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AUCTION 22

 

The New Capitol of Texas, 1885—Rare Chromolithograph


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430.     MYERS, E[lijah] E. (artist-architect). The New Capitol of Texas [four lines of text below title within banner] Description.The Building is to be a fire-proof structure, classic in design. Its form approximates a Greek cross, with projecting center and flanks… [It] will be the largest capitol building of any State in the Union. It is only second in size to the Capitol to Washington [at top, portrait of Sam Houston in circle atop a lone star flanked with six U.S. flags] Gen. Sam Houston [six vignettes within ovals or circles, set on two decorative panels at left and right of primary image] David Crockett; David G. Burnet; Storming of the Alamo; Mirabeau B. Lamar; Stephen F. Austin; Old Capitol, Houston; [below lower border] Copyrighted 1885, by Charles N. McLaughlin, with Permission of the Architect, E.E. Myers. | W.J. Morgan & Co., Lith. Cleveland. O. | Chas. Sinz Lith. Cleveland, O. [Cleveland, 1885]. Chromolithograph in full bright color, border to border: 46 x 61 cm; overall sheet size: 56 x 71.5 cm. Professionally washed and backed. Mild waterstaining along right margin, light browning and slightly chipped along blank margins, otherwise very fine and fresh, in archival mat. Original wood and gilt frame, glass, and nails retained.

     First edition. Two copies located: University of Texas and Austin Public Library. From Dr. Ron Tyler’s preliminary study of nineteenth-century Texas lithographs:

The state constitution of 1876 provided for a new state capitol building. Three years later the legislature passed an act calling for the “designating, surveying and sale of three million and fifty thousand acres of the unappropriated public domain, for the erection of a new State Capitol,” and in 1880 the newly-appointed Capitol Board issued a detailed description of what the new capitol was to look like. The Board selected Detroit architect Elijah E. Myers’s design from the eleven proposals submitted, and Myers had completed plans, detail drawings, full specifications, and a form of contract for the builders when, in November, 1881, the old capitol burned, necessitating the hasty construction of a temporary capitol building and increasing the need for the new capitol.

Unfortunately, there were several delays in the construction of the new permanent capitol building, the cornerstone of which was finally laid on March 2, 1885. In 1884 the contractor built a railroad from a limestone quarry in Oatmanville [now Oak Hill, a suburb of Austin], a few miles southwest of Austin, to the site of the new capitol, but found it to be of no use when the limestone proved to be of an inconsistent color and weathered badly. The commissioners finally selected red Texas granite from Marble Falls in spite of its extra cost. Myers changed the design of the building to accommodate the new material, and another railroad, this one a narrow gauge affair between Burnet and the Marble Falls quarry, was built.

A boycott by the International Association of Granite Cutters delayed the job further when the contractors employed convict labor. In order to find enough skilled workers, the subcontractor brought in sixty-two granite cutters from Scotland. This violated the Alien Contract Labor Law, and the subcontractor was eventually fined $8,000 plus costs, but work on the capitol continued. Suspected structural weaknesses in Myers’s plans, and the architect’s delay in redesigning them, led the Capitol Board to dismiss him in 1886. The Board called in a team of architects to lighten the structure by redesigning the dome and replacing the traditional stone lining with a system of steel braces covered by a skin of galvanized iron, painted to resemble stone.

The building was in the midst of controversy and delay when this lithograph was published by Austin printer Charles N. McLaughlin in 1885, only one of a number of prints produced during the construction of the building. Lithographed by Charles Sinz and W.P. Morgan of Cleveland, Ohio, it was copied from Myers’ perspective view of the building and, no doubt, served to satisfy some of the public’s curiosity about the construction activity on the hill at the end of Congress Avenue.

The print is a rather typical product of the day…. Perhaps an 1882 article in the Austin Daily Statesman describing what might have been an earlier version of this print: an “advertising card—purely the invention of an Austin genius”—that included a picture of the capitol, but with a picture of the governor over the dome, and portraits of the Capitol Board and commissioners arranged on each side. This version also included a description of the new capitol, but “the whole is surrounded by business cards, lettered in silver and gold and framed in bronze and glass.”

For more on architect-artist Elijah E. Myers (1832-1909), see Handbook of Texas Online. Also consult: Clark, Capitols of Texas; Frederick W. Rathjen, “The Texas State House,” in Robert C. Cotner (editor), The Texas State Capitol (Austin: The Pemberton Press, 1968), pp. 1-5. Texas Legislative Council, The Texas Capitol: Symbol of Accomplishment (4th edition; Austin: Texas Legislative Council, 1986), pp. 29-52.

($4,000-8,000)

Sold. Hammer: $4,000.00; Price Realized: $4,800.00

Auction 22 Abstracts

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