing the multidimensional project as a single work of art, which he was mandated to create. For this purpose, he ventured to assume to himself the title of “artist.”
Louis Prang (1824-1909) was a lithographer and wood engraver. He trained as a calico printer in his native Germany, but fled the country under suspicion of participation in the Revolution of 1848 and eventually emigrated to the U.S. in 1850. He learned wood engraving in Boston and worked at that trade until 1856 when he went into the lithography business with Julius Mayer as Prang & Mayer. In 1861 he established Louis Prang & Co. The company published a variety of hand colored lithographs and chromolithographs including views, historical subjects, illustrations of events and portraits of important figures of the Civil War, prints after paintings by famous artists including Winslow Homer, and maps. Prang started a successful line of Christmas cards in the 1870s as well as an annual card design contest that attracted top artists, and had a central role in popularizing the custom of sending them in America. He also branched out into selling art supplies -- the Prang brand is still sold today. In addition, he published a popular series of instructional drawing books. Prang retired in 1899.
Inscribed in lower margin: “Entered according to Act of Congress in the Year 1865 by L. Prang & Co. in the Clerks Office of the District Court of the District of Mass. Published by L. Prang & Co. 159 Washington St. Boston, Mass. & 639 Broadway New York (Branch Office.)”
Deák, Gloria Gilda. Picturing America: 1497-1899. Vol. 1. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1988. pp. 535-536.
Groce, George C. and Wallace, David H. The New-York Historical Society’s Dictionary of Artists in America 1564-1860. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1969. p. 514.
Peters, Harry T. America on Stone. U.S.: Doubleday, Doran, 1931. pp. 327-328.