winfred porter truesdell portrait drawn by

Winfred Porter Truesdell:
Champlain’s International Art Publisher

by David Patrick

    Winfred Porter Truesdell was an internationally known art publis
hewinfred porter truesdell portrait in 1921r who lived in the Village of Champlain, New York.  He amassed a collection of thousands of bookplates, lithographs and photographs and published many books related to printing between the years 1903 and 1933.  His best-known publication was an art magazine called “The Print Connoisseur” which he printed between 1920 and 1932.  Truesdell started printing near Boston but moved to New York City and then to Champlain, New York, where he lived for 18 years.  It is likely that many people today have never heard of Truesdell.  He is certainly Champlain’s unknown art publisher.  
    Truesdell was an art connoisseur at an early age.  By 1901, at the age of 24, his passion was collecting printed bookplates.  His first wife Amy also had an interest in bookplates and designed some herself.

    What is a "bookplate?"  It is essentially a printed label that the owner of a book would use to indicate to others, especially if the book was loaned, who the book belonged to.  Instead of writing the name of the owner in the book, book owners could easily paste a printed label in the book with their name on it.  The bookplate evolved over time to encompass elaborate, custom designs that were made by engraving copper or zinc plates similar to that of lithograph prints.  A number of noted engravers created bookplates for people who could afford one. 

    Truesdell lived near Boston where many bookplate artists and collectors lived.  He contributed articles to national and international magazines devoted to bookplate collecting.  Between the years 1902 and 1908, he is mentioned numerous times in the periodical "Journal of the Ex Libris Society" which was published in England (“ex libris” is Latin for “bookplate”).  The editor noted the high quality of his 5,000-piece collection.

    Around 1903, Truesdell purchased a printing press and called his publishing business the “Troutsdale Press.”  Between 1903 and 1907, he published 12 booklets that showcased the work of various bookplate artists.  After 1907, Truesdell's interests in bookplates appears to have waned.  He was now interested in a similar field: engraving and lithography. 

    During the 1910’s Truesdell focused his work on American and European engravers who made beautiful lithograph prints.  Publishing at the time relied on artist-engravers to reproduce portraits, paintings, drawings and historic scenes in astonishing detail using engraved copper plates, etched zinc plates, blocks of wood or even carved linoleum.  The engraved plates were used in a printing press for mass production of the image.  Some artists printed in color using the aquatint or mezzotint methods.  Over the next 30 years, Truesdell collected over 9,000 lithograph prints, some of them in color.  He bought many prints on three European vacations in the early 1920s.  His New York City studio partner was Englishman Frederick Reynolds who was a famous mezzotint printer of fine prints. 

“The Print Connoisseur” Magazine
    Starting in October of 1920, Truesdell printed a quarterly magazine called “The Print Connoisseur” which was devoted to articles related to engravings and engravers, print makers and artists.  The magazine ran from 1920 to 1932 and comprised 46 issues.
    Truesdell’s Print Connoisseur magazine usually had four or five articles written by guest writers.  Truesdell sometimes wrote one or two articles himself for an issue. The magazine included high quality prints made from engravings or wood cuts.  Most magazine covers were printed in black and white but some were printed in color.  Truesdell supported his magazine through subscriptions and ads.
    Truesdell’s studio was originally in New York City when he started printing The Print Connoisseur in 1920.  In 1922 and 1923, he had the Clinton Press in Plattsburgh print the magazine while he was in the process of moving to Champlain or traveling in Europe.  Between 1924 and 1926 Hugh McLellan of Champlain used his newly established Moorsfield Press to print the magazine.  Afterwards, Truesdell printed them himself.

Truesdell’s Book Publishing (1924-1933)
    In 1924, Truesdell published his first large book on the work of artist and engraver Charles Meryon which was written by Loys Delteil (who also contributed articles to his magazine).  Other books followed for the work of engravers Henry Wolf (1927) and Gustav Kruell (1929), both books written by Ralph Clifton Smith. 

    Truesdell was considered an authority on George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War and often gave talks on these subjects.  In 1926 and 1927, he published several important books related to the lithographs of Col. Elmer E. Ellsworth, the first northern soldier killed in the Civil War.  Truesdell’s Ellsworth books were an expansion of the articles printed in his Print Connoisseur magazine in April and July of 1926.  

    Truesdell spent many years collecting Abraham Lincoln lithographs.  In 1916, he planned to publish all of the portraits and engravings of Abraham Lincoln.  He was in discussions with Frederick Hill Meserve (1865-1962) to use prints of Meserve’s Lincoln photographs for his upcoming book.  In 1911, Meserve had published his authoritative book on all of the Lincoln photographs known to exist.  Truesdell wanted to print a similar book and Meserve offered him 112 prints from his exclusive negatives.  Four years later, in 1920, Truesdell printed an announcement for the upcoming book but it wouldn't be until 1933 before he printed Volume 2 of the planned four-volume series.  Truesdell died before printing the other three volumes.

The McLellan Lincoln Collection
    In 1918, Hugh McLellan semi-retired from the architectural business in N.Y.C. and moved back to Champlain to settle his father’s estate.  His father, Charles Woodberry McLellan, had been a friend of Abraham Lincoln and Robert Todd Lincoln from 1856 to 1860 in Springfield, Illinois, and continued his friendship with Robert up to his death.  At the end of his life, Charles was one of the top five Lincoln collectors in the country (known as one of the “Big Five.”)  His Lincoln collection was stored in a large, fire proof vault in the McLellan cottage and contained many letters written by Lincoln from 1838 to 1865. The most important letter he owned was a reply by Lincoln to the Thomas Jefferson Day Dinner celebration in Boston in 1858.  Lincoln was unable to attend, but his letter, really a speech, was read at the dinner and is said to have helped him win the East.  Hugh McLellan printed the letter in 1923 with his Moorsfield Press for Commencement weekend at Brown University. 

