Working at the Maryland Historical Society, you get to see some pretty amazing things on a daily basis. From Francis Scott Key’s original draft of the Star Spangled Banner, early copies of the Declaration of Independence, and some of the first daguerreotypes of Baltimore harbor, to more recent gems like Eubie Blake’s collection of sheet music and the photographs of A. Aubrey Bodine. One of my personal favorites is an enormous nineteenth-century work of artistic and cartographic achievement: E. Sachse & Co’s Bird’s Eye View of Baltimore.
Measuring 10 ½ feet by 5 feet and produced in 12 sections, the Bird’s Eye View of Baltimore, printed by the lithographic firm of E. Sachse and Company in 1869, is probably the “largest panoramic view of an American city ever published.”(1) The map is reputed to show every house, church, business, and park—many in fine detail—in Baltimore, which in 1869 was bound to the north by Northern Avenue (today North Avenue), Canton to the east, Gwynns Run to the west, and the Middle Branch of the Patapsco River to the south.
Little is known about the founder of the company, German-born immigrant Edward Sachse. Born in Gorlitz, Germany in 1804, Edward Sachse arrived in the United States sometime around 1848. Already an established printer in his native country, he quickly found employment with lithographer E. Weber & Company. Within two years of arriving in Baltimore he opened E. Sachse and Company, at 3 N. Liberty Street in the recently completed Sun Iron Building. Joined by his brother Theodore, Edward soon established the company as one of the leading lithographic firms in the nation.
E. Sachse & Co., along with its main competitor A. Hoen Company, created most of the major prints that form a pictorial document of Baltimore and Maryland in the mid-to-late nineteenth century. The company produced all manner of printed materials: “labels, show and business cards, maps, bills, visiting cards, drawings of steamboats and machinery, portraits, landscapes, and ‘drawings taken from Nature or Daguerreotypes, executed like steel engravings.’” (2) The firm was particularly renowned for its color lithography, with many of the iconic prints of Baltimore, such as View of Baltimore City, emerging from its offices.
Edward Sachse apparently drew the majority of the prints published by his company. Some of the most famous that emerged from his hand were a series of views of Civil War era military campsites, barracks, and hospitals in Baltimore and Washington, DC. With an entrepreneur’s eye, Sachse sold them cheaply for 25 cents a piece, primarily to soldiers as souvenirs. He often produced multiple versions of the same encampment as new regiments moved in and the tents, fortifications, and scenery were altered. The prints proved extremely popular—soldiers would mail the prints to their families back home with messages such as “X marks my tent” inscribed on them.(3)
A year after the Civil War ended Sachse began work on the Bird’s Eye View of Baltimore, his most ambitious project and one that would eventually take more than three years to complete. Sachse had produced earlier bird’s eye perspectives prior to this, including prints of Annapolis, Ellicott’s Mills, and one of Baltimore in 1858, but the huge lithograph produced in 1869 was unprecedented in detail and scope.
The level of work and craftsmanship that went into the creation of the print that documents a city of thousands of buildings, depicted from thousands of feet in the air, apparently without the use of hot air balloons—the only means of flight then available—was monumental. The first steps involved creating a plan of the streets laid out in perspective. Four artists were then hired, sent out into the city, and over the next three years created detailed sketches of every building, park, square, bridge, church, brewery and business. The drawings were then transferred to lithography stones and printed in 12 sections. Aside from being a work of art in itself the real historic value of the lithograph lies in its accurate and detailed renderings of buildings, that in many cases, are the only existing representations of these now long gone structures.
Unfortunately for Sachse his masterpiece turned out to be a financial disaster. The map was offered to subscribers at a cost of $15, a fairly substantial sum in 1869 (equivalent to about $258 in 2014), and it appears that few were sold. Today less than ten copies are known to exist. Some sources say that the commercial failure of Sachse’s three year long venture forced the company into bankruptcy, but the firm remained in business, under various names, for another two decades. Edward Sachse died in 1873, leaving his brother and other family members to run the company until 1893, when the name of Sachse Lithog & Sign Co. appeared for the last time in the Baltimore City Directory.
If you’d like to see the Bird’s Eye View of Baltimore for yourself, and perhaps catch a glimpse of your own house from 1869, please pay us a visit. A full-size reproduction of Sachse’s Bird’s Eye View of Baltimore is currently on display in our museum. (Damon Talbot)
(1) Jones, Carleton, “Surveying Old Baltimore’s Prints, Drawings and Maps” The Baltimore Sun, September 21, 1980.
(2) McCauley, Lois B., Maryland Historical Prints, 1752-1889 (Baltimore: Maryland Historical Society, 1975), 233.
(3) Wharton, Carol, “He knew Baltimore-who knows him?” The Baltimore Sun, February 11, 1951.
Sources and further reading:
Wharton, Carol, “He knew Baltimore-who knows him?” The Baltimore Sun, February 11, 1951.
“Bird’s Eye View of Baltimore to be on Special Display” The Baltimore Sun, September 23, 1971.
Copinger, May Irene, “A Pictorial History of Baltimore” The Baltimore Sun, November 5, 1933.
Jones, Carleton, “Surveying Old Baltimore’s Prints, Drawings and Maps” The Baltimore Sun, September 21, 1980.
“A Lithographer’s Master Work, Showing Every Building in the City – Edward Sachse’s Amazing 1869 Map of Baltimore” The Baltimore Sun, April 3, 1960.
McCauley, Lois B., Maryland Historical Prints, 1752-1889 (Baltimore: Maryland Historical Society, 1975)
Rice, Laura, Maryland History in Prints, 1743-1900 (Baltimore: Maryland Historical Society, 2002) p173 349-350, 287