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Patriotic envelope collection

Call Number

PR 117


[1861-1865], 1898, inclusive



2.6 Linear feet (9 Boxes)

Language of Materials

This collection is primarily visual. Any text is likely to be in English.


Patriotic printed envelopes, dating from the Civil War and the Spanish American War. Civil War examples include both Union and Confederate envelopes, with several hundred by New York printer Charles Magnus.

The Civil War envelopes have been digitized and are available in the Shelby White and Leon Levy Digital Library.

Historical Note

The printed envelope came into use in America in 1840 and was first used for advertising or satirical purposes. In the 1850s to 1860s 'corner cards,' with printing applied in the upper left-hand side of the front of the envelope, were common. By the onset of the Civil War, printed envelopes were already in use as a propaganda medium. Lithography was the main mode of printing used for envelopes, especially for colored designs. Printed envelopes were sold either as a single item or with matching paper.

New York City was considered the printing capital of the United States from about 1825 and continued to be so during the Civil War years. Despite New York's official status as a Union state, many residents of New York City were not so assuredly in favor of the Union, or even of the war itself. In 1863 the city saw riots in Union Square and elsewhere protesting the draft and other war hardships. Such commotion in the nation's biggest city may have added more weight to the need for distribution of pro-Union propaganda. Printed envelopes continued to be popular throughout the century, and patriotic envelopes were printed once again during the Spanish American War in 1898.

Many envelopes in the Civil War series were printed by Charles Magnus, a prominent New York City lithographer. Magnus came to the United States from Germany following the political upheavals in Europe in 1848. He was an accomplished lithographer, and developed a following of customers who purchased his many printed products - maps, games, lettersheets, and artistic prints as well as political envelopes.


Within series, the collection is organized alphabetically by subject.

Listed subjects for Civil War envelopes are: African-Americans, American eagle, animals, U.S. Constitution, death, flags, foreign affairs, Fort Sumter, Liberty/Columbia, monuments, Satan, ships, soldiers and sailors, states (further divided by Union, Border, and Confederate), portraits (arranged alphabetically), U.S. shield, U.S. star, Unlce Sam, women, Zouaves, and miscellaneous images (further divided by Union, secession and Confederate scenes). Envelopes printed by Charles Magnus are kept together, and are further divided by American eagles, camp scenes, soldiers and sailors, cities, states, portraits and the Star Spangled Banner. A few oversize envelopes include images of camp scenes and flags.

Spanish American War envelopes are organized by portrait and then by subject.

Series I: Civil War Envelopes

Series II: Spanish American War Envelopes

Scope and Contents

The Patriotic Envelope Collection spans the period from 1861 to 1898, with the vast majority dated between 1861 and 1865, and contains approximately 3,000 envelopes with patriotic scenes and text printed on their exterior. It is arranged into two series: I. Civil War Envelopes and II. Spanish American War Envelopes. Most envelopes measure approximately 3 x 5 1/2 inches. The Collection was removed from the Graphic Arts File during processing.

The envelopes are printed or embossed with caricatures, allegories, slogans, and portraits relating to war events and personalities. The vast majority are Union-oriented from the Civil War; most were produced by New York printers. Some are quite crude; others are beautifully designed and executed, many are in color, with some even printed in gilt. Scenes or text appears on most of the envelopes in the upper left hand corner. Sometimes the printing extends across the upper front of the envelope, or to the verso. Several envelopes contain duplicates of the same image, often in different colored ink.

Oversize material includes a few pictorial lettersheets from each war, as well as oversize (often legal-sized) envelopes.

Civil War envelopes have been digitized and and are available online via New York Heritage.

Access Restrictions

Materials in this collection may be stored offsite. For more information on making arrangements to consult them, please visit

Use Restrictions

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, 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:

Preferred Citation

This collection should be cited as Civil War Envelope Collection, PR 117, Department of Prints, Photographs, and Architectural Collections, The New-York Historical Society

Location of Materials

Materials in this collection may be stored offsite. For more information on making arrangements to consult them, please visit

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Varioius donors.

Related Materials

Many collections at the Department of Prints, Photographs, and Architectural Collections include Civil War-era material. These include the Stereograph File (PR 055), the Poster File (PR 055), the Album File (PR 002), the Caricature and Cartoon File (PR 010), the Portrait File (PR 052), War of the Rebellion Albums (PR 088), the Subject File (PR 068), and the Matthew Brady Studio Collection (PR 085). In 2000, many of the holdings from these collections were digitized and can be viewed as part of the Library of Congress' American Memory project, at "" In addition, the Bella C. Landauer Collection of Business and Advertising Ephemera (PR 031) contains many further examples of printed stationery and other ephemera.

Spanish American War material can be found in the Album File (PR 002), Robert L. Bracklow Photograph Collection (PR 008), Burr McIntosh Photograph Collection (PR 041), the Portrait File (PR 052), the Poster File (PR 055), the Stereograph File (PR 065), the Subject File (PR 068), and the Playing Card and Game Collection (PR 115).

The New-York Historical Library and the Manuscripts Department also hold many Civil War and Spanish American War collections.

Existence and Location of Copies

Digital copies of the Civil War envelopes are available in the Shelby White and Leon Levy Digital Library.

Collection processed by

Janet Murray, Susan Benz, and Alexandra Bernet; database migrated to Archivist Toolkit by Jennifer Gargiulo, 2016

About this Guide

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on 2023-08-21 15:50:47 -0400.
Language: Finding aid written in English.


New-York Historical Society
New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
New York, NY 10024