Alexander Anderson has long been considered the father of wood engraving in
America, being the first in this country to adopt the technique developed in
England by Thomas Bewick. Wood engraving produces a finer image than the
standard woodcut by working on the denser end-grain section of the wood.
Anderson acknowledged his debt to Bewick in 1804 by creating an American edition
of Bewick's A General History of Quadrupeds (1790) with his own
re-engraved blocks, adding "some American animals not hitherto described."
Anderson's connections to Columbia are many. He received an M.D. from
Columbia's College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1796, engraved Columbia's
commencement ticket in 1794, and a bookplate for the College Library. As noted
in his diary, he began sketching the design for the bookplate on March 14, 1795,
delivered the finished work to President Johnson on March 25th, and
was, after some effort on his part, paid £2, 8s on May 7th.
Columbia's daguerreotype portrait of Anderson is one of two likenesses
"taken in duplicate" in New York by photographer John Plumbe no later than 1847,
when Plumbe went bankrupt. Anderson continued to produce wood engravings until
at least 1868, two years before his death at the age of 94. Also on display is
an early wood engraving by Anderson, depicting a summer, garden-house scene, and
signed "AA" in the lower left of the block. It was published in A Memorial of
Alexander Anderson, M.D., New York, 1872.