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Thomas Sinclair

 (1805 - 1881)
Thomas S. Sinclair was active/lived in Pennsylvania.  Thomas Sinclair is known for lithography-chromolithography.

Thomas Sinclair

Biography from the Archives of askART

Thomas Sinclair, born in 1807 in the Orkney Islands (Northern Scotland), was one of the premier Philadelphia lithographers of the 19th-century, particularly in the field of chromolithography. Trained in lithography in Edinburgh, Sinclair immigrated to the United States ca. 1830 and worked in New York and Philadelphia where he and his wife Magdalena (b. ca. 1808) had nine of their ten children as noted in the 1850 census.

Settling in Philadelphia in 1839, he worked at the lithographic shop of John Collins (79 South Third Street) before assuming the establishment in 1840. A practical lithographer throughout his career, Sinclair produced all genres of lithographs including maps, advertisements, city and landscape views, sheet music covers, portraiture, political cartoons, certificates, and book illustrations. During the 1840s, fashion advertisements for S. A. and A. F. Ward proved a steady commission.

By the end of the 1840s, he started to experiment in color printing along with his premier rivals P. S. Duval and Wagner & McGuigan and won first and second premiums, respectively for this work, at the 1848 and 1849 Franklin Institute Exhibitions of American Manufactures.

During the early 1850s, his professional success continued with a relocation of his shop to 101, i.e., 311 Chestnut Street (Public Ledger Building) in 1850; another first premium for chromolithography at the Franklin Institute Exhibition of American Manufactures in 1851; and an 1852 a Public Ledger article describing a Masonic lodge certificate printed by him as bringing the "Lithographic Art to great perfection in this country."

Shortly thereafter, his son William (b. ca. 1828) joined the firm and the establishment operated as Thomas Sinclair & Co. 1854-1859. During this time, Alphonse Bigot delineated their noted chromolithographed advertisement depicting the inventor of lithography, Alois Senefelder, in his study.

In addition to chromolithography, Sinclair became particularly well-regarded for his illustrative work and received several commissions for illustrations for government, scientific and medical publications throughout the mid 19th century. He also was one of the more prolific Philadelphia lithographers of sheet music covers, including several depicting the built environment of Philadelphia such as The Continental Schottisch (1860) as well as worked with several respected lithographers, including Bigot, Francis Schell, and John T. French.

During the 1860s, Sinclair continued as one of the premier Philadelphia lithographic firms. He chromolithographed three prominent views after James Queen of the Union Volunteer Refreshment Saloon of Philadelphia (1861-1863) as well as the impressive American Autumn, Starucca Valley delineated by William Dreser after James Cropsey (1865). His success during the decade also allowed him to employ a servant in 1860 and 1870 (his personal estate valued at $10,000, $20,000 respectively); be taxed for income, a watch, and piano (1863-1866); make donations to the Sanitary Fair in 1864; and relocate to 506-508 North Street in 1868. However, by the end of the 1860s he also faced a legal dispute with artist Edward Sintzenich over the copyright of the 1865 chromolithograph, Lake George, and a judgment against him for near $20,000 owed to Charles Magarge & Co.

Consequently, in 1870, Sinclair admitted his son John C. (b. ca. 1840-1911), trained as a lawyer and known for his business acumen, into the partnership and the firm regained a favorable credit rating throughout the decade despite a fire causing $10,000 worth of property damage the same year. In 1872, the firm experimented with photo zincography and around 1873, the renamed T. Sinclair & Son announced the expansion of the facility of their business "Established 1840" through their trade card that promoted "Our house is one of the oldest in the country and is now the largest and most complete exclusively lithographic concern in the state." By 1877, credit reports noted the firm as doing a "fair trade" and by 1880 having "about all the orders they can fill" as well as that they owned their stones (including one purported at $20,000), presses, and steam engine with an estimated value of $30,000. By 1881, the year Sinclair died, the firm "stood well" and "enjoy[ed] the confidence of the trade."

Sinclair died on September 17, 1881 with an estate worth $30,000 and his business left to be managed by his son John C. By 1884, the estimated worth of the firm had increased to $100,000 with an excellent credit rating. In 1888, the firm was sold to Geo. S. Harris & Sons. Evidence suggests John C. relocated to Idaho to operate a mine and later practiced law.

Although Sinclair resided in Center City (27 Blackberry Alley, 319 South Fifth Street) with his family during the 1840s, Southwark served as their neighborhood from 1850 through the 1870s. From about 1853 to 1874, the family lived at 311 and 313 Carpenter Street, and then 920 Clinton Street until ca. 1880. During Sinclair's final years, he resided at 1834 Green Street and 617 North Fifteenth Street by the time of his death.

Sinclair was also a member of the St. Andrew's Society from 1840, including serving as treasurer in the early 1860s. He also served on the committee to celebrate the Senefelder Centenary in 1871 that was cancelled when the funds were redirected to the victims of the Great Fire of Chicago.

Submitted by M.D. Silverbrooke

"Thomas Sinclair-Philadelphia on Stone Biographical Dictionary of Lithographers," ImPAC: The Library Company of Philadelphia Digital Collections, Accessed 5/2015

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About  Thomas Sinclair

Born:  1805 - Orkney Islands, Scotland
Died:   1881 - Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Known for:  lithography-chromolithography

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Thomas Sinclair