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Louis Prang letter to C.W. Ernst


Held at: University of Delaware Library Special Collections [Contact Us]181 South College Avenue, Newark, DE 19717-5267

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Overview and metadata sections

Louis Prang was a lithographer and wood engraver, famous for his chromolithographic reproductions of major works of art as well as for a series of publications used for art education in public schools. Prang was born on March 12, 1824 in Breslau in what is now Poland. After learning to dye and print calico as an apprentice in his father's shop, Prang immigrated to Boston, Massachusetts, in 1850. Between 1848 and 1856, Prang supported himself by making wood engravings to illustrate various publications. In 1856, he joined with Julius Mayer and formed the partnership of Prang and Mayer, lithographic and copper plate manufacturers. The business continued until 1860 when Prang became sole owner, changing the name to L. Prang and Co.

In 1864, Prang visited Europe to study the latest techniques in German lithography. He returned to Boston to create high quality reproductions of major works of art using a lithographic process he called "chromos." In 1874, he began publishing books for drawing and elementary art study for public schools. This endeavor proved so successful that he formed the Prang Educational Company in 1882. Through a merger in 1897, L. Prang and Co. became the Taber-Prang Company and moved from Boston to Springfield, Massachusetts. Prang retired from active business in 1899 and died on June 14, 1909.

“A Finding aid to the Louis Prang Papers, 1848-1932, in the Archives of American Art,” Smithsonian Institution L. Prang & Co. Collection, 1864-1900, Joseph Downs Collection of Manuscripts and Printed Ephemera, The Winterthur Library

C.W. Ernst was a popular Boston orator who also wrote about Boston’s constitutional history and the history of the city’s postal service. Ernst gave his speech entitled “Words Coined in Boston,” referenced in Prang’s letter, before the Bostonian Society on May 12, 1896. The society published his speech as part of their proceedings in January 1897. In this speech, Ernst noted “it is claimed that the word ‘chromo’ was coined in Boston, in 1864, by our honored fellow-citizen, Mr. Louis Prang, who probably regrets the history of the little word.” An alternate version of “Words Coined in Boston” appeared in the November 1896 edition of

The New England Magazine, in which Prang is not mentioned.

Ernst, C.W. “Words Coined in Boston.” The New England Magazine Vol. 15, No. 3 (November 1896): 337-344. Ernst, C.W. “Words Coined in Boston.” In Proceedings of the Bostonian Society, at the Annual Meeting, January 12, 1897. Boston: Old State House, 1897. Information derived from the collection.

Letter from lithographer Louis Prang to C.W. Ernst dated May 9, 1896, in which Prang explained how he coined the word “chromo” to describe his high-quality color reproductions.

Prang had heard that Ernst would be delivering a paper entitled “Words Coined in Boston,” and informed Ernst that “the word ‘chromo,’ now so generally used, was coined by me in 1865 to designate my best class of color reproductions.” Prang lamented that the popularity of his reproductions gave currency to the word, which was now used to describe prints of any quality. He concluded by observing that this popularization was “one of those instances where the original meaning of a word degenerated within a very short span of time by the abuse it was put to.”

Prang’s letter is handwritten in black ink on L. Prang & Co. stationery and signed “Yours Truly Louis Prang.” Prang inscribed the words “chromo 1” in the upper-right hand corner of the letter. The letter is accompanied by a cabinet card portrait of Prang, which is also signed “Yours Truly Louis Prang.”

Box 71, F1019: Shelved in SPEC MSS 0099 manuscript boxes

Purchase, April 2017

Processed and encoded by Elizabeth Jones-Minsinger, August 2017.

University of Delaware Library Special Collections
Finding Aid Author
University of Delaware Library, Special Collections
Finding Aid Date
2017 August 15
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Collection Inventory

Louis Prang letter to C.W. Ernst, 1896 May 9.
Box 71 Folder F1019

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