The Obelisk — Central Park, New York
Broadside Advertisement View, c. 1880s
The Obelisk  Central Park, New York
Detail of The Obelisk  Central Park, New York Detail of The Obelisk  Central Park, New York
The Obelisk
[Broadside for Charles S. Higgins]

[Forbes Lithograph Manufacturing Company, Boston and New York]: c. 1880s
Lithograph, uncolored
18 x 14 inches, image
28 x 20 inches, overall
$3,800

Scarce advertising broadside view of the ancient Egyptian obelisk in Central Park. A caption below the title in the lower margin notes that the obelisk was presented to the City of New York as a gift by the Khedive of Egypt. The view shows the obelisk surrounded by a circular railing and towering above a small rise as park visitors look up at it, their relative size helping to convey its monumental scale. Although the print's caption states that it was erected in Central Park on October 9, 1880, in actuality the cornerstone for the obelisk was placed in a Masonic ceremony on October 2, but the monument was not erected until January 22, 1881, when a huge crowd watched as the massive stone was pulled upright to a vertical position. Below the caption is a promotional advertisement for the Charles S. Higgins Company, "Manufacturer of the German Laundry Soap." An example of this print in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, with the same image and caption, also bears the same Higgins advertisement.

The central park obelisk is popularly known as "Cleopatra's Needle." The tapered four-sided shaft is topped with a small pyramid and covered with hieroglyphic inscriptions. Actually, the obelisk existed long before Cleopatra (70 - 30 BC); it was erected in Heliopolis by the pharaoh Thutmose III who ruled from 1479 to 1425 BC to commemorate the 30th year of his reign. It was later moved to Alexandria. The Khedive of Egypt, who governed as a viceroy of the Sultan of Turkey between 1879 and 1914, offered it to the United States as a gift to encourage trade and economic development. William H. Vanderbilt paid the $100,000 cost of the complex engineering feat of moving the monument to New York. Today the obelisk remains in the park where it was originally sited, near the East Drive, 81st Street and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and is cared for by the Central Park Conservancy.

This example of this print does not have a publisher's credit. Nonetheless, the example of this print in the Metropolitan Museum of Art bears the publication credit under the image of "Forbes Co. Boston." The Forbes Lithographic Manufacturing Company was established in Boston in 1866 by William H. Forbes and incorporated under that name in 1875. The firm offered lithography, embossing, type and block printing, photography, photolithography and Albertype. By 1885 it had also opened branches in New York and Chicago and had an agent in London. It remained in business until 1895.

The Charles S. Higgins Company was a soap manufacturer in Brooklyn, New York, during the second half of the 19th century. An 1895 court document gives a company history beginning with the establishment of the company in Brooklyn in 1846 by the father of Charles S. Higgins, who took it over upon his father's death in 1860. "The business was very valuable, and [Charles S. Higgins] expended, subsequently to 1879, in advertising, the sum of $300,000, and the product was extensively sold in New York and other states, and was well known to the trade as 'Higgins Soap'…" Indeed, a wide range of advertising ephemera bearing the name of the company survives to this day, including the lithograph offered here.

Full title and caption: "The Obelisk. Presented to the city of New York by the Khedive of Egypt, and erected in Central Park on the 9th of October, 1880. Height of perpendicular, from the apex to base, 68 ft. 11 in.; perpendicular of sides, 64 ft.; volume, 2678 cubic feet; weight, about 186 tons."

Advertisement text: "Compliments of Charles S. Higgins, Manufacturer of the German Laundry Soap."

References:

"Cleopatra's Needle." Wikipedia. 6 May 2015.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cleopatra%27s_Needle (14 May 2015).

D'Alton, Martina. The New York Obelisk or How Cleopatra's Needle Came to New York and What Happened When It Got Here. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art/Abrams, 1993.

"Egyptian Obelisk." NYC Parks. http://www.nycgovparks.org/parks/central-park/monuments/1129 (14 May 2015).

"Forbes Lithograph Manufacturing Company." Library of Congress. http://id.loc.gov/authorities/names/nr92037503.html (14 May 2015).

The Northeastern Reporter, Vol. 39. St. Paul: West Publishing Company, 1895. p. 490. Online at Google Books: https://books.google.com/books?id=lP0KAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA490 (14 May 2015).

"The Obelisk." Metropolitan Museum of Art. 2000-2015. http://www.metmuseum.org/collection/the-collection-online/search/666205 (14 May 2015).