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October 26, 2007

Rare Texas Pictorial Lettersheet with Letter of a French Emigrant
Main Plaza, San Antonio, Texas ca. 1855

242. [TEXAS PICTORIAL LETTERSHEET]. THIELEPAPE, Wilhelm Carl August. Main Plaza. San Antonio, Texas, 185 [below view] Lith. from Nature and publ. by W. C. A. Thielepape, San Antonio. Lithograph lettersheet, oval view: 5.6 x 16.3 cm; view with title, imprint, and date line: 6.3 x 16.2 cm; entire sheet: 24.7 x 19.2 cm. San Antonio, n.d. [ca. 1855]. With autograph letter in French of Alphonse Portanery to his parents in France, dated at San Antonio, April 5, 1856, closely written on both sides in a clear, legible hand (see below for content). Creased where formerly folded, a few light spots (not affecting image), old ink filing notation at upper left blank margin, overall fine.

            California is blessed with hundreds of nineteenth-century lettersheets, but only a few exist for Texas. In this fascinating letter, the writer, after indicating that the exchange of letters between him and his parents has been delayed, launches into a long disquisition about his recent marriage and the problems and opportunities that this has presented to him. He states, for example, that his wife swears she will never go to France. He also discusses the complicated familial relationships and the role his in-laws play in deciding whether he will have property and whether they will help them financially. He states, however, that he is mostly happy and loves his newborn, who resembles him, except for his brown eyes. He concludes that everyone there lives a solitary life, like wolves. On the whole an interesting look at the social customs and times of San Antonio as seen through the eyes of a French emigrant.

            In his unpublished study of nineteenth-century Texas lithographs, Ron Tyler comments at length on this historic Texas lithograph, which is likely the first lithograph view of Texas made in Texas (the other candidate being Lowe’s bird’s-eye view of Austin; see herein: [BIRD’S-EYE VIEW]. LAWRENCE, A. B. (attributed). A History of Texas):

There are two states of this print, both located in the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale. Perhaps the print sold so well that Thielepape reprinted it after he had reground his stone to produce one of his other prints. The copy at the San Antonio Museum Association is only the image; the two copies at Yale are the complete letterhead....

Trained artists who produced pre-Civil War lithographs of Texas were usually immigrants who settled in San Antonio or among the German and French villages in the Hill Country. Wilhelm C. A. Thielepape, a trained surveyor and recent immigrant with no printing experience, pulled the first lithograph from a Texas press in 1855. It was a crude map of San Antonio. He printed at least two other images, one a caricature of Sam Houston and the other a view of the San Antonio plaza, before finally abandoning the badly worn lithographic equipment and closing his shop....

The first lithographs that can be documented as having been made in Texas appeared in San Antonio, the result of efforts by Adolf Douai, the editor of the San Antonio Zeitung, J. Martin Reidner, his partner, and Wilhelm C. A. Thielepape. After Thielepape exhibited a lithographic map of San Antonio and several smaller works at the fall, 1855, Agricultural Exhibition of Bexar County, Douai published an account of their endeavor:

One must know about the history of the beginning of the local lithographic establishment in order to value the achievements and merit of Mr. Thielepape. The establishment was founded by Douai & Riedner, by which the latter deluded his partner into thinking that he completely understood the lithographic process and was able to prepare by himself or with the help of a draftsman all the work orders needed in San Antonio. We gave up the rest of our small savings to this project and warned him that by our unfamiliarity with lithography he took upon himself the responsibility of our ruin and that of our families. He brought a lithographic press from New Orleans and soon it became apparent that he understood very little about lithography.... Then several weeks later it also became apparent that all of the material that he had bought was more or less unusable. Meanwhile Mr. Thielepape had come into partnership with us, but he originally knew nothing about lithography, but was instead a capable architect and surveyor. After months of study, numerous attempts (with the advice of a man who only understood how to draw on the stones) and with great effort and at considerable expense, he discovered the problems with the press and with the materials and improved them so well as to allow for the modest means available in San Antonio for orders. He practically re-invented the art of lithography, and was able to develop it to the point that now, six months after he started, he produces capable work in this field. Truly, only a German could do this, and for that reason, we find it just and reasonable that he did not receive a prize at a native exhibition. Then is there nowhere in America a suitable place for this man?

He advertised his “letter paper with the lithographed view of the Main Plaza,” an image that became popular as other artists copied it, in December. It shows the west side of the Main Plaza with the Church of San Fernando (constructed from 1738 to 1749) in the center. From left to right are the Cassiano house, the Bustillo-Garcia property (which, in the early 1840s, was a fandango house), Galan Street, the cathedral, Trevino Street, and the José Erasmo Seguin residence, which by the time Thielepape made the print was an auction house. A two-wheeled Mexican cart is shown at the left while a horse-drawn coach rattles through the plaza. This scene probably served as a model for the lettersheet that Erhard Pentenrieder produced a year or so later, and that Hermann Lungkwitz used as a vignette in his San Antonio lithograph published about 1867.


Sold. Hammer: $3,000.00; Price Realized: $3,525.00

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