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Feature August 2013

C.T. Courtney Lewis - Author and Baxter Print Collector

The name of Courtney Lewis is synonymous with that of George Baxter as the man who played such a vital role in popularising Baxter’s work in the early part of the 20th century after it had virtually fallen into obscurity.

C T Courtney Lewis at the First London Exhibition in 1923

Courtney Lewis was born in London on 1 November 1856 the son of the deputy governor of Marshalsea Prison. It appears that the family originally came from the Shropshire town of Bishops Castle on the Welsh border and moved to London in the mid-eighteenth century. Thereafter several generations of the family held appointments in the Courts of Law so it was not surprising that on completion of his education at Charterhouse the young Courtney Lewis joined the legal firm of Worthington Evans. Having qualified as a solicitor he subsequently operated from his own practice in the City.

How and when he developed his interest in Baxter is unclear though it is suggested that his father had a small collection which may have attracted him to the subject. His enthusiasm and dedicated research coupled with his willingness to share the vast knowledge that he had acquired ensured that he has a place in the history of Baxter print collecting that is unsurpassed. His first major work was ‘George Baxter, his Life and Work,’ published in 1908. This was followed in 1911 by ‘The Picture Printer of the Nineteenth Century’ and in 1913 he produced the first edition of ‘The Baxter Yearbook.’ It was his intention that this would be an annual publication but he was thwarted by the war and the second edition did not appear until 1919. The following year ‘The Le Blond Book’ was produced and in 1923 another very substantial book appeared entitled ‘George Baxter, the Picture Printer.’

This was not the end of his literary contribution and he still found the time and energy to produce 'The Story of Picture Printing in England during the Nineteenth Century' which has been described as ‘his crowning work’. He did not confine his writing to the production of specialist books but was also a contributor to ‘Bazaar’ magazine for over thirty years and wrote articles for numerous other periodicals such as ‘The Connoisseur’.

With his depth of knowledge of Baxter’s work he was entrusted with the responsibility of acting as buying agent for a number of eminent collectors. When the Second Baxter Society was formed in 1921 Courtney Lewis became president and the first editor of ‘The Baxter Times.’ It is no surprise to learn that he was one of the expert lecturers at the society’s first exhibition in London in 1923 but ill-feeling occurred between him and other members at this time when he expressed criticism of prints supplied by other exhibitors. This led to his resignation as editor and as president of the society though he was subsequently made honorary life president in recognition of his service and contribution made to the movement.

Although he must have spent a tremendous amount of time on his study of Baxter he managed to pursue a range of other interests, particularly amateur dramatics, and he was for a number of years secretary of the Crystal Palace District Athenaeum Amateur Dramatic Society. He was also an active member of the Liberal party especially during the time when he lived in Epsom and was Liberal agent for the Epsom division. The records show that in 1899 he was presented with a massive silver Monteith by Lord Roseberry in recognition of his service to the local party. The final chapter in this very full life came to an end with his sudden death on 23 May 1931. It seems entirely fitting that he was finally laid to rest within sight of Crystal Palace.