William Hamlin
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William Hamlin

William Hamlin
William Hamlin 1869.jpg
ca. 1869
Born15 October 1772
Died22 November 1869
Resting placeProvidence, Rhode Island
Known forengraver
Elizabeth Bowen (m.4/2/1810)
daughter of Isaac Bowen
ChildrenSarah Bowen (b. 1812)
Richard Ely (b. 1814)
William Erza (b. 1816)
Samuel (b. 1818)
John Hosmer (b. 1820)
Isaac Bowen (b. 1824)
Parent(s)Capt. Samuel & Thankful Ely
married in 1771
Relativesgf Charles Hamlin
ggf William Hamlin
gggf Giles Hamlin.

William Hamlin (15 October 1772 – 22 November 1869), an entrepreneur, was an early American engraver and the first engraver for the state of Rhode Island.[1][2]


Hamlin, the son of a pewterer and brazier, was born, raised and died in Providence, Rhode Island,[3] and initially followed in his father's footsteps.[4] He was a person of respectable scientific skills, even though self-taught on his technical abilities.[5] Hamlin had no formal schooling in the engraving trade[1] and made his own tools for the work in mezzotint, aquatint and stipple.[6] He did, however, have some training as an engraver under the supervision of Samuel Canfield, a goldsmith and silversmith in Middletown, Connecticut (the town where his father was born in 1746).[1][7] Upon completion of his apprenticeship, he set up business in Middletown in 1791, and returned to Providence in 1795 "where his principle trade was engraving".[8]

Hamlin was born in the year of the Gaspée Affair, a significant event that lead up to American Revolution. He died four years after the American Civil War in 1869. He served as a second lieutenant in the First Rhode Island militia in 1778. In 1795 when he started engraving he set up shop on North Main Street directly next door to St. John's church in Providence.[9] He then made bank note plates.[1] Hamlin published the first view of Providence, Rhode Island, in one of his engravings.[2]

Hamlin was a manufacturer and repairer of optical instruments, telescopes, sextants, and quadrants as a business.[3] He was interested in astronomy and is said to have built the first telescope in the United States.[1] One of his many telescopes he made was also available to others to study the universe.[4]

Hamlin's parents, Capt. Samuel & Thankful Ely, married in 1771. Their other children (and Hamlin's siblings) were Samuel Ely (b.1774), Ann (b.1776), Richard Ely (b. 1779), Mehitable (b.1781), Mary (b.1783), and John Hosmer (b.1787).[9]


Hamlin's first money making business was of selling all kinds of flutes, violins, flageolets, octave flutes, fifes and sheet music with his son (John) was first located directly across the street from the First Baptist Meetinghouse in Providence at 11 Cheapside in 1806-1809.[9] Later he moved his business closer to the harbor eight doors south where he sold and repaired optical, nautical and mathematical instruments for the navigational industry. In 1824, Hamlin's business was listed as: "Hamlin William, engraver and mathematical instrument maker, 135 South Main, 170 Benefit".[10] He was at 120 South Main in 1832, at 88 South Main in 1836, at 86 South Main in 1838, and at 69 South Water from 1841 to 1844.[9] Thereafter, he relocated to 131 South Water Street, and the business was called "At the Sign of the Quadrant" advertising compasses, quadrants, sextants, spyglasses, telescopes, and microscopes. The business was there from 1847 until Hamlin's death in 1869. It was at this business that he became inspired to become an engraver. His first attempts at engraving were done on copper.[5] Hamlin described himself strictly as a mathematical instrument maker after 1860, dropping the 'engraver' designation.[11]


Hamlin did a variety of engravings (technically etchings), most of which were done on order such as membership certificates, bank notes, bookplates, watch papers, portraits and Providence buildings. Portraits of George Washington is his most enduring legacy.[12] He did four engravings of Washington for the 1800 publication "Memory of Washington" by Oliver Farnsworth.[13] They became the object of public exhibition.[14]

He was going to start engraving business cards as he had done for himself, but immediately became more ambitious and started engraving busts of George Washington. One was a copy of Philadelphia painter Edward Savage's bust portrait of Washington and another he did in his ninety-first year was a copy of Jean-Antoine Houdon's bust sculptor of Washington. Hamlin's print "The Burning of the Frigate Philadelphia in Tripoli Harbor, February 1804" is his most famous work.[5]

Many of Hamlin's engravings still exist and are in the form of bookplates, illustrated advertisements, marine scenes, Providence buildings and portraits. A famous specimen of his is the earliest view of Providence. He was a member of the Mechanics Association of Providence and engraved a "certificate of membership" for the members. One of his engravings shows the First Congregational Church on Benefit Street, with some flames and smoke, an indication of the fire that broke out that destroyed the church in 1814. Another notable engraving he did is that of the Experiment, a horse powered boat. He also engraved a ticket for The Experiment, entitling the bearer to a trip to New-Port or Providence.[1]

Hamlin engravings on notable people that still exist are of George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, William Eaton, Stephen Gano, Isaac Watts, William H. Harrison, Enos Hitchcock, and James Manning. He is also notable for making bank note engravings for several Rhode Island banks.[1]


  • Hamlin was made a member of the Freemason society of Mt. Vernon Lodge 4, A. F. and A. M. Providence, in 1804.[9] His masonic apron was still in the possession of his grandson, Frank Hamlin, in 1894.[3]

Gallery of engravings



  1. ^ a b c d e f g Lane, Gladys R. (Librarian of the Shepley Library, Providence, Rhode Island) (19 March 1925). Antiques Magazine: Rhode Island's Earliest Engraver. Antiques Magazine. VII. p. 133.
  2. ^ a b Rhode Island Historical Society collections,. 15-18. Rhode Island Historical Society. 1922. p. 96.
  3. ^ a b c Andrews, p. 144
  4. ^ a b Bedini, p. 408-411
  5. ^ a b c Malone, p. 198
  6. ^ Dunlap, p. 305
  7. ^ Bohan, Peter; Hammerslough, Philip; Eisenbarth, Erin (introduction) (2007) [1970]. Connecticut Silver, 1700-1840. Middletown, Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press. p. 228. ISBN 0-8195-6848-1. Retrieved 2016.ISBN 978-0-8194-7848-1.
  8. ^ Bohan, Peter; Hammerslough, Philip; Eisenbarth, Erin (introduction) (4 December 2007). Early Connecticut Silver, 1700-1840. p. 237. ISBN 9780819568489. Retrieved 2011.
  9. ^ a b c d e Preuss, Anne MacDougall (August 1989). Rittenhouse, Journal of the American Scientific Instrument Enterprise, Vol. 3, No. 4. p. 135.
  10. ^ Providence City Directory. 1824. p. 35. Retrieved 2011.
  11. ^ The Providence Directory (1824 and later)
  12. ^ Club, p. 37
  13. ^ The bookman, p. 576
  14. ^ See Grolier Club (1899). Exhibition of engraved portraits of Washington commemorative of the centenary of his death, on view at the Grolier club ... New York, Dec. 14th, 1899, to Jan. 6th, 1900. New York: The De Vinne press. Retrieved 2011.


Further reading

External links

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