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Illustration Art, New York City, Frederick Elmiger, Pirates in Manhattan, Vintage Painting, c. 1960s


Frederick Elmiger (1890-1975)
Pirates in New York City
American: c. 1960s
Watercolor, gouache and/or acrylic on artist’s board
Signed lower right
22 x 30 inches, overall

Original painting of “drunken, roistering, insolent pirates” roaming the streets of New York City in the 17th century, from a series of paintings by Frederick Elmiger reimagining scenes from New York City history. The rowdy group strolls down the street while groups of conservatively-dressed men and women watch anxiously. (The artist clearly had fun portraying the colorful clothes and expressive faces of the pirates, who seem straight from Central Casting.) The artist has composed the painting like a photograph, giving it a sense of immediacy as if the action had been caught on camera, with figures cropped as if by a viewfinder.

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A typeset label accompanies the painting; apparently these images were exhibited with the labels. The label gives a brief account of the historical basis for this scene:

New York City was once the refuge of drunken, roistering, insolent pirates. Decent citizens feared them, but other wealthy and so-called respected merchants entertained them and built and outfitted ships for them. Other ships laden with run, food and ammunition were sent to far off seas to meet the pirate ships and exchange these supplies for stolen goods at a tremendous profit. Thus the merchants pirated in one ship and brought back the loot in another. In 1698, the honest and efficient Earl of Bellomont was appointed governor, and put an end to piracy.

When Richard Coote, Earl of Bellomont (1636–1701), became the colonial governor of New York and New England in 1697, he was charged by Great Britain with the job of suppressing “the prevailing piracy” causing “so much distress along the coast.” The prevalence of piracy in fact had arisen from the Navigation Acts, laws passed by Britain between 1650 and 1696 preventing all foreign ships from trading American colonies. As a result of these restrictions, Colonial merchants had turned to smugglers and pirates trading in stolen goods to obtain necessary commodities at cheaper prices. When Coote arrived, he found general complicity with the pirates, including one New York merchant who had amassed a fortune of $500,000 within seven years. Though he did take steps to stop piracy, it was not until 1725 that the British truly brought it under control.

Frederick Elmiger was an American illustrator. He frequently produced series on historical themes for Donald Art Company in Port Chester, New York, publishers of posters, lithographs, and artists’ prints. These included scenes from American history, Revolutionary war uniforms and vintage automobiles. At the time of his death he was living in Larchmont, New York.

Condition: Generally very good with the usual overall light toning and wear. Outer margins with some glue residue, staining and abrasions from former matting, apparently intended by artist to be matted out as originally issued, and now to be rematted out when reframed. Original title card very good with overall light toning and wear.


“Piracy.” Encyclopedia of American History, 2007. (1 May 2007).

Additional information


20th Century