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Charles Heath, the Engraver

(Charles Theodosius Heath)

of London


Born: 1 March 1785 and died 18 November 1848.
Son of: James Heath ARA (1757-1834) and Mary Phillipson (1757-1819).
Half brother of:
1. George Heath (1787-1852)
Brother of:
2. Caroline Hamilton (nee Heath, 1784-18??) who married Samuel Hamilton.
3. Amelia Clara Dollman (nee Heath, 1794-18??) who married Rev Frank (or Francis?) Dollman.
4. Harriet Dollman (nee Heath, 1789-18??) who married Edward Dollman.
5. Matilda Sophia Heath (nee Heath, 1792-1864) who married her second cousin William Tyler Heath  (1787-1852)
Charles married: Elizabeth Petch (1790?-1861), 16 Jan 1808 in St Pancras, London, Middlesex. Elizabeth appears to have been the daughter of Hill Petch (1764-1805) and Amelia Petch (nee Phillipson, 1768-1845).
Charles and Elizabeth had issue:
1. Emily Heath (1809-1880).
2. Frederick Augustus Heath (1810-1878) who married Mrs M Inwood.
3. Alfred Theodosius Heath (1812-1896) who married Caroline Philpott.
4. Charlotte Palmer (nee Heath, 1816-1857) who married William Palmer.
5. Charles Heath (1824-1826).
6. Isabel Heath (1826-1828).
7. Henry Charles Heath (1829-1898) who married Georgina Woodcock (1838-1891).
8. Fanny Corbould (nee Heath, 1813-1850) who married Edward Henry Corbould (1815-1905).

Many books about artists and engravers, active in the first half of the 1800s, give references to Charles Heath.  The best source of information is the set of books "Heath Engravers". Volume 2 of this set is mainly a biography of Charles and also lists most of the known publications that he was associated with.

James Heath taught his son Charles the art of engraving from early childhood and an etched head of a housemaid exists which Charles possibly engraved at the age of six.  He proved an apt and brilliant pupil, with his own perfected style of plates for book illustration.  At first he specialised in topographical prints, especially in the "European Scenery" series, and produced some remarkable plates for an edition of the Bible.  His small engravings for the numerous popular editions of the English Classics which followed, are also executed with great taste and delicacy.  Figure work was his forte, and in some of his portraits he attained great excellence.  A pioneer in the art of engraving, Charles Heath exhibited some very early lithographs at Somerset House from 1803-1806. 

In 1820 Charles branched out into security engraving for banknotes, through the firm of Perkins, Fairman & Heath.  This firm prospered and in 1840, with his son Frederick, Charles was responsible for the engraving of the world's first postage stamp, the well known "Penny Black" (by Perkins Bacon & Co). 

In 1820, for Thomas Campbell's small book of poetry 'Pleasures of Hope', Charles produced the first printing plates to feature engraving on steel rather than copper.  Whereas a single copper plate could be used to produce only a few thousand prints, steel plates could be used to produce greatly increased numbers of prints in the tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands.

With large plate engravings Charles Heath was less successful; among these were his "Puck" and "Infant Hercules" after Reynolds, and "Europa" after Hilton.  By contrast his "View from Richmond Hill" and his "Gentleman from the Court of King Charles the First", after Van Dyke, "Christ Healing the Sick in the Temple", after Benjamin West are all masterpieces of their kind. 

In 1821, and again in 1826 Charles Heath got into financial difficulties but quickly recovered following an energetic diversion into the new fashion for illustrated Annuals and gift-books.  Although not the originator, he was the chief promoter of these well known productions and from 1825 onwards he was almost entirely first in engraving for the "Amulet", "Literary Souvenir", and "Landscape Annual", and then in promoting his own productions, notably the "Keepsake", "Heath's Picturesque Annual", "Heath's Book of Beauty" and similar publications.  He also promoted "JMW Turner's England and Wales" and for many years he acted as Turner's impresario in getting his watercolours engraved.  Apart from many illustrations in the "Keepsake", Charles Heath engraved relatively little himself from 1828, but employed assistants and journeymen engravers, including his two sons Frederick and Alfred; but the prints he supervised are for the most part executed with marvellous technical skill and fidelity, although they eventually became somewhat mechanical and out of fashion.

Due to the failure of his major creditors to pay for his overheads, in April 1840 and again in July 1842, Charles was obliged to sell off his large stock of engravings, and in 1841 trustees were appointed to manage his finances.  However he continued to produce fine illustrated books with the help of his publishers, Longmans, until his sudden death on 18 November 1848.

Charles married Elizabeth Petch who appears to have been his cousin.  Elizabeth appears to have been the sister of Henry Thomas Philipson Petch (1798-1852) who was a partner in Perkins, Bacon & Petch from 1834/1835 until his death in 1852.  Henry and Elizabeth's parents appear to have been Hill Petch (1764-1805) and Amelia Petch (nee Phillipson, 1768-1845).  Amelia appears to have been the sister of Mary Phillipson who was the second wife (defacto) of James Heath.  Amelia and Mary's father appears to have been Thomas Phillipson (1730-1788).  James Heath is mentioned in the will of Thomas Phillipson.  Mrs A Petch also made some loans to the firm of Perksin Bacon & Petch.

Of his sons, Frederick and Alfred continued as engravers but in a very much diminishing market.  His other son Henry became Miniature Painter to Queen Victoria.

Charles Heath worked with many artists one being John Massey Wright.  For more info on Wright go to

For those interested in collecting works by Charles Heath, books with engravings by him do turn up from time to time in Antiquarian bookshops and can be bought from as little as £10 each or as much as £1,000.  Separate prints can also be found on occasions in the general art market and sell from £10 to £500 each.