In the immediate aftermath of the Revolutionary War, only the wealthiest Americans could afford to enjoy illustrated books and prints. But, by the end of the next century, it was commonplace for publishers to load their books with reproductions of fine art and beautiful new commissions from amateur and professional artists.
Georgia Brady Barnhill, an expert on the visual culture of this period, explains the costs and risks that publishers faced as they brought about the transition from a sparse visual culture to a rich one. Establishing new practices and investing in new technologies to enhance works of fiction and poetry, bookmakers worked closely with skilled draftsmen, engravers, and printers to reach an increasingly literate and discriminating American middle class. Barnhill argues that while scholars have largely overlooked the efforts of early American illustrators, the works of art that they produced impacted readers' understandings of the texts they encountered, and greatly enriched the nation's cultural life.