February 14, 2009

The Mystery Sleuths at Blue Barnhouse

And they would have gotten away with it too, if it hadn't been for those meddling kids...

A couple brought a letterpress relic into the shop, they had it for decades and had all sorts of people look at it, including an antique road show and no one could tell them what it was. They had found it in their attic of their home when they lived in Buffalo, NY.

Over the phone he described it as a copper plate with an image burned in to it, and when I learned it was mounted on wood, I told him I could probably print with it. They had not been able to read the text on the image very well,but we could make out a soldier and a lady liberty figure. I locked it up into a chase and threw it into an already inked C&P press (circa 1898) and as the rollers passed over the plate the image was revealed.

The image would not print well, the wife's brother (or someone) had tried to clean the plate with a brillo pad so he could read it better, but ended up eating most of the surface away. We were however able to scan the inked plate, reverse it, and adjust the curves enough to bleed out some details. The plate dates to WWI (1914-1918).

It reads on top:
Columbia gives to her son the accolade of the New Chivalry of Humanity

The bottom script is hard to decipher, but it reads Edward G. Fox??(last name indecipherable) and then something about his rank (Corporal?) If you click on the image you will see an enlargement and perhaps you can help decipher the rest of the script.

The caption continues: Served with honor in the World War and was wounded in action.

I had several theories on what this document was used for but after some input from the letterpress community we got the best answer from letterpress printer John Rountree:

"The scan you posted is a World War I wounded certificate. These were given to troops that were wounded during the War. In 1932 (I think this is the right date) the purple heart medal was authorized and you could trade in your wounded certificate for a purple heart medal. I have one of these awarded to someone in the field artillery. While many of these were given out they are not that common today since you had to trade it in to get the purple heart."

The latest is that the owner of the plate is making an attempt to give it to the soldiers family, if he can track them down.

There is also a very enlightening comment about the etching below.


  1. Columbia is the feminine personification of America and has always been a popular patriotic symbol, espcially in the 19th and first half of the 20th century. You may recall the song O Columbia The Gem Of The Ocean. We used to sing this in school as late as the 1960's. The text "...served with honor in the World War..." indicates that this comes from the post-war period and was intended to honor veterans. The accolade "the New Chivalry of Humanity" may be a partial reference to the League of Nations that came out of the war which was in some quarters seen as a devine mission to preserve humanity. With the war over utopian thinking helped usher in the Roaring 20's. Whoops! European Depression. Whoops! Stock market crash. Whoops! Second world war. Oh, well.

    How big is the image? Because the individual's name is part of the cut I would think this was part of a set of cards or broadsides sold or distributed as a package rather than having been made up for a single print due to the expense. The writing after the man's name might be his unit designation: 1st NY Inftry, etc. The Rainbow Division was made up of National Guard units from many states. If this was a set of broadsides they may have been intended for National Guard armories or other military installations to frame and display. There are several armories in Bufflao, the largest being the Conn. St. Armory. I grew up in Tonawanda just north of Buffalo; lots of history up there.

    Front Room Press

  2. The image was the size of a card, A7ish. I was able to make out the word Corp. (Corporal) I bet the next part refers to the division?