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Maritime Art, Military, American, War of 1812, USS Constitution, Thomas Birch, Antique Print, Philadelphia, 1813


Thomas Birch (1779-1851) (after)
Cornelius Tiebout (1773-1832) (engraver)
This Representation of the U.S. Frigate Constitution…Capturing his Britannic Majesty’s Frigate Guerriere…
James Webster, Philadelphia: August 19, 1813 [restrike from original plate, 1st Half 20th Century]
Stipple engraving, partly printed in colors, and finished by hand
17.75 x 26.25 inches, image
21.5 x 28 inches, platemark
26 x 30.5 inches, overall

An early depiction of a dramatic naval battle scene from the War of 1812 in which the USS Constitution sank the British frigate HMS Guerriere. Published around the one-year anniversary of the event, while the war was still underway, the print celebrates the 35-minute battle that gave the Constitution the nickname “Old Ironsides” as cannonballs fired by the British bounced off its hardwood sides. Clouds of smoke rise from the American cannons, as the masts of the British ship fall in a tangle of sails and ropes, and the Union Jack sinks in the waves near the stern. By contrast, three American flags fly from the Constitution. Tiny figures of the sailors are active on both ships, the Americans in blue uniforms and the British in red, with some hapless British troops in the water. Beneath the image is a circular portrait of the Constitution’s captain, Isaac Hull, with a vignette of a cannon, anchor, masts, American flag, and a white eagle, accompanied by the slogan “Veni, Vidi, Vici” [I came, I saw, I conquered]. The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, has the original oil painting by Thomas Birch on which this print is based in its collection. This was Birch’s first of many War of 1812 paintings, and it established his reputation a marine painter. According to sources in the antique print business, this print was among a limited number restruck as hand colored in about the 1940s. It was located in the storage of a prominent New York City gallery in the 1980s and sold at that time to a major corporate collection. It is quite rare on the market; we know of only two extant examples including this one.

Product description continues below.


During the War of 1812, British strategy included deploying its warships to blockade American ports and prevent goods from leaving or entering. On August 19, 1812, Captain Isaac Hull sailed the USS Constitution from Boston to attack the HMS Guerriere, commanded by Captain James Dacres. The ability of the American navy to best one of the world’s leading naval powers raised morale. The title and caption in the lower margin recount the events of the battle:

This Representation of the U.S. Frigate Constitution, Isaac Hull, Esqr. Commander, Capturing His Britannic Majesty’s Frigate Guerriere, James R. Dacres, Esqr. Commander; Is respectfully inscribed to Capt. Isaac Hull, his Officers and Gallant Crew by their Devoted humble Servant, James Webster.

Lat. 41, 42, N. lon. 55, 48, W. Thursday, Aug. 19, fresh breeze from N.W. and cloudy, at 2 P.M. discovered a vessel to the Southward, made all sail in chase; at half past 3, made out the chase to be a frigate; At 5 the chase hoisted three English ensigns; at 5 minutes past 5, the enemy commenced firing; at 20 minutes past 5, set our colors, one at each mast head, & one at the mizen peak, and began firing on the enemy, and continued to fire occasionally, he weaving very often, and we manœuvering to close with him, and avoid being raked; at 6, set the main top gallant sail, the enemy having bore up; at 5 minutes past 6, brought the enemy to close action, standing before the wind; at 15 minutes past 6, the enemy’s mizen mast fell over on the starboard side; at 20 minutes past 6, finding we were drawing ahead of the enemy, luffed short round his bows to rake him; at 25 minutes past 6, the enemy fell on board of us, his bowsprit foul of our mizen rigging. We prepared to board, but immediately after, his fore & main mast went by the board, & it was deemed unnecessary. At 30 minutes past 6, shot ahead of the Enemy, when the firing ceased, on both sides; he making the signal of submission, by firing a gun to leeward. Entered according to Act of Congress the 18th day of August 1813 by James Webster of the State of Pennsylvania.

Publication credits and additional text beneath image: Painted by T. Birch, A.C.S.A. The Constitution had 7 men killed & 7 wounded. Fought August 19, 1812. The Guerriere had 15 men killed & 63 wounded. Engraved by C. Tiebout A.C.S.A.

Thomas Birch was America’s first marine painter as well as painting landscapes, portraits and miniatures. He was born in England in 1779 and came to Philadelphia in 1794 with his father, the artist William Russell Birch, where he remained for the rest of his life. After about a year spent collaborating with his father on designing, engraving and publishing views of Philadelphia, Birch continued to work on his own. He is best known for his winter scenes and marine scenes, especially naval battles of the War of 1812, which inspired a series of over a dozen naval battle scene pictures. According to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, he carefully researched the events he painted by interviewing participants and accurately rendering the ships. He regularly exhibited at the Society of Artists and Pennsylvania Academy (1811-1861), the Artists’ Fund Society (1835-1845), the Maryland Historical Society (1848-1858), and others. He was an Honorary Member, Professional, of the National Academy.

Cornelius Tiebout was an American engraver, born in New York, who first trained as a silversmith and then studied engraving in England under James Heath. He returned to New York in 1796. In 1799, he moved to Philadelphia, where he was active for the next 25 years. Tiebout was a significant figure in the introduction of the English method of stippled portraiture. From 1817 to 1824 he was a member of the banknote engraving firm of Tanner, Kearney & Tiebout. During the winter of 1825-26 he went to New Harmony, Indiana, where he taught engraving for the next seven years and did much of the engraving for Thomas Say’s volumes on shells and insects, with his daughter Caroline doing the coloring. He died there in 1832.

James Webster (1776?-1851) was a Philadelphia publisher of engravings and books.

Condition: Generally fine overall, recently professionally cleaned and deacidified with only light remaining toning and wear.


“Cornelius Tiebout.” Grove Dictionary of Art. New York: Macmillan, 2000. Online at: (16 July 2002).

“Engagement Between the U.S. Frigate Constitution and the Guerrière.” Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.;jsessionid=62E705CEBCD7C3244927094B7B0168A8 (3 December 2021).

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. 51 (Birch), p. 630 (Tiebout).

Moran, J. “Representation of the U.S. frigate Constitution capturing his Britannic Majesty’s frigate Guerriere.” Teach US History. (2 December 2021).

Stauffer, David McNeely. American Engravers Upon Copper and Steel, Part II.  New York: Burt Franklin: 1907. 3206.

“This representation of the U.S. Frigate Constitution…” Library of Congress. (2 December 2021).

Additional information


19th Century