The C. W. McAlpin Collection of portraits of George Washington came to The New York Public Library as a gift in 1942. While the collection of 1,700 items consists mainly of prints on paper, it also includes textiles, medals, statuettes, boxes, pins, and other objects bearing Washington’s likeness. Many of the prints were copied from paintings by prominent artists of Washington’s time, such as Gilbert Stuart, Charles Willson Peale, John Trumbull, and Edward Savage, and it is interesting to observe various printmakers’ distinct interpretations of those works. Other prints, usually termed “fictitious” and based on the artists’ own imaginations, were not intended to offer a true likeness. Many prints were intended for the walls of public and private buildings, but some served utilitarian purposes, gracing currency, bonds, labels, calendars, and upholstery and, quite often, illustrating books and magazines. A number of prints in the collection are represented in multiple states, or degrees of completion.
Charles Williston McAlpin (1865–1942) was a member of a prominent family involved in the industrial and social development of New York City in the late 19th and first half of the 20th centuries. A graduate of Princeton University, he was elected first secretary of that institution in 1900, a post he held until 1917. During his retirement he devoted much of his time to philanthropic activities and to his favorite pastime, “collecting engraved portraits of Washington.” At the time of his death McAlpin had assembled one of the most complete collections of Washington portraits in the country.