New-York Historical Society collection of caricatures and cartoons
Language of Materials
The collection holds about 1600 prints (mostly engravings and lithographs) and pen and ink drawings of humorous and caustic pictorial commentary on political events and social customs. The caricatures range from the late colonial period in British North America to the mid-twentieth century, with just a few outliers from before and after that range. The bulk of the collection, with about 1300 items, dates from the Jacksonian era beginning in 1828 to the close of the 19th century. Political matters are especially well-represented in the collection, especially in connection with the electoral politics of Presidential campaigns. Economic policies (e.g., banking, currency, financial speculation, tariff reform, growth of industrial power, etc.) is a major theme. African-Americans appear frequently in the images, either as principal subjects or in the background as a subtext to the often layered caricatures of the 19th century. Slavery, abolition and the perceived ability (or inability) of emancipated African-Americans to participate as equals in American society are common subjects in this regard. Other subjects that run through the collection are political corruption (especially in relation to Tammany), America's relation with the rest of the world, social issues, and America at war.
The collection is organized in 7 chronological series:
Series I. Colonial & Revolutionary Period, 1643, 1756-1790
Series II. Early Republic Period, 1792-1826
Series III. Jacksonian Period, 1828-1840
Series IV. Antebellum Period, 1841-1859
Series V. Civil War and Post-War Period, 1860-1868
Series VI. Late 19th Century, 1869-1899
Series VII. Undetermined Dates, 19th century-20th century
Within each series, the caricatures are arranged in approximate chronological order, using a unique identifier assigned at some point in the past by N-YHS (see processing note). For those without a previously-assigned identifier, just the year and "No #" was used.
Scope and Contents
The collection holds about 1600 prints (mostly engravings and lithographs) and pen and ink drawings of humorous and caustic pictorial commentary on political events and social customs. The publication of single-sheet caricatures blossomed in the mid-1700s, and such individually issued prints comprise the bulk of the collection, which also include drawings for editorial cartoons published in newspapers. The caricatures range from the late colonial period in British North America to the mid-twentieth century, with just a few outliers from before and after that range. The bulk of the collection, with about 1300 items, dates from the Jacksonian era beginning in 1828 to the close of the 19th century.
Political matters are especially well-represented in the collection, especially in connection with the electoral politics of Presidential campaigns. Economic policies (e.g., banking, currency, financial speculation, tariff reform, growth of industrial power, etc.) is a major theme, both within the context of presidential elections and as a general theme in the development of the nation. Political corruption is often caricatured, and New York City's Democratic Party (referred to commonly as Tammany, after its headquarters, Tammany Hall) is often the chief target.
African-Americans appear frequently in the images, either as principal subjects or in the background as a subtext to the often layered caricatures of the 19th century. Slavery, abolition and the perceived ability (or inability) of emancipated African-Americans to participate as equals in American society are common subjects in this regard, and commonly drawn with racist imagery, such as in the 1828 "Life in Philadelphia" series and the "Darktown" series of the 1880s drawn by Thomas Worth, James Cameron, and others and published by Currier & Ives.
Over 200 items trace the Civil War era, through the 1860 election and 1864 re-election of Abraham Lincoln, the secession crisis of 1861, the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, and the battles through to the close of the war. The Spanish-American War is also well-represented with about 270 caricatures from Puck, The Judge, The Bee, The Verdict, and other publications. The disputes between Britain and America and the resulting War for Independence, and then the War of 1812, are represented with many caricatures. The Mexican War, World War I, and World War II have lesser representation.
America's relation with the rest of the world is a common theme. Early on, through the Civil War, these seem to focus principally on concerns with how the European powers (including Russia) perceive the United States and how the new nation might be undermined. Post-Civil War, the theme seems to shift with the United States greater standing in relation to Europe, with an increased paternalism toward Asia and the Caribbean.
Social caricatures can also be found in the collection, often related to the changing role of women, the expanding wealth of the country, class tensions, and the like. Major national events, such as the Gold Rush, are the subject of several caricatures.
