Ehrgott, Forbriger & Co. prints are among the most interesting images issued in the American mid-west. From the 1820s to 1840s, lithographic print publishers became well established in most large eastern cities in the United States, particularly Boston, Philadelphia and New York. These firms offered quick and relatively inexpensive production of advertising, book and magazine illustration, music sheets, maps, financial documents, and popular prints intended for framing. The growing populations and economies of cities further west soon created enough of a market for new lithographic firms to be started west of the Appalachians. Cincinnati was one of the first western cities to develop its own thriving lithographic industry.
In 1859, Charles Cist wrote that from one lithographer with an output of $4,000 in 1840, Cincinnati then had six lithographic firms, employing sixty-six workers and producing a product worth $165,000. (Charles Cist. Sketches And Statistics of Cincinnati In 1859. Cincinnati, 1859. p. 301.) One of the leading Cincinnati firms when Cist wrote, and the firm which produced the lithographs Cist used to illustrated his volume, was Ehrgott & Forbriger.
This firm was established in 1856 by Peter E. Ehrgott and Adolphus F. Forbriger, “one a practical lithographer, the other an excellent artist.” (Benjamin F. Klein, ed.Lithography in Cincinnati. Part I: To the advent of the steam press, 1836-68. Cincinnati: Young and Klein, 1975-76.) Around 1860 the name of the firm was changed to Ehrgott, Forbriger & Co., which it remained until 1869 when Adolphus Forbriger died. In November of that year, Adolph K. Krebs joined as partner in the firm, from thence known as Ehrgott & Krebs. This version of the business lasted until 1874 when Ehrgott withdrew, leading to the formation of the Krebs Lithographic Company.
Ehrgott and Forbriger ran one of the most ambitious and creative lithographic firms in the mid-west, for instance introducing the first steam press west of New York City in 1868. Their output was typical of American lithographic firms. As listed on a calendar they issued in 1863, Ehrgott, Forbriger & Co. produced “Show Cards, Music Titles, Portraits, Diplomas, Commercial Work, Labels of every Description.” One of their advertisements gave their output as including “Blanks For Banks, Bankers, and Insurance Companies. Certificates of Stock and Deposit, Bonds, Diplomas, Checks, Drafts, Notes, Receipts, Cards, Bill & Letter Headings, &c. &c.”
Charles Cist carried the following write-up on the firm in 1859:
Ehrgott & Forbriger, practical lithographists [sic], Carlisle Block, south-west corner Fourth and Walnut streets, are prepared to execute in the very best style every species of work on stone, plain and in colors, as landscapes, portraits, show cards, diplomas, music titles, book illustrations, maps, bonds, checks, drafts, notes, bill and letter heads, cards, labels, machines, etc. etc.
The establishment of Messrs. Ehrgott & Forbriger is in a great state of completeness, and those who may require lithographic work cannot do better than give them a trial. They guarantee their work to be equal to any executed in the country, and at the most reasonable cost. They are experienced workmen, and strive to excel in their department.” (Sketches And Statistics of Cincinnati In 1859, p. 302.)
Only slightly over 200 different publications made by Ehrgott & Forbriger have been identified. About a third of these are the famous Civil War portraits with the interchangeable backgrounds. Other Civil War related images make up another significant percentage of their prints, but the firm is also represented by the variety of prints described above.
A comprehensive study of the Ehrgott & Forbriger Civil War prints appears in Art as Image reference book. Our inventory of prints by this firm appears below.