Patriotic envelope collection
Language of Materials
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.
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.
Materials in this collection may be stored offsite. For more information on making arrangements to consult them, please visit www.nyhistory.org/library/visit.
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 Civil War Envelope Collection, PR 117, Department of Prints, Photographs, and Architectural Collections, The New-York Historical Society
Location of Materials
Immediate Source of Acquisition
Existence and Location of Copies
Digital copies of the Civil War envelopes are available in the Shelby White and Leon Levy Digital Library.