Beginning in 1860, E.C. Middleton of Cincinnati began to publish a series of portraits of famous individuals, done with a chromolithographic process he developed which was intended to produce prints that looked like oil paintings. By the time he got around to doing a portrait of Lincoln, as well as other Civil War period figures, his series of “National Oil Portraits” had achieved considerable popularity. As a result a number of other publishers came out with “copycat” prints that tried to duplicate the success of the Middleton series.
The Middleton portraits had certain characteristics
- They were “oleographs,” a chromolithographic process intended produce prints which looked like oil paintings
- They were oval portraits about 17 x 14
- They were issued in frames, usually fairly elaborate gilt frames
- They were printed on paper, which was then mounted on canvas
- They were stamped on the back with “Warranted Oil Colors”
The “copycat” portraits usually shared most, if not all, of these characteristics.
Middleton felt compelled to respond to these competitors, for in the March 1866 edition of the New York Tribute he put the following notice:
NOTICE–CAUTION!–Persons desiring the GENUINE MIDDLETON OIL PORTRAITS OF WASHINGTON, LINCOLN, GRANT, SHERMAN and others, are hereby notified that IMITATIONS of these Portraits are represented as the Originals. E.C. Middleton being the originator of these Oil Portraits, his name or that of E.C. Middleton & Co., will be found upon the back of the canvas of each Portrait. None others are the genuine MIDDLETON OIL PORTRAITS.
The imitation portraits vary considerably in quality, with some being of comparable quality and others quite crude, but none of them seem to have been very successful. The most common subjects copied were Lincoln and the two Washingtons, and there is little evidence that any of the publishers did many more if any than this. All of the copycat prints seem to be scarcer than the Middleton portraits.