BIOGRAPHY: Alfred Jones

Alfred Jones (1819-1900) was born in Liverpool, England, on 7 April 1819. When he was 15, he emigrated to the United States with his family. He attended the National Academy of Design in New York, and in 1839, after having secured first prize at the Academy, he served an apprenticeship in banknote engraving at Rawdon, Wright, Hatch and Edson in Hudson, New York. He also started attending evening classes in the evening, at the National Academy.

In the 1840s, he went back to Europe for a while, working in France and also in Great Britain, where he spent time working under London’s various master engravers, perfecting his skills. Back in the United States, he became an independent engraver. Although Jones was also known as a landscape and figure painter, he became famous for his line-engravings in illustrated publications such as Harper’s Weekly. Some of his engravings are still considered by many to be the best that were ever made in the United States. Jones’ status would eventually be recognised by making him Vice-President of the National Academy of Design.

Back at Rawdon, Wright, Hatch and Edson in New York, Alfred Jones engraved the first stamps issued by the Colony of Canada in 1851. The engravings of Prince Albert and Queen Victoria are without doubt from his hand, and that of the American Beaver probably too. His engraving of the Prince Albert definitive was based on an engraving by W.H. Egleton which was executed under the superintendence of Charles Heath and which was based on a drawing by W. Drummond.

However, Alfred Jones would at this stage spend most of his time engraving banknotes. As an established engraver, Alfred Jones became involved in the foundation of the British American Bank Note Company in Canada in 1866. He was part of one of two groups of craftsmen who separately planned to start such a business. His group, led by the Scot William Smillie, specialised in engraving, whereas the other group, led by George Burland, specialised in printing. Jones and his friends formed the banknote engraving firm Edmonds, Jones & Smillie in 1857.

The two groups later merged to form the BABNC, thereby combining their highly specialised skills. Jones is credited with having invented the process for photo reproduction directly on a plate which could be printed with type, the so-called “half-tone” process. From 1868 to 1870, Jones was Vice-President of the company. The first Canadian stamps to be produced by the BABNC were the Queen Victoria issues of 1868 onwards, in large and small types. These were engraved by Alfred Jones. His portrait of Victoria was based on a similar design by Charles Henry Jeens. The engraver Herbert Bourne would later try and copy Jones’ portrait , for definitives to be issued in the Falkland islands. It is generally thought that Bourne’s rendering of the portrait is actually superior to that of Jones.

During the 1880s and 1890s, Jones worked at the American Bank Note Company in New York, eventually becoming superintendent of its engraving department. For the United States he engraved the vignettes of the 1c Franklin, 2c Washington and 4c Jackson values from the 1883-87 Large Bank Notes definitives, and the vignettes of the 4c Lincoln and 30c Jefferson values from the 1890 Baby Bank Notes definitives. Both latter values would reappear in the 1894-5 Triangles set with slight changes to the design, and the Jefferson stamp now being a 50c value.

For the United States issue of 1893, commemorating the Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Jones moved into the field of scene engraving. Although familiar with large scenes in his non-stamp engraving work, these were his first scene stamps. He engraved among others the 2c purple, depicting the Landing of Columbus and the 30c brown-orange, depicting Columbus at La Rabida. On the $5 black, Jones engraved the portrait of Columbus only, with the frame vignettes being done by Charles Skinner. The portrait was based upon that of the 50c coin made for that same Columbian Exposition, which Jones also worked on.

In the early 1860s, while at the ABNC, Jones would train future stamp engravers such as Marcus Wickliffe Baldwin and Charles Schlecht.

Having just retired, Jones died in April 1900 in a well publicised accident. He was overrun by a hansom cab while crossing Fifth Avenue in New York. The driver fled, leaving Alfred Jones to die of multiple skull and brain injuries.

You will find Alfred Jones' database HERE.

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