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The Heath Family Engravers
By John Heath

The set of books titled "The Heath Family Engravers" features extensive catalogue raisonnés of the work of the Heaths.  These three volumes have been meticulously compiled and contain much little known material relating to the book and print publishing trade of the period (1779-1878).  The study also includes details of the Heath's relationships with many of the leading British artists, publishers, print dealers and engravers of the day, as well as of their working habits, payment systems and innovative business methods generally.

The Heath family engravers were James Heath ARA (1757-1834), his son Charles Heath (1785-1848), and Charles' two sons Frederick and Alfred.  These line engravers constitute in microcosm the rise and ultimate decline over a century in which they worked centrestage in their profession in England, at a time when the so called 'British School' of engraving led the world.  James Heath, Historical Engraver to King George III, was a much admired and gregarious figure in the close knit artistic and theatrical London of his time, an innovator, with a prodigious output, and a touch regarded as more brilliant than any of his contemporaries.

James' able and immensely hardworking son Charles, who specialised in figure work, especially in the new fashion for book illustration, amongst other activities, acted for many years as impresario for the engraving of the paintings of JMW Turner.  He played a leading part in the promotion and production of the many gift books and Annuals which were so popular in the 1830's, and was a pioneer in the use of steel for engraving, to give much longer runs to printing plates than copper, in the developing of security engraving for banknotes, and in the production in 1840 of the world's first postage stamp, the so-called 'Penny Black'.

Charles' two sons on the other hand, both fine craftsmen, had to be witnesses to the gradual eclipse of line engraving by other less labour-intensive techniques of illustration such as photogravure and lithography, in what was becoming a mass market.

Based on much original research over many years, the careers and fortunes of these three generations of engravers were the subject of Volume 1 (for James Heath) and Volume 2 (for Charles Heath and sons), both books being published in 1993.

Many links are described in these volumes with American artists such as John Singleton Copley, Gilbert Stuart and Benjamin West, who was President of the Royal Academy of which James Heath was an Associate; while books and prints with illustrations by the Heaths were well-known through their agent in Philadelphia, especially the gift books and annuals which found a popular echo in their American imitations of the 1830's to 1850's.

Volume 3 (published in 1999) is a supplement to the first two, but to some extent also constitutes an update.  Besides its additional bibliographical content, and a host of contemporary press comments, it also contains a remarkable previously unpublished collection of correspondence, which sheds much light on the operation and relationships of engravers in the period, including a large correspondence from the Heath engravers covering over 30 years, describing to their artistically minded and friendly merchant banker, Dawson Turner, in Great Yarmouth, their most intimate problems in their business and financial affairs.

Amongst other detail, there is a chapter on James Heath's relations with Richard Brinsley Sheridan and the Drury Lane Theatre, and on Charles Heath's special contribution to the art of steel engraving, and the family owned printing house, Perkins Bacon & Co., founded by the great American inventor, Jacob Perkins.

This original in-depth research on the contribution of the Heath family to the development of the printed illustration during the period considers the Heath family engravers as artists in their own right and sets their many outstanding achievements and activities against the literary, artistic and cultural background of their time.  It will be of interest to art dealers, art historians, rare book collectors, libraries and museums.

The author John Heath CMG (1922-2009) was a former soldier, Oxford Graduate and Diplomat.  He spent much of his leisure time researching and collecting the life and works of the Heath family engravers for over twenty years.  He was the great-great-great-grandson of James Heath.

Copies of these books are still available directly from the family and can be purchased as follows:

The Heath Family Engravers

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Volume 1

James Heath

Hardback 242 pages

255mm x 195mm x 20mm

Price £15.00 plus postage

Click for more information on Vol 2.

Volume 2

Charles Heath and his sons Frederick and Alfred

Hardback 351 pages

255mm x 195mm x 28mm

Price £15.00 plus postage

Click for more information on Vol 3.

Volume 3

A Supplement to Volumes 1 & 2

Hardback 305 pages

255mm x 195mm x 26mm

Price £15.00 plus postage

To order the above books please telephone +44 1962 761 565 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


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