John Raphael Isaac (1809-1870)

by James Dickie

John Raphael Isaac was the eldest son of Ralph and Sophia Isaac (m.1805). In 1839, he married Sarah Amelia Coleman (1813-1901), granddaughter of Rabbi Benjamin Yates (d.1798) and ancestor of Viscount Samuel. The marriage was solemnised at Seel Street Synagogue, where Isaac subsequently held the post of Junior Treasurer, 1841-43. His in-laws were engravers like himself and his wife’s uncle engraved over 30 bookplates.

Isaac designed the menu for Prince Albert’s reception at the Town Hall in 1846, and was appointed medallist to the Prince. His advertisement reads, under the royal coat of arms, “By special appointment to HRH Prince Albert,” and goes on to list his specialities as “Drawing Designs and Plans, Armorial Painting and Manuscript Illumination,” with each line in a different script to show his versatility as a calligrapher.

Isaac worked in various media but especially lithography. He was also an art dealer and ran a heraldic office, engraving seals and bookplates. Seven signed bookplates dated between 1840 and 1860 are recorded. His trade card supplies further particulars: “Publisher, Printseller, Carver, Gilder and Picture Frame Manufacturer.” His business was located at 37 Castle Street in 1839 but, from 1843-67, he operated from the Art-Union Rooms at 62 Castle Street. He held the office of Honorary Secretary for Liverpool of the Art-Union, London. He subsequently operated from other addresses. He opened a lithographic studio in 1850.

Isaac resided at several addresses, notably numbers 27 and 46 Bedford Street North, both now victims of university expansion. He did work for the Royal Steamship Co, and published lithographs of the laying of the North Atlantic Cable, which could be bought either tinted or hand-coloured. In 1850, he issued a lithograph of the new synagogue in Hope Place, as well as a panorama of Liverpool seen from a balloon. A scrapbook in the Liverpool Record Office contains designs for memorials both Jewish and Christian, equine subjects, gentlemen’s seats, and rural churches. 

Besides topographical work, he was a ship portraitist, producing prints of Liverpool shipping. As well as lithographing his own work, Isaac lithographed that of other artists, such as Samuel Walters, Liverpool’s most famous marine artist. The five prints after Walters include the Royal Charter (1856), published from 62 Castle Street. Another print is of a captured slaver, the Ashburton, in addition to lithographic portraits of tea clippers on the Liverpool register Crest of the Wave (1853), Spray of the Ocean (1854). Both ships were owned by Brice, Friend & Co, by whom he was commissioned to portray vessels in their fleet, but by far his best known work in this genre is his lithograph of the famous emigrant ship, the Lightning, which was plagiarised for a music cover (score by the Victorian music-hall artiste, Charles d’Albert). The ship was captained by “Bully” Forbes, whose tomb is in Toxteth Park Cemetery. Isaac also did commercial work for the Holt Shipping Line and the White-Star (Packet) Line (Liverpool-Melbourne). These commissions from major shipping companies explain how Isaac’s son Percy became a naval architect and shipbuilder. 


Other Sources
Wolf, L (1901) “History and Genealogy of the Jewish Families of Yates and Samuel of Liverpool”, London. No ISBN.

Grave References
John Raphael Isaac (1809-1870): A 09.07
Sarah Amelia Isaac (née Coleman; his wife 1813-1901): A 26.12
Abraham Isaac (their son; 1858-1858): 114C
Valentine Alexander Isaac (their son; 1858-1860): 127C
Blanche Elizabeth Isaac (their daughter; 1846-1893): A 21.19
Rafaelle Coleman Isaac (their son; 1840-1904): A 30.08
Benjamin Ralph Isaac (John’s brother; 1817/18-1881): A 14.21
Abigail Isaac (née Cohen, Benjamin’s wife; c.1821-1899): A 25.01
Ralph Henry Isaac (Benjamin & Abigail’s son; 1848-1896): A 23.05
Ralph Isaac (John & Benjamin’s father; 1771/2-1840): A 01.13
Sophia Isaac (John & Benjamin’s mother; 1786-1867): A 08.03