John Warner Barber
John Warner Barber (February 2, 1798 – June 1885) was an engraver whose books of state, national, and local history featured his vivid illustrations, said to have caught the flavor and appearance of city, town, and countryside scenes in his day.
He was born in East Windsor, Connecticut, and learned his craft from the East Windsor printmaker Abner Reed. In 1823 he opened a business in New Haven, where he produced religious and historical books, illustrated with his own wood and steel engravings.
He traveled around Connecticut, creating ink sketches of town greens, hotels, schools, churches, and harbors and collected local history as he went. He also delved into the works of historians. From all this he produced the book now commonly called Connecticut Historical Collections. The full title is Connecticut Historical Collections, Containing a General Collection of Interesting Facts, Traditions, Biographical Sketches, Anecdotes, Etc., Relating to the History and Antiquities of Every Town in Connecticut with Geographical Descriptions.
The book has been called "the first popular local history published in the U.S.". The book sold well -- 7,000 copies in its first year even though it cost three dollars, then an average week's pay. Twelve years later it was reissued and again sold well.
"Today, though his wood engravings are well known, few copies of the book [Connecticut Historical Collections] remain," according to the Bibliopola Press Web site, which, as of August 2006, was selling a reprint version. "Antique dealers unfortunately do a brisk business selling the woodcuts from volumes they have 'broken
Barber started with rough pencil sketches and developed them into more detailed wash drawings. He then transferred the drawings directly to small blocks of boxwood on which he engraved the designs.
"He talked with townspeople, gathered local documents and made quick sketches everywhere he went," according to a New York Times article from December 10, 1989, quoted on a print-selling Web site. "The illustrations depict each town center, with its homes and churches, academies and courthouses sailboats plying a river or harbor, an occasional factory belching puffs of smoke and always a tiny figure or two, often the artist in his top hat, sketching the scene or pointing to the view."
He died in New Haven in June 1885.