Augustus Day Rare Silhouette Artist

As with most silhouettists of the time, not much is known about Augustus Day. The most recent entry that I found was from the monumental work by Sue McKechnie (see article below on "two silhouette books that are must haves") written in 1978, but her entry is almost all, word for word, taken directly from another great work on the subject by Carrick! It seems odd that McKechnie mentions that Augustus Day only worked regionally at Philadelphia and its surrounding areas, as her "bibliography" cites a work by Croce/Wallace The New York Historical Society's Dictionary of Artists in America, 1564-1860." Croce/Wallace clearly state that Augustus Day worked in Charleston, South Carolina, as well. They reference this particular source to another work, Artists in the Life of Charleston by Anna Wells Rutledge, 1949. Rutledge confirms her entry by citing two contemporary newspaper ads. One is dated Jan. 23, 1804 from the Times and the second dated Jan. 25, 1804 from the Courier. Both ads mention of a physiognotrace machine for taking profiles, at 25 cents each.

So, all said and done, there seems to be no new information regarding Augustus Day. Augustus was a carver, a gilder, a looking glass maker, and a painter. As a silhouettist working with an use of a pantograph (hollow-cut method), his career as a hollow-cutter probably lasted only between 1803-1812. Most of his known works are those that are either fully painted, as a portrait artist using colors (ca.1830), or a combination of black painted bust with hollow-cut facial features. Of course, with any other artists, there exist some transitional patterns (ca.1810-1830) not belonging to either of the above categories; yet, some similarities in relations to each other may be observed.

A good example of such a transitional portrait was offered by Cowan's Auctions of Cincinnati, Ohio (see photo below). The description offered by the auction house was as follows: "paper cut silhouette by Day, possibly Augustus Day, no dates given but working in the Philadelphia area as early as 1804, still listed in directories as late as 1833. Painted portrait of woman in lace bonnet with fine eglomise mat/cover glass in original gilt frame, ink singed below day fecit, price realized: $258.75."

Although this work is clearly post-1804, as he signs this work with "Day fecit," it is a very early portrait utilizing a hollow-cutting with painted bust. From the attire worn by the lady and the frame used, it is no later than 1815. As can be seen from the photo, the frame is a real dandy! It looks to be gilted wood, but the texture seems to indicate either a type of sandblast technique on wood base or applying a base coat on wood with sandy texture, and then gold-leafed. Reverse painted glass also provides a striking contrast against the gold frame. This was likely made by Augustus himself. It is difficult to believe that this fine work only realized $250+, basically just a price of this fine frame! Portraits of old women are not what we would like to have hanging on our walls, but even then, this fine framed image should have realized at least $500 wholesale with retail price of perhaps $750.

Another fine piece was offered by the same auction company (see photo).It was described as, "fine miniature portrait by Day, watercolor on paper, signed in the lower right Day fecit, possibly for Augustus Day (Philadelphia, early 19th century) or Charles William Day (Boston, mid-19th century). Bust-length profile portrait of a stern gentleman. American, first half of the 19th century. In its original mahogany-veneered frame with eglomise' glass bearing the initials fs; 4" x 3" (w/o frame), 10" x 7.5" (w/frame).”The auctioneer made a pair of "safe" attributions here, by mentioning a transit English artist, who just happens to be in Boston around 1844, also named "Day." The attire worn by the subject, most likely a four- button double-breasted jacket, and the hair, which has been parted from the side, is clearly c.1840. So which "Day" is it? We do not know how Charles William Day signed his works but we do know how “our” Day signed his. We are also familiar with "bust tips" and this bust termination closely resemble that of his other works. Then, there is a fine framed reverse painted glass, no doubt made by Augustus himself. Although this profile is a side view, it is not considered a silhouette. It is a miniature portrait. This particular example is listed here as a point of reference only. Bidders liked this work as it realized $2300!

Although Augustus Day's painted profiles are not particularly rare, they are quite difficult to procure. The rare ones are his earlier works embossed with his blindstamp, "DAY'S PATENT." This particular "patent" likely referred to his profile cutting machine (see another article on embossing dies). All cutters, during the period of 1803-1810, advertised that their patented machine was the best and quite different from the ones advertised elsewhere, but in reality all were nothing more than a simple tracing device attached to a pantograph.

The photos of a young lady are from my collection. This is a fully cut profile with embossed "DAY'S PATENT." Carrick knew of only two examples, both belonging to one Mrs. Hampton Carson, and called them "very rare." When I purchased this silhouette, it came to me unframed. I have since placed it in a period gesso frame with gold leaf. There are numerous repairs of the paper with a chink missing to the left of her forehead. This has been backed with paper and sewn. This is a very old repair. There is an old inscription in ink above the head, "Miriam Coye Wil(son)." The Mormon site “” does show a "Miriam Wilson" born c.1805 in Connecticut, who married one "Henry Coy." Since the silhouette was cut c.1805, the inscriber surely must have been mistaken when inked the name. In all probability, the silhouette is a mother of Miriam Wilson.


William Bache Scrapbook

William Bache Scrapbook Mystery

Carrick mentions a scrapbook owned by one Mrs. Converse, a descendant of Bache. This is a huge portfolio containing almost 2000 images. A photo of the illustrations from Carrick is attached here for your inspection. This is what Carrick says about the content.

It is somewhat surprising to collectors who have thought of William Bache's silhouette work as almost entirely hollow-cut to find that the scrapbook is composed chiefly of the cut-and-pasted type; nineteen hundred and thirty six, to be exact. There are, besides, nineteen painted, nine hollow-cut, and one "hole in the doughnut."

I wondered what ever happened to this scrapbook till I found this little information.From the National Portrait Gallery comes the following:
William Bache, Bache scrapbook of 1846 silhouettes, ca. 1805–10, cut paper silhouettes. Partial gift of Sara Bache Bloise in memory of Dr. William Bache.
So it seems the descendant of Mrs. Converse donated most of it or all of it, minus some that were given out, sold or retained. I wish Sara contacted me before making that donation to the Smithsonian. Now, the collection will just sit there in a box somewhere in the basement of the capitol.

Don't get me wrong. I am not saying that you or I should have the possession of this collection. It should have been cataloged and photographed for present and future lovers of antique silhouettes. Now the collection is inaccessible. If I am not mistaken, Carrick's collection, also, went ot the Smithsonian. It is probably just sitting there next to Bache scrapbook. She left us a nice book on the subject, still the only one, but her collection should have been cataloged before she donated it. If anyone else is thinking of donating collections, at least let me catalog them first before they end up in a dark box, likely never to be seen again.

As for the "style" of Bache, we can never know his complete bust styles now. I, personally, do not recall ever having seen a cut-and-paste Bache except fot those illustrations in Carrick. A few of those, I can say, are definitely Bache, having studied a particular bust style of his, but the rest seem to lose attributable characteristics, at least for me. Cut-and-paste silhouettes are not common here. Aside from Honeywell, Hubard, Hankes, Brown and Edouart, I can not mention any more; and, Brown and Edouart are mostly full length silhouettes. Oh well...