Then & Now: A Brief History About William Wagner

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A Brief History About William Wagner

One of eight children, William Wagner was born in 1800. His father, Reverend Daniel Wagner, was born on January 11, 1750, in Eibelhausen, Germany. Wagner was ten years old when his father died. His mother, Anna Marie Reitzel Wagner of Lancaster, survived her husband twenty-seven years, dying in 1837-seven years after her son created most of the drawings found in the Views in the Borough of York & Vicinity book.

Despite Pennsylvania having no public schools during Wagner’s youth his polished handwriting and command of English indicate formal training likely at the York County Academy. He would later become a Trustee at the school for 19 years from 1850 until 1869. Wagner also designed the academy’s seal.

By the young age of 21, Wagner had become an accomplished engraver when he and partner Daniel Small published the stunning and still-useful 1821 Map of York & Adams Counties. Hand-colored copies sold for $1.5, while plain ones were only a dollar.

The document has beautiful ornamental details, including Lady Liberty in the upper right-hand corner cradling a tablet with the inscription, “Dedicated to the citizens of York & Adams Counties .”

Wagner’s engravings were not simply limited to maps. He also created a series of banknotes for the York Bank, where his brother Samuel was also a cashier. The five-dollar note depicted the streetscape of the York Bank building on West Market Street. The ten-dollar note highlights a view of York from the north, showing a town framed by the Codorus Creek.

He also created seals for organizations, businesses, and governmental bodies all over the country. Some of his clients included the Commercial Bank of Florida, Pennsylvania Surveyor General’s Office, the Circuit Court of Appomattox County, Virginia, and the Circuit Court, Greenbrier County, Virginia. Shown below is the Circuit Court of Greenbrier’s seal. It has a unique story. A West Virginia resident found it while plowing his garden.

Wagner was also a busy printer. He produced marriage certificates engraved with an intricate oval wreath of flowers and clasped hands and heart under the motto “What God Hath Joined Together Let No Man Put Asunder.”

Speaking of marriage, in 1823, Wagner married Margaret Spangler, a great-granddaughter of Baler Spengler, one of the 1741 founders of York. Together they had three sons.

Perhaps Wagner’s most significant gift to York County is his 38 watercolors found in the Views in the Borough of York & Vicinity. This remarkable collection of York architectural views in the 1830 pre-photography era make York, PA one of the most highly depicted communities of the early nineteenth-century United States. These paintings give a window into the past showing how the York area once looked almost 200 years ago. Today, the York County Heritage Trust holds the originals.

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Here’s your chance to own some of Wagner’s work

I am currently selling 18″ x 24″ matte prints of his beautiful 1821 map of Lancaster County for the low price of $35 with free shipping and handling. It highlights the various townships, waterways, rivers, turnpikes, roads, mill sites with owner names, furnaces, and churches throughout Lancaster County.

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