The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
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System Number: 11723
Date: 15 February [1896][1]
Author: John Ross Key[2]
Place: Chicago
Recipient: Charles Lang Freer[3]
Place: Detroit
Repository: Freer Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Call Number: FGA Whistler 289
Credit Line: Charles Lang Freer Papers, Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.: Gift of the Estate of Charles Lang Freer
Document Type: ALS

357 Ontario
Chicago M.

Feb. 15th '[1896]'

Mr C. L. Freer

Dear Sir

I have had in my possession for a long time the copper plate etching[4] of J. M. Whistlers his first work made in 1855 then in the U. S. Cadet Survey office Washington City

Hearing you were interested in such matters I thought I would write regarding the matter and would esteem it a favor if you would give me your advise [sic] regarding its worth [p. 2] Would it be best to dispose of the plate or should I have a small number of copies impressions made for those who would like this interesting addition to their collection of rare prints. I send here - with an impression of the plate. I have never had more than 25 or 30 taken and the plate has never been out of my possession. I sent a few copies some years ago to S. P. Avery[5] - N. Y. (3 or 4) who was much interested in the matter [p. 3] and when in London asked Whistler regarding it, and he remember[ed] the circumstances which were as follows -

Whistler and I were werein the office at that time and I have several of his pen sketches of the same period - The officials of the Drawing Dept thought he might excell [sic] as an etcher and gave him this plate to etch the coast view usually printed on their Charts.

While engaged at this work he exercise[d] his skill & fancy by the work on the several heads and [p. 4] bit them in at the same time he developed the coast views. Some time after he left the office which was shortly after the plate was finished I desired to try an etching and made application, for a piece of Copper - I was given this plate at the usual piece per inch and told I could have that cleaned off. I always admired his work and having watched him develop this plate it was of so much interest to me that I have kept it since that time - 1855 - Kindly let me know your estimate of its value. If you can guide me to any success I shall be happy to share a just portion of the profits with you -

With Sincere regards truly yours

John R. Key

This document is protected by copyright.



Mr C. L. Freer
c/ Pennisular [sic] Car Works -
[stamp:] [illegible]
[postmark:] CHICAGO [M?] / FEB1[?] / 930 PM / 96
[postmark:] DETROIT [M?] / FEB17 / 9 A M / 96 / [illegible]


1.  15 February [1896]
Year dated from the postmark.

2.  John Ross Key
John Ross Key (1837-1920), a colleague of JW at the U. S. Coast Survey Office in Washington DC [more].

3.  Charles Lang Freer
Charles Lang Freer (1856-1919), industrialist, collector and founder of the Freer Gallery of Art [more].

4.  etching
Sketches on the Coast Survey Plate (K.1). The copper plate was acquired by Freer and is in the Freer Gallery of Art (Acq. no. 13.92).

5.  S. P. Avery
Samuel Putnam Avery (1822-1904), print-publisher, collector and philanthropist [more].