Early American Graphic Humor
David Claypoole Johnston (1799-1865) was America’s first great graphic satirist. During his career that spanned nearly forty years, he produced comic prints, both political and social, and illustrated a score of books, perhaps the most famous two being Smith’s Life and Writings of Major Jack Downing (1834) and Neal’s Charcoal Sketches (1838). He is best remembered today for his erratically published annuals, Scraps (nine issues from 1828 to 1849). They were relatively simple affairs, four small folio oblong engraved sheets, bound in colored wrappers. Each sheet featured from a dozen to fifteen comic drawings, sometimes related in theme, sometimes not. They were usually issued in December and sold for 25 cents each. While not so profitable that they prompted Johnson to publish Scraps annually, they were successful enough to justify producing them over and over again for more than twenty years. This issue features cartoons on balloon warfare in the 20th century, temperance, anti-immigration, and a page devoted to fanaticism, including a comic strip on anti-catholicism (Johnston became a Catholic upon his marriage). Issues no. 7 and NS no. 1 are seen on the marketplace with some frequency, a box of both being discovered decades ago. The other numbers, though, are scarce and represent some of the most elegant early American graphic satire to be had.
D. C. Johnston. Scraps (Boston: [Author], 1830). Oblong folio. Wrappers. VG with light general wear, spotting, and splitting to spine. Plates near fine. $2,000
The 1830 edition of Scraps features a total of 36 comic drawings spread over four pages. As one would expect the earliest editions are the most difficult to find.
D. C. Johnston. Scraps No. 6 (Boston: Author, 1835). Oblong small folio. VG, foxing, light general wear. String binding shaken but sound. Only two tissue guards of four present. $1,600
Crime and Punishment in 1830s London
Cleave’s Illustrated Metropolitan Police Act (London: John Cleave, 1839). Broadsheet. 20” x 15”. VG+ with old light folds. $1,000
John Cleve (1790-?) was a radical printer and publisher at the forefront of the Chartist Movement, which among other things called for universal male suffrage. He is best known for publishing what might have been the first scandal sheet issued in the English-speaking world, Cleve’s Weekly Police Gazette (1834-1836), which mixed sensational crime news with political essays. The Gazette was a big success but a new tax on newspapers prompted him in 1836 to merge his weekly with another radical paper, Henry Heatherington’s London Dispatch. This one-shot appears to be a coda to the Gazette. With comic drawings by Charles J. Grant, who also illustrated the Gazette, this newspaper devotes two of its four pages to a comic graphic treatment of the new restrictive Whig Police Act of 1839 (and other political and social cartoons) and two (interior) pages to extracts from the bill itself. The lead cartoon is a busy street scene showing just about everyone being accosted by the police under the new act. It anticipates comic street scenes from later in the century such as Hogan’s Alley. Worldcat identifies no US holdings.
Eight-Page Circus Poster? Elephant Folio Circus Program?
The Walter L. Main’s Eight Enormous United Shows/3 Big Circuses 3/A Menagerie of Rare Animals/Spectacular Pageants/Wild West and Wild East/ etc. etc. etc. Stamped at bottom: Bath [Ohio] /Tuesday/June 2 .Broadsheet on tinted newsprint. 23″ x 16.25″. VG+, archival repair to exterior vertical seam. Surprisingly well preserved for 120-year-old newsprint. $400
The Walter L. Main Circus was founded by Walter L. Main in 1886. Walter’s father William was a horse farmer, trainer, and trader in Trumbull, Ohio. After touring with several shows, William established Main’s Family Circus in 1879, which 20 year-old Walter began managing in 1882. After a few seasons, the business was disbanded. In 1886, Walter convinced his mother, who had inherited her father’s farm, to mortgage the property so that Walter could establish his own circus. The new show was titled “The Walter L. Main Circus” (the first time the title was used), and it proved an immediate success, turning an annual profit of $25,000 within a few years. In 1891, Walter purchased 11 railroad cars and put his circus on rails. The Walter L. Main Circus was now a huge success and it seemed as if nothing could stop it. Then at 5:30 a.m. on Decoration Day, May 30, 1893, the Walter L Main Circus train was descending a steep grade near Tyrone Pennsylvania, and at high speed crashed at the bottom of the mountain. Four people were killed instantly and another two died later. Many of the circus’s valuable animals were also killed and most of the show’s equipment was destroyed. It was one of the great circus disasters of the 19th century. Miraculously, Main rebuilt his entire operation and was back on the road within a season. This extravagant advertisement was produced for the 1896 season and is imprinted Bath/Tuesday/June 2. We assume the Bath refers to Bath, Ohio, but it might be Bath, Pennsylvania. Main sold out in 1904 and the circus continued under various owners and names until 1937. This is great piece of 19th century circus memorabilia. We have photographed all eight pages to do it justice.
A Year’s Worth of Bradley
Will H. Bradley. Twelve Cover Designs (Chicago: Inland Printer, 1895). Portfolio. Small folio. Tied with a ribbon. Near fine. $1,250
The Inland Printer, the trade magazine par excellence for the printing trade, entered into a novel experiment in February 1894 when they commissioned Will Bradley, a bright new star on the Chicago graphic arts scene, to draw all twelve covers of a year’s worth of forthcoming issues. The covers he drew for the April 1894 through March 1895 issues took the publishing world by storm. Nothing like it had been seen before. To say it was a success is an understatement. It solidified the Inland Printer’s reputation as a cutting-edge magazine and it catapulted Bradley to fame. The Inland Printer received so many requests for reproductions that it issued this portfolio in the spring of 1895, which featured all twelve covers exactly as they first appeared, in black and white or color, and in full-size. It was graced with its own cover design by Bradley. When the portfolio sold out, they reproduced the twelve covers once again as a 16mo. booklet. Both versions are rare, but this is, of course, the more desirable of the two because of its large format and elegant presentation.