The Institute’s print holdings provide a thorough visual record of the era of the American Revolution as it was seen by its contemporaries and commemorated by subsequent generations. The collection is particularly strong in political cartoons and caricatures, which provide sharp commentary on the international politics and policies that shaped the period from the Seven Years’ War through the Treaty of Paris in 1783.

The collection includes contemporary views of important places and events on both sides of the Atlantic. Printed depictions of battles, on land and at sea, found a ready market among a public eagerly following the news of the war. Preparations to defend the British homeland against invasion in the late 1770s generated an outpouring of prints reflecting the pride and fears of the nation. In America, the public’s first glimpse of the events of the war often came from simple woodcut engravings circulated in printed periodicals.

The collection also features portraits of the leading military and political figures of the revolutionary era. George Washington is especially well represented with more than three hundred portraits, from the earliest fictitious images that circulated at the beginning of the Revolution through the mass-produced prints of the nineteenth century that immortalized America’s first and greatest hero. The highlight of the collection is Charles Willson Peale’s 1778 mezzotint portrait of Washington, the first authentic likeness of him to appear in print.

By the 1840s, photography offered new ways to produce images of the aging Revolutionary generation. The daguerreotype, a silver-plated sheet of copper onto which an image was exposed, was the most popular format until about 1860. In addition to capturing a living person’s likeness, early photography also provided families with a way to preserve and share images of painted portraits of their ancestors. The collections include several daguerreotype portraits of Revolutionary War veterans, whether taken from life or from paintings. During the era of the Civil War, photographic prints of the last surviving Revolutionaries were published and sold to the public as a reminder of the sacrifices of the generation that had secured American independence.