The bronze was sculpted in 1828. It is about fifteen-and-a-half inches long by about six inches high and the faces are no more than a quarter-inch high. I have been able to find very little about Samuel Henning. He was the son of John Henning (1771-1851), and was probably born somewhere around 1803-04, and, died of cholera in 1832 which means this piece was made when he was no more than twenty-five. His father was John Henning who worked on the Elgin Marbles, and it is probable that under the direction of his father, Samuel Henning worked on The Frieze of the Athenaeum, the upper portico on the north front of the United Service Club along with his older brother. And in 1829, three years before he died, he was mentions in the book, Nollekens and His Times, and Memoirs of that Celebrated Sculptor by John Thomas Smith, London: Henry Colburn, 1829; that he was a young artist of promising abilities.
The father, John Henning, was also well known for his low-relief medallions, and it known that John Henning would originally carve his designs in slate and used the slate carvings to make the moulds from which from which he had the bronze medallions cast. It seems reasonable to believe that this plaque is the result of the same process and procedures. There is a similarity in the carving of the central figure of John Henning’s piece and the Squire’s horse in Samuel Henning’s “Canterbury Pilgrimage.”
It is known that Samuel Henning concentrated on gem engraving and that “he received the “Silver Palette” in 1818 from the Society of Artists and exhibited at the Royal Academy from 1823-31, and at the British Institution from 1825-26 and died from cholera on the 2nd November 1832 leaving his widow in financial difficulties.
But sometime before his death, Samuel Henning sold his “Canterbury Pilgrimage” to a book seller, Mr. Henry Hering, who later sent it to be duplicated by Lachevardiere and Co. by a medallic engraving machine had recently been invented by Nicholas Collas. Vincent Nolte, in his memoir, Fifty Years in Both Hemispheres or, Reminiscences of the Life of a Former Merchant, tells the story: “In autumn, 1832, he [Collas] produced some copper-plate engravings, which amazed every one by their correctness and their almost palpable relief. It amazed Delaroche and myself. We had to touch the paper and look at the back of it to convince ourselves that it was not embossed.” [Later] I had the Canterbury Pilgrimage engraved by our machine in Paris, for Herring, and fifteen hundred copies were sold in one week [for a shilling each].(Nolte 412) His widow eventually received four pounds from Nolte and Lachevardiere for her husband’s work.
The medallic engraving seems to have had a short, useful life before it disappeared, being replaced by the photographic images. I can’t show you an example of the medallic engraving of Henning’s “Canterbury Pilgrims,” nor do I know how many copies were eventually made using this medallic engraving process or is a photogravure, but in fifteen years of searching for and collecting Chauceriana, I have not seen any copies come up for sale. There is only this print in the Calder book, and I do not know if this is one of the medallic engravings; and as I only have the one copy I do not know if it was inserted in all the copies. And as for the Henning original plaque, I have not been able to discover whether he made a number of copies or if this is the only one there is.