Curator’s Favorite: The Hugo Sebald Collection

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Edward Heintz French Confectionery, S.W. corner Ninth and Arch Streets, ca. 1860.
Edward Heintz French Confectionery,
S.W. corner Ninth and Arch Streets, ca. 1860.

Advertisements of the smaller variety often receive short shrift for their aesthetic and documentary value. The Hugo Sebald Collection given by longtime donor and shareholder David Doret dispels this notion. The collection, containing over 100 specimens of work from the 1850s to the 1880s by the German-born Philadelphia wood engraver, documents the commercial district of late 19th-century Philadelphia with a liveliness that rivals poster-size advertising prints.

John H. Clay, Fire Apparatus and Supplies, 1320 Ridge Avenue, ca. 1880.
John H. Clay, Fire Apparatus and Supplies, 1320 Ridge Avenue, ca. 1880.
Charles Adams Dry Goods, S.E. corner Eighth and Arch Streets, ca. 1860
Charles Adams Dry Goods, S.E. corner Eighth and Arch Streets, ca. 1860

The views encompass many of the businesses one would expect of the period, including dry goods stores and confectioneries, along with renderings of more atypical establishments, like a fire apparatus supply store and a dental depot. Storefronts on Market, Chestnut, and Arch Streets (and others) adorned in signage and oversize models of merchandise, as well as with displays in showcase windows impel this viewer to wish that she had lived in that era of consumerism.

Although the images themselves often provide a narrative, occasionally the lives of those who commissioned the advertisements are the more compelling story, such as Henry Gautschi.  Sebald engraved a circa 1880s exterior of the prominent music box manufacturer‘s store on Chestnut Street. About twenty years later in 1901, Gautschi died after being shot several times by his estranged and vengeful son-in-law Jacob Pessendorfer. Pessendorfer blamed Gautschi for his separation from the businessman’s daughter. Initially sentenced to death for his crime, Pessendorfer was eventually granted life in Moyamensing Prison due to insanity.

Henry Gautschi & Sons, Manufacturer of Musical Boxes, 1030 Chestnut Street, ca. 1880s
Henry Gautschi & Sons, Manufacturer of Musical Boxes, 1030 Chestnut Street, ca. 1880s

Most of the prints in the collection do not prove as salacious in their contexts. Instead, the advertisements, complemented by landscape and landmark views, catch the eye with an infectious charm representative of the talent of their creator Hugo Sebald.  Thanks to the generosity of Mr. Doret, we get a better sense of the overlooked significance of this engraver who remained active in the trade until his death in 1903 at almost 80 years old.

Erika Piola
Associate Curator, Prints and Photographs
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