Philadelphia: Ledger Job Printing, N.d. (ca 1860s). First Edition. An exceedingly uncommon early portrait of the celebrated African-American musical savant, apparently based on the 1865 photographic portrait by W.E. Germon. The image depicts a young Tom Wiggins (ca. 17 years old) seated beside an ornate piano in his customary costume of the period, a military frock coat with matching trousers. The uniform and facial expression appear nearly identical to that in the Germon portrait, providing our likely date; however in other respects the images differ considerably – in this portrait Tom is seated, not standing, while the drapery and furniture have been added by an unknown engraver.
Tom Wiggins, born into slavery in 1849, revealed his prodigious musical abilities at a very early age. His concert career began at the age of four, and by the beginning of the Civil War he had earned thousands of dollars for his owner, Georgia lawyer and publisher James Neill Bethune. Following the war, Tom chose to remain in the custody of the Bethune family, essentially consenting to "legal slavery" for the remainder of his life, and by the time of his death had amassed for his owners a fortune estimated at three-quarters-of a million dollars.
This lithographic portrait is among the best early images we have seen of Blind Tom, and it appears to be exceedingly rare. No copy is noted in OCLC, though an identically-captioned variant by the same publisher is recorded in the collection of NYHS (that example described as "imperfect"). Lithographic portrait, printed in black ink on cream stock. Sheet size 41.5cm x 32cm (ca. 16-1/2" x 12-1/2"); image area 32.5cm x 24.5cm (ca. 13" x 10"). Mild creasing to margins, with a small nick to upper extremity well away from printed portions. A very clean, Near Fine example.