Pencil Sketches of Colorado : its Cities, Principal Towns and Mountain Scenery by A. E. Mathews


Date: 1866



Late in 1865, Mathews arrived in Denver, Colorado, and almost immediately embarked on an ambitious project to produce a uniform series of views of Denver and the major mining communities in the Colorado Rockies.

In March 1866, he distributed the first four prints: a general view of Denver and three street scenes of the city. Four others arrived several weeks later from his New York City printer, Julius Bien. All of these must have been sold as separate prints, but in October they and others became available in bound form with twelve pages of text describing the thirty-six lithographs.

Mathews drew with almost mechanical regularity, and in examining his work one is always aware of looking at lines on paper rather than at the scene itself. Nevertheless, although far from great as art, the views provide valuable documentation of the appearance of Colorado communities less than a decade after they sprang into existence following the first gold discoveries in 1859.

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The most important, from a pictorial standpoint, of the artists who made the Western journey after the close of the Civil War was Alfred E. Mathews. This pictorial record of Colorado is an important historical document. The wealth of detail in his city and street views is invaluable to the social historian. Dress, transportation (in one of the lithographs, there can be counted seven or eight types of wheeled vehicles), the miscellany of everyday street life, and the methods, equipment and detail of Colorado mining, are all faithfully recorded, or as faithfully as Mathews could for he made a fetish of validity in his pictures.

Pencil Sketches of Colorado sold originally for $30 a copy, but it has become one of the scarcest items of Western Americana" (Taft, Artists and Illustrators of the Old West, 1850-1900, pages 72-78). These views are celebrated for their documentary accuracy-apparently contemporary viewers could identify in the street views the rigs of various townspeople. (Streeter). This marvelous series is of the highest historical importance, delineating accurately, as it does, the pioneer life, conditions and scenes of a vast and then unsettled region" (Eberstadt)

First edition. Oblong folio. Thirty-six views on twenty-three hand-finished, tinted lithographed plates printed by Julius Bien (who produced the second folio edition of Audubon's Birds of America). Sixteen plates are full-page, four plates have two views each, and three plates have four views each. The frontispiece is hand-colored. The lithographs are followed by twelve pages of text, which describe briefly the subject of each of the thirty-six lithographs with some additional background material.

Mathews writes in the preface: "The author herewith offers to the public a collection of lithographed sketches of Colorado, embracing its Cities, and most of its Principal Towns together with some of the beautiful Mountain Scenery which abounds in this incomparable territory. [My aim is] to represent that portion of the country to which interest is attached on account of the rich gold and silver mines; and, if possible, to give non-residents an idea of the beauty and grandeur of the natural scenery in the mountains, which will compare favorably, in this respect, with any in the world."


Bennett, page 72; Eberstadt 106:208; Graff 2709; Howes M-413 ("c"); Streeter 2171.

Reps, Views and Viewmakers of Urban America 482 (1985), pages 190-191

Publisher: New York: A.E. Mathews




Newberry Library

ISBN-10: N/A

Date Added: 2019-04-07

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