Philadelphia Streetscape

Joseph Pennell’s etching of the Water Street Stairs is one of several prints showing old Philadelphia streets and buildings that he made in 1881. Some of these appeared in the Century Magazine in 1882 with an article written by Elizabeth Robins, who would become Pennell’s wife.
In his autobiography Pennell noted with pride that as a child of about five he could write text backwards and forwards in a drawing. He demonstrates that skill here. He painstakingly etched the text of the many posters and signs backwards so it would read correctly in the print. But at center left he etched the name of the theater to read backward, perhaps from a quirky sense of humor.
Currently not on view
Object Name
date made
nineteenth century
graphic artist
Pennell, Joseph
Physical Description
paper (overall material)
ink (overall material)
image: 25 cm x 19 cm; 9 13/16 in x 7 1/2 in
sheet: 35 cm x 25.5 cm; 13 3/4 in x 10 1/16 in
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Ferris Collection
See more items in
Culture and the Arts: Graphic Arts
Ferris Collection
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center

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