Major artists and publishers of lithographed cartoons represented in the collection include, among others, James Baillie, Edward W. Clay, Currier & Ives, David Claypoole Johnston, Thomas Nast, Henry R. Robinson, and Thomas W. Strong. Among the original pen and ink drawings are approximately 35 by Thomas Nast, the chief American cartoonist of the 1870s and 80s.
The finding aid lists most of the caricatures in the collection individually. Titles were transcribed from catalog cards, supplemented with visual confirmation. Additional or clarifying subject headings noted by the archivists are included in [brackets]. Certain "sets" of caricatures, such as the 270 works concerning the Spanish-American War, were listed in more summary fashion.
Some items were not found in the collection during the inventory of 2019-22 although they did have a card catalog record. Generally, these items were listed in this inventory based on the catalog description and noted here as missing.
Conditions Governing Access
For more information on making arrangements to consult the collection, please visit www.nyhistory.org/library/visit.
Conditions Governing Use
Taking images of documents from the library collections for reference purposes by using hand-held cameras and in accordance with the library's photography guidelines is encouraged. As an alternative, patrons may request up to 20 images per day from staff.
Application to use images from this collection for publication should be made in writing to: Department of Rights and Reproductions, The New-York Historical Society, 170 Central Park West, New York, NY 10024-5194, firstname.lastname@example.org. Phone: (212) 873-3400 ext. 282.
Copyrights and other proprietary rights may subsist in individuals and entities other than the New-York Historical Society, in which case the patron is responsible for securing permission from those parties. For fuller information about rights and reproductions from N-YHS visit: https://www.nyhistory.org/about/rights-reproductions
This collection should be cited as the New-York Historical Society Collection of Caricatures and Cartoons, PR 10, Department of Prints, Photographs, and Architectural Collections, New-York Historical Society.
Location of Materials
Immediate Source of Acquisition
The collection was compiled by New-York Historical Society from various gifts and purchases. When the collection was inventoried in 2019-2022 for this finding aid, any acquisition information noted on the document itself was included in the item level note here. Additional information from the accession ledgers may be added over time.
Three sets of caricatures, formerly in the collection, were removed and cataloged separately:
* "Album californiano [picture] : colleción de tipos" (call phrase Print Room Rare F865.F37 1850 Oversize)
* Homer Davenport drawings (PR 125)
* King Features Syndicate drawings (PR 446)
About this Guide
At some point in the mid-late twentieth century, the collection was compiled by N-YHS library staff and physically organized and foldered in flat files in a chronological order based on the known or estimated date of the object. Likely at the same time, each item was given a unique identifier composed of the object's year and sequence number (e.g., 1848-1, 1848-2, etc.). That number is written on the back of the item. Each item was documented in a card catalog, which remains available in the N-YHS Reading Room. Some items, perhaps added to the collection at a later time, do not have a unique identifier, though these typically do have a catalog card entry. These unique identifiers and the overall filing scheme remain in place and were used as the foundation of this finding aid's inventory.
By 1994, it appears that at least some of the caricatures had been inventoried in a "Print Room Database." A print-out of the items from that database is also available in the Reading Room, but it only includes items to 1845. A new identifier was assigned to the items in this database, but that identifier seems to be unused outside of this one incomplete print-out and so was not used in this finding aid.
Beginning in 2019 and, after interruption by the Covid-19 pandemic, concluding in 2022, volunteer Alison Barr prepared the item level inventory for this finding aid. The primary source for the item descriptions here is the card catalog, from which Barr transcribed key fields (e.g., title, creator, medium). Barr also referred to the 1994 database print-out for items to 1845 and she added any key descriptive data points (such as accession dates) she observed on the item itself that was not recorded on the card catalog. This approach yielded a reconciliation between the card catalog and the items in the folder; consequently some items in the card catalog were identified as missing from the folders (and are noted as such in the finding aid) and some items were found in the folders that were not card cataloged. In the interest of time, not all annotations on a document or data on the catalog card were transcribed for this finding aid; such exclusions included references to research sources, N-YHS photo ID numbers, and other data points considered to be secondary. Barr's work was reviewed by archivist Larry Weimer, who added some bracketed subject terms at points as well as the notes and overall structuring of the finding aid.