I am in the midst of transcribing Plumb’s letters; there are several hundred beginning in the 1850s and running until close to the end of his life. Fortunately the handwriting is very neat as one would expect from a crack draftsman who was trained as an engraver and lithographer. He writes in script so I scan the letters and then magnify them to transcribe. His humorous and creative self emerges full-blown in the letters, from his early years in New York City starting in 1864 as an apprentice to Hatch & Co. then come to a remarkable climax when he is studying art in Paris from 1874-1878. The collection includes about 80 European letters, more than half of them profusely illustrated with vignettes depicting Paris street life, the interior of the ateliers at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and Carolus Duran’s independent atelier, and his summer visits to the art colonies at Pont-Aven and Moret-sur-Loing. In 1875 he travelled from Paris to Geneva, Switzerland by train, then took the lake boat to close to the Swiss-Italian border where he ran out of money. He then hiked over the Alps into Italy, barely missing spending one night alone on a mountain in a ditch wrapped in his cloak. He was mugged twice but takes this in and with his seemingly endless verve continues along the way, running into one adventure after another. He narrates and depicts his various adventures in Switzerland and Italy not only in his letters but in pocket sketchbooks and a series of watercolors. What’s amazing is that these materials, all on thin paper, have survived in relatively good condition given that they are 140 years old!

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