Over the years, the so-called David Roberts lithographs (they are actually lithographs by Louis Haghe from paintings and sketches of Roberts) of both the Holy Land and Egypt & Nubia, in their original edition, have come to be regarded as the chef d’oeuvre of the tinted lithograph (they were republished by Day & Son - and others - in a smaller format and even pirated by other publishers for several years afterwards). They are, consequently, very desirable, rare, and expensive. All were produced from 1842-49 by the publisher F.G. Moon, then having their offices on 20 Threadneedle Street in London. The cost of the expensive endeavor was partly offset by subscriptions from well-to-do (mostly) British subjects including Charles Dickens, the famous publisher John Murray, the young artist and writer John Ruskin (who, perhaps from petty jealousy would call Haghe’s work “conventional, forced, and lifeless” in general while those for the Holy Land in particular “a libel on Mr. Roberts”) as well as Queen Victoria, Mehemet Ali, the Pasha of Egypt, and Tsar Nicholas 1 of Russia. Hundreds of prints were made of each drawing from the lithographer’s original plate, rendered in reverse on the stone. When a set of several different drawings (about 6) was completed over the course of weeks (or perhaps months) they were then sent as a batch to subscribers who either had paid in advance for them or would upon receipt. The Holy Land was completed first and was issued in twenty parts over a near-four-year period. It is actually the more carefully produced of the two sets, containing more hand-colouring and, unlike its companion volumes on Egypt, each lithograph came with a blank protective sheet (the Egypt series, although less colourful, had generally more complex lithography). The prints were in two sizes, a full folio size of approximately 19 x 12 ½ alternating with half-folios of 12 x 9 ½. Each lithograph was printed in two formats. One was a “standard” version, pressed onto the thick paper that served also as text pages (the full folios were left blank on the reverse side while the half-folios contained text both under the print and on the reverse side). These were printed, in the case of the Holy Land, with one additional tint while the Egypt set employed usually two additional tints (and in one case three, the famous “Approach of the Simoon”). There was also a “deluxe” edition. Here the lithograph was printed onto a thin but expensive paper (sometimes referred to as India paper), cut to size, and after being mounted on thick card-stock measuring 24 inches by 17 inches (some later copies were slightly larger but on marginally thinner cards), was then laboriously hand-coloured. This would ensure that each lithograph gave the impression of being an original water colour rather than a printed copy. Indeed, every copy of the identical lithograph in the deluxe edition is slightly different from the next, no two being exactly alike. This latter format is often referred to as “subscriber’s edition” but this term is somewhat misleading as all subscribers (the list printed near the front of the Holy Land totals 606) could choose between the standard (now usually designated “first edition”) or deluxe formats. The mystery remains, however, of how many copies of each version were actually printed. No records for this survive. Many collectors still assume that the 600+ subscribers refer to purchasers of only the hand-coloured sets but it is clear from contemporary documents that this is not the case. Therefore the number of prints of each version must be less (perhaps much less) than supposed. In fact, the total for both sets probably did not exceed one thousand.
The Holy Land, completed first, comprised twenty parts, while Egypt & Nubia twenty-one. Subscribers could, upon completion of all parts, choose a binding of their own choice, or leave the parts in their original wrappers.
The cost of the deluxe edition is quoted in one source at £87.2s for both sets (more than $12,000 today) while another gives close to £150 (nearly $22,000). Even the “standard” edition was not cheap: £43.1s (nearly $6,000 - compare a British bank clerk’s probable yearly salary in the mid 1840s: £60-65). As the first set to be completed, the Holy Land, as originally conceived, was to be in two volumes. But as the sheer bulk was soon found to overwhelm two volumes, however carefully bound, three would be required. (For this reason, the title page to volume 3 - a view of Petra - was not completed until 1849 [the year the entire project was finished] and was very likely the final lithograph to be printed. By then, many subscribers had already bound their three volumes of the Holy Land [that set had been completed in early 1846] and therefore either passed on this third title page or put it in as a loose leaf. Consequently, many fine copies of this set do not have the third volume title page.)
Any deluxe version is instantly recognizable from its companion “standard” edition, even if the latter has been subsequently coloured, which is often the case. While the former have no printed titles (or indeed any printed matter at all on any of the pages containing the plates), all “standard” edition prints (identical in size to the deluxe copies) have the lithograph’s title, often in orange or yellow, directly underneath each print (in addition to the publisher’s name in small type). It should be noted that, in both editions, the lithograph itself bears the title - always on the lower left or right of each print - which, as well as Roberts’s signatures, are actual facsimiles taken from the original sketches. Interestingly enough, although equally rare, the Egypt set (in the deluxe “subscription” edition) has always commanded nearly twice the price as the Holy Land. Now, with the rapid changes radically altering the landscape of the latter (in some cases forever), prints of the Holy Land (and copies of the bound volumes) are gaining in value and may someday even equal those of its partner.
With the above information in mind, one is now aware that there are two separate types of first edition David Roberts prints. The deluxe, hand-coloured, set, which is commonly referred to as the Subscribers’s edition (rarer, costlier to produce and consequently more expensive) and standard first edition. All of the prints in the David Roberts Gallery are first edition. Most are the deluxe edition. All David Roberts prints are collectable and are a reliable investment. Since their original number was not large, they have always fetched high prices in the art and rare book markets. In addition, fewer and fewer will become available due to damage, theft, or loss. Consequently, their value only increases over time. Anyone who purchases a Roberts lithograph, therefore, can be secure in the knowledge that their money has been wisely spent. A final note on print condition and storage. Most of the lithographs are in very good to fine condition. Some look almost to be in “mint”condition. A few of the cards (in the subscription copies) are worn on the edges, as is to be expected from mid-19th century prints. There is limited “foxing” (spotting) on a few of the prints. None have any outstanding defects. The colours are rich and vibrant on all subscribers’s copies and any additional hand colouring to the regular first edition prints have been professionally done by experts. All lithographs are professionally matted on acid free boards and ready for framing. Care should be taken that the prints are always displayed behind anti-ultraviolet glass and NEVER in direct sunlight. Extreme humidity should be avoided whenever possible. With these precautions, each and every print should last more than its previous lifespan.
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