18th Century Maps, American Maps, Engraving

Happy Birthday Pierre Charles L’Enfant

Happy Birthday L’Enfant!

Born on August 2, 1754, Pierre Charles L’Enfant, was a french-born architect and civil engineer who designed the layout for our great Capital city. Where would DC be with out it’s many circles and roundabouts, our grand Pennsylvania avenue, and the national mall? We have L’Enfant to thank for our town’s layout and design…and the many maps that are based off of his plan.


On January 24, 1791, President George Washington announced the Congressionally-designated permanent location of the national capital, a diamond-shaped ten-mile tract at the confluence of the Potomac and Eastern Branch Rivers. The original survey of the 100 square mile diamond shaped “district” was undertaken by Andrew Ellicott and Benjamin Banneker (a free slave). In March of 1791, Major Pierre Charles L’Enfant was appointed by George Washington to prepare the plan for the city itself with Ellicott as his assistant.

His plan specified locations for the “Congress house” , which would be built on Jenkins Hill (now called Capitol Hill), and the “President’s house”, which would be situated on a ridge parallel to the Potomac River. The “President’s house” was originally planned to be several times larger than the actual size of the current White House. He also designed for an special avenue (Pennsylvania Avenue) to connect the Congress house with the President’s house.

The streets in L’Enfant’s plan are laid out on a simple grid, consisting of east-west streets and north-south streets. Avenues running on a diagonal would cross the grid, and intersect with east-west and north-south streets at large circles and rectangular plazas. These open spaces were to be filled with statues commemorating famous and notable Americans, and offer a outdoor place for the public to stroll, meet, and enjoy.

Unfortunately, L’Enfant turned out to be very difficult to work with. Eventually both Washington and Jefferson became disgusted with his obstinacy. He was suspended in 1792 and outright terminated from his post in 1793. Andrew Ellicott took over the project using L’Enfant’s plan as a base.



19th Century Maps, 19th Century Prints, Contemporary, Early 20th Century, Maps, Prints


FIND THE GIFTS HERE: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9

(click on image to enlarge)

Want more gift ideas? Check out our other Holiday Gift Guides: Gifts for the World Traveler and Gifts for the Foodie. And check back weekly for new suggestions!

18th Century Maps, Contemporary Maps, Engraving, Maps, Past/Present, Photography

Past/Present: Washington DC Maps

Today we have a new P/P post, featuring two DC city maps, both new and old. The Old Print Gallery specializes in antique maps, and for many years, the gallery only sold old prints and maps ( like the 1793 Washington DC map shown below). Once we decided to embrace the 21st century and show works by local (and living) artists, we thought it would be fitting for the gallery’s first show to feature a contemporary cartographer. Nikolas Schiller, known as DC’s renegade cartographer, was the perfect choice. His maps, created from modified aerial photography, depict DC’s neighborhoods as a kaleidoscope of colors and shapes, drawing attention to, and appreciation for, DC’s grid-like streets and famous traffic circles. Now, almost a year later, one of Schiller’s maps can be found on the OPG walls again, this time in our new show, Location, Location, Location, which opens today, and runs until September 10.

Image on Left: Plan of the City of Washington by J. Good. Published by Literary Magazine and British Review, London. Engraving, 1793.

Image on Right: Georgetown Quilt- West by Nikolas Schiller. Modified aerial photograph, 2010.

18th Century Maps, American Maps, Copperplate, Engraving, Maps

Andrew Ellicott- Washington D.C. City Plan

Our next map is an unusual, small city plan of Washington, D.C., from an unidentified German publication, entitled Grundiss von Washington der neuen Hauptstadt der vereingten Staaten von Nord-America. An engraving, the map shows significant detail of the city—the Potomac River, the Capitol and White House, Rock Creek, and Georgetown are all featured. The artist of this map is Andrew Ellicott, an established cartographer and surveyor. On January 24, 1791, President George Washington announced the congressionally-designated permanent location of the national capitol, a diamond-shaped ten mile tract at the confluence of the Potomac and Eastern Branch Rivers. From 1791 to 1792, at the request of Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, Ellicott worked to survey the boundaries of the federal Territory of Columbia, later established as the District of Columbia in 1801.

His survey team was comprised of himself, freed slave and astronomer Benjamin Banneker, and later his brother Joseph Ellicott. They worked to place forty boundary stones, a mile apart, to mark the borders for the Territory of Columbia. Many of these stones remain standing today, scattered throughout the city’s border. Starting with Virginia’s stones in 1791 and finishing Maryland’s stones in 1792, the stones represented the boundary lines for the 100 square foot territory.  During this time, Ellicott also intensively surveyed the land at the center of the territory, the area designated to be the future city of Washington. He worked with the Pierre Charles L’Enfant, who had prepared the original plans for the city in 1791. L’Enfant proved to be quite obstinate, and it was on these grounds that he was fired, and replaced by Ellicott.

Ellicott revised L’Enfant’s plan of the city, much to L’Enfant’s dismay and disapproval, realigning and straightening Massachusetts Avenue, removing several plazas and short radial avenues. He also altered the borders of the future Judiciary Square. Ellicott’s revisions became the basis for the capital city’s future development. He gave a copy of the city plans to James Thakara and John Valance of Philadelphia to engrave, print and publish. Receiving wide circulation, the city plan was later copied, enlarged, detailed, and published by numerous different publishing houses.

Our print of the city plan is a copper-plate engraving, a technique first used circa 1430 in upper Germany. Copperplate engraving is a process of intaglio printmaking, which entails incising a design on a hard surface. The surface of a copper plate is smoothed before engraving and coated with a thin layer of varnish, chalk, soot or wax. The drawing is done, in mirror-image, on this layer. Subsequently, the lines are incised into the metal with a graver or burin. Metal shavings are removed, as are the ridges thrown up on both sides of the incised furrows. Before printing takes place, the plate is heated and covered with ink. The warm ink seeps into the finest of depressions and fills the lines and textures of the drawing. The copper plate is cleaned and then pressed on to moistened paper, which soaks up the ink from the depressions in the plate. The copperplate-engraving technique  is very exacting, time-consuming and arduous for the engraver.

Characteristic features of copperplate engravings are fine lines, richness of detail, and soft contrasts (unlike the woodcut); nevertheless, there are no actual gradations of tone. Viewing  the compass rose in the upper corner of our map with a magnifying glass reveals that the lines begin as fine as a hair, then swell, only to become thin again, creating the contrasting shades of the star. The directionality of the lines is just as important in engraving, as evident in this map’s depiction of the Potomac. The carefully placed lines give the Potomac life, movement, and a flow. The lines even hint at water depth and boating channels. The city itself is a fantastic reflection of what still exists today. Moreover, Ellicott’s use of scripted text and white space results in a handsomely graphic composition. The District’s iconic grid layout shines in this beautifully clear and simple city plan.

To view and purchase this print at our website, please click here.