Bachmann, John. “Panorama of New York and Vicinity.” New York: John Bachmann, 1866. Large chromolithograph, measuring 25 x 37 inches. A rare, panoramic bird’s eye view of New York City and vicinity, by renowned aerial view artist John Bachmann. Unusual view looking east over Manhattan, with Brooklyn in the background and baseball games depicted in the foreground in the area of Hoboken, New Jersey.
"Panorama of New York and Vicinity" Chromolithograph by John Bachmann, 1866.
In honor of
Her New York Ancestors
In a special presentation of new acquisitions to Clements Library Associates, Director Paul Erickson shared the following commentary:
Many of you know that the Clements has built up a remarkable collection of bird’s eye views, especially of smaller American cities. This is a panoramic bird’s eye view of New York and vicinity by John Bachmann who was really, to my mind, the best bird’s eye view artist in the 19th century. He was a Swiss German immigrant who came to the U.S. in the late 1840s. This view is from 1866 and it’s an unusual view of New York in that it’s from the perspective of an imagined spot over New Jersey looking east. Usually most of the views of New York done in this period are either from a spot over the harbor to the south, so you’re looking up the island with the rivers on each side, or they’re from a midpoint in Manhattan looking south so you get the whole span of the island. So this is kind of unusual in that respect and it’s great because it has almost a fisheye effect, like the island is bending a little bit in the image.
This is a really interesting bird’s eye view for several reasons. One is that in 1866 New York City already had a million people. At that point it was just Manhattan, and it was the largest city in the United States. It had grown faster than anybody thought an American city could grow—between 1830 and 1860 the size of New York absolutely exploded. So when Americans thought of what a big city was, in 1830 they probably would have thought of London, or maybe Philadelphia. By 1866 everybody would have thought of New York, so this sort of set the context for what ‘urban’ meant.
And it’s not just Manhattan itself that’s significant. It’s interesting that this is looking east because by the mid-1860s, Brooklyn, which is in the background, was the third largest city in the United States. So this shows two of the three largest cities in the U.S. in one view. This is really kind of the last point that bird’s eye view artists made images that tried to show individual buildings in the city. After this, the city was just too big to try to do that. So bird’s eye views after this point and later into the 19th century would show just a couple landmarks, and then the rest of the city was kind of an undifferentiated mass of buildings.
But in this view, down here in the foreground on the New Jersey side, you can see people playing baseball in what is now roughly Hoboken. So this is a nice early representation of the baseball game and there’s a second baseball game happening over here….
And then, when you move across the river into the city, as you get farther downtown there’s Federal Hall, the first capitol. There’s Trinity Church on Broadway. This is City Hall Park with City Hall on the northern edge.
This is really just a wonderful representation of urban growth in the country’s largest city in the mid-1860s and it sets a great context for the other bird’s eye views in the Clements Library collection. There was this vogue for bird’s eye views in smaller American cities in the second half of the 19th century, and this is what they were all trying to be. People who started cities did it because they thought they were going to grow and everybody was going to get rich. And they all thought that their city was going to be the next New York, and so this sort of set the visual context for what those city founders were trying to achieve.