    Truesdell was interested in McLellan's Lincoln collection and visited Champlain several times to see it.  Over the next five years, he helped McLellan catalog the collection, arranged meetings with buyers and auction houses in N.Y.C. and kept abreast of similar auctions from the other “Big Five.”  He also used some of McLellan’s material for his upcoming Lincoln books.

    After negotiating with various agents and collectors, Hugh and his brother Malcolm sold their father’s collection to John D. Rockefeller, Jr. in 1923 for $43,500 (worth over $648,000 today).  Rockefeller, in turn, donated it to Brown University where it is known today as the “Charles Woodberry McLellan Lincoln Collection.” 

The Moorsfield Press
    When Hugh McLellan founded the Moorsfield Press in 1919, he had a basic knowledge of printing from his days at college printing envelopes.  Truesdell had 16 years of experience working with a printing press and was also an experienced publisher.  He was instrumental in helping McLellan establish his press and quickly became his mentor.  McLellan’s first publication in 1919 acknowledged Truesdell’s assistance: “The kindly advice of Mr. Winfred Porter Truesdell in the typography of this brochure, and his assistance and encouragement, are gratefully acknowledged.” 

  Starting in the early 1920s, Truesdell went to Europe three times in search of art and to sell ads for his magazine.  He asked McLellan to help with the production of his magazine which was now being printed by the Clinton Press in Plattsburgh.  He needed McLellan to manage his affairs, pay bills, handle printing problems and correspond with authors.  McLellan found his hands full handling Truesdell’s magazine printing and overdue bills.  This left little time for his own printing business. 

Truesdell Moves to Champlain
     In 1922, Hugh McLellan suggested to Truesdell that he move to Champlain and establish his own press.  Truesdell quickly realized that it would be cheaper to live in Champlain than in New York City.  He knew that he did not have to pay rent for an apartment or office space as he was using the same space as McLellan's press.   He spent the next year moving his printing equipment and was permanently in Champlain by Christmas of 1923.  He stayed in an empty house that McLellan owned. 

     Between 1924 and 1927, Truesdell printed the
Print Connoissmoorsfield press prints the print
                          connoisseur magazine by winfred porter
                          truesdelleur at the Moorsfield Press with the help of Hugh McLellan.  These editions show the unique style of the Caslon old-style font.  It is the same font that McLellan would use when he issued his own historical magazine called the “Moorsfield Antiquarian” in 1937 and 1938 as well as many historical pamphlets.

Truesdell’s Life, Education and Marriage
    Winfred Porter Truesdell was born on November 13, 1877, in Lynn, Massachusetts.  According to Woody McLellan, who was the son of Hugh, Truesdell “was a self-educated man, never having obtained a formal high school education, yet he spoke French and Spanish fluently and became popular as an after-dinner speaker.”  He also described him as a “remarkably brilliant man.”  Woody knew Truesdell since the early 1920s and worked with him at the press as a teenager.

    After Truesdell moved to Champlain, he met school teacher Edythe Gettys.  They married in August of 1924 and lived on Oak St. in Champlain.  On May 27, 1939, Truesdell died at his house of a heart attack after being ill for a year.  He was buried in the Glenwood Cemetery in Champlain. 

    After Truesdell died, his wife Edythe never moved his books or his printing press. Hugh McLellan noted that the work he put into preparing his four Lincoln volumes was wasted as only one volume was printed (McLellan thought that a second volume might have been printed or was in the process of being printed).

   In March of 1942, Dr. Louis A. Warren, Director of the Lincoln National Life Foundation, visited Champlain and met Hugh McLellan and Edythe Truesdell.  He purchased Truesdell's Lincoln and Civil War collection for the foundation.  A short note was printed in the foundation's Lincoln Lore newsletter (September 20, 1943) about the purchase.  This edition also noted other Lincoln collections that were purchased over the years:

Winifred [sic] P. Truesdell, Champaign [sic], N. Y.
    Winifred Porter Truesdell was one of America's leading picture experts and editor of The Print Connoisseur. His ambitious undertaking to make available in four printed volumes a compilation of all known Lincoln prints was never fully realized. One volume, however, was completed and data for a second compiled before he passed away. Aside from his collection of pictures which has greatly enriched the illustrative material in the Foundation, his library of Lincoln books and pamphlets have contributed much to the reference value of the Foundation's Lincolniana.
    When Edythe Truesdell died in 1970, several heirs settled her estate and disposed of Truesdell's art collection, books, printing press and house.  Most of his bookplates, magazines, lithographs and photographs were donated to Special Collections, Feinberg Library at SUNY-Plattsburgh by the Fall of 1971 and encompassed approximately 9,381 items.  General art books were placed in the main collection.  Today, the collection of lithographs and photographs have been indexed and are available for researchers.

A Side-Note

  In 1945, Hugh McLellan was one of the founding members of the Clinton County Historical Association as well as President.  His son Woody published the North Country Notes newsletter using the Moorsfield Press starting in 1960. 